We’re used to talking about endings in video games. We’ll discuss in hushed tones and spoiler warnings about who dies, who lives and who turns out to have been a vampire all along. There doesn’t seem to be quite the same level of discussion about the introductions though. Those first few moments in a game world or cut scene are all important to getting us involved in whatever follows. Considering what comes afterwards could be perhaps sixty hours or more then this is very much an important part of the overall game.
Over the years I’ve seen many great examples of this but here’s my pick of the top ones.
There are spoilers ahead if you’re one of those people who considers being told what happens five minutes into a game somehow ruins the whole thing for you.
A friend loaned me Bioshock on the Xbox 360 not long after it first came out. I hadn’t really read anything about it nor seen anything of it up until then. This actually resulted in probably the only time I went into such a well known game completely blind. It only made the opening scenes of Irrational Games’ 2007 classic all the better.
The text ‘Mid-Atlantic 1960’ comes up on screen and we see through the eyes of an aircraft passenger. It’s the only we hear any dialogue from the character you play as and even then it’s only a couple of lines. The plane soon goes into a nosedive and lands in the middle of the ocean. There you float amongst the wreckage and everything burns around you. This was done so wonderfully and smoothly that it actually took me a few seconds to work out I’d taken over control.
You’re instantly attracted to a tower standing high over the surface of the water. Swimming towards it reveals a large door. Beyond that opening there’s a statue of a man holding a red banner.
‘No Gods Or Kings, Only Man’ say the golden letters on it. It’s the first clue as to the themes of objectivism present in the game. Not that you know it yet but the man holding the banner is Andrew Ryan, the creator of the underwater city of Rapture. There is then the journey into the main entrance to Rapture itself, weaving through underwater skyscrapers with neon filled signs on them. You then hear a voice on the radio of a person stuck down here with his family who, like you, is desperate for a way out.
All of this happens within the first ten minutes and it’s nigh on perfect the way it’s set out. There’s a wonderful look at the location, a brief glimpse of the main characters and an overall sense of dread that something down here has gone truly, utterly wrong.
2. Doom (2016).
I actually managed to pick this up on the PS4 for the grand total of a tenner the other day and the introduction is probably what got me thinking of this list. There was a period of time last year just before this game’s release that I recall reading some pretty downbeat thoughts on it. How could Id Software possibly recreate what made the original Doom so good back in 1993? The multiplayer demo had a fairly lukewarm reception. The single player campaign’s introduction though makes no bones about it. Whilst the game may be running on much better hardware and have all the trapping of modern first person shooters, this is still the Doom that gave rise to the FPS genre all those years ago.
You awake on a table, almost like a surgery except it seems to be surrounded by candles and has pentagrams scrawled on the walls. It’s then you notice that you’re actually handcuffed to the table as a demon makes it’s way across to you, mouth agape and hands raised. You manage to smash the abomination’s head against the table with a hugely satisfactory shower of blood and skull. A quick yank of the chain makes it snap.
There’s a screen over to one corner and the words ‘Demonic Invasion In Progress’ scroll across. There follows a recorded message by Dr Samuel Hayden who is the head of the facility. Just when you’re thinking this will be another long winded, audio diary left around the place just before it all went South the character you’re controlling rips the entire thing off the wall and throws it across the other side of the room. Doom Marine does not care for the details.
There’s a run through of a few corridors which includes the tutorial for the brilliant ‘Glory Kill’ melee attacks. The heavy, industrial music builds up and up. At the end of this section you reach an elevator that not only has a dead body in it but also another screen in which Hayden assures you that ‘what we were doing here was for the good of mankind’. Doom guy cocks his shotgun (in time with the music), the doors open onto the surface of Mars and the game’s title flashes up on screen in that familiar font.
It’s taken about three minutes but Doom has left you in no doubt what it’s all about. Find demons, shoot demons, survive. 1993 called and it’s damn happy you still love it.
3. Blade Runner
You know how some people describe movies licensed games as ‘tie ins’? Often, especially in the 90’s, this just involved slapping the film’s name on a platform game that didn’t bear much resemblance at all to the source material. The Westwood produced, PC point and click Blade Runner was a complete tie in. You might not play as Deckard but events of the movie are going on in the background of the game as you play. Certain characters cross over and voice actors reprise their role in animated form.
The introduction might well look clunky these days but it still looks absolutely a part of the Blade Runner cannon. It features the exact same scrolling text as the film as well as the flight over 2019 Los Angeles. We’re then in a pet shop selling real animals (a rarity in Blade Runner’s future) as a young girl tells the owner that she’s done all her jobs and needs to leave. The owner then starts saying that she ‘has one job left’ in a rather creepy manner.
Events play out very differently as two men walk into the shop and break the owner’s hand before killing all the animals in the store. We’re then jump to McCoy from the Blade Runner division who gets a report of animal murder in a pet shop. The opening scene of the game is the aftermath of the crime you saw in the introduction and the story spirals from there.
Blade Runner pitches itself perfectly alongside the source material and the introduction is an amazing welcome to the story that follows.
Anybody have anymore favourites? Put them in the comments below.