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First impressions can mean everything. This is particularly true with video games, and why not? We live in an age of instant gratification, and with the myriad entertainment options out there, we can't be expected to experience all of them. We have to pick and choose, and not every game has a Call of Duty-level marketing budget or exposure. Some games have to reel us in the old fashioned way, by being good from the get-go. Here are the Top 10 games that did just that.
10. The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead is one of those titles that grips you hard, drags you along for the ride and makes you hang on for dear life. In that sense, the intro to Telltale's masterpiece The Walking Dead hits the zombie on the head. You find yourself in control of Lee Everett, who is in the unenviable position of being escorted to jail. As Lee and the loquacious officer chat it up, constant radio squawks and racing emergency vehicles imply that something drastic is going down somewhere. Of course, one of the beauties of The Walking Dead is the lack of answers to the big questions, and Lee discovers that when a stray walker disrupts his trip in spectacular fashion. Suddenly, Lee had much more pressing matters to deal with, including a zombified Sheriff. Sure hope there's a shotgun somewhere nearby...
9. Mario Bros.: In today's age of endless tutorials, blatant hand-holding and excessive coddling, it's nice to look back at an example of perfection. In its first few moments, Super Mario showed you everything you needed to know about the game. While it can be completed in just a few seconds, the introductory stage to Super Mario Bros. is one of the most perfect first levels ever. Move right, but not left. Jump on the bad guys, and nail the blocks with your head. That mushroom will let you grow, and what's this, a flower that allows me to shoot fireballs? Without a twenty-minute follow me mission or ill-timed combat tutorial, this NES classic showed you how to play the right way: with actual gameplay.
8. Final Fantasy VI: Upon booting up Final Fantasy VI, a dramatic cutscene fills us in on the history of magic, and how it almost laid waste to our world. Ominous text tells us that, if we aren't careful, the same mistakes will be made, and magic will once again devour the world. Cut to three strangers in imposing MagiTek armor, walking up to a snowy bluff. Two soldiers start talking about their goal of attacking a small village and retrieving some supposedly magic artifact, and along the way they fill in a little backstory about their mysterious female companion. They reveal to us that she is actually being brain controlled, and that things would turn bad indeed if she were to regain her free will. After an awesome Mode-7 trek across a snowy wasteland, we find ourselves laying waste to small-town guards in our over-powered armor. This sequence culminates with the player meeting an Esper for the first time, but it definitely won't be the last. This is a textbook example of gameplay and design (that music!) blending perfectly to form the foundation of a game.
7. Mass Effect 2: I think we all knew, after finishing the first one that the Mass Effect series was going to be something special. In the weeks leading up to Mass Effect 2's release date, BioWare dropped some tantalizing promotional images, including some that showed Commander Shepard listed as KIA. Wait, what? You can't kill off Commander Shepard! Well, within just a few minutes of booting up the game, BioWare did just that, capping off the heart-pounding destruction of the Normandy with the apparent death of Shepard. Luckily, Cerberus was there to pick up the pieces (literally), but it was still a shockingly dark intro that grabbed you from the beginning. Watching Shepard drift lifelessly through space was a powerful image, and one that set the tone of the entire adventure.
6. Far Cry 3: The player's introduction to Rook Island, and its peculiar inhabitants, is unsettling to say the least. After meeting your entitled gang, who are partying it up like MTV is watching them and taking notes, you and the crew decide to go skydiving. Accompanied by an awesome island version of Paper Planes by MIA, you watch as you leap worry-free out of a plane towards a tranquil-looking island...only to wake up and see the madman Vaas looming over your nifty new prison cell. Turns out that peaceful island isn't so peaceful after all; there's a lot of shady stuff going down, including a rebel insurrection and drug and slave trafficking. After a disturbing, but beautifully acted, speech, Vaas sets himself up to be one of the better antagonists in recent memory, and Jason Brody takes his first steps towards being a warrior.
5. Saint’s Row: The Third: I’m not aware of a game that escalates as quickly as Saint’s Row: The Third does. What starts as a routine bank robbery, or so it seems, quickly becomes something so much more. As you make your way through the bank with the rest of the Saints, while wearing Johnny Gat bobblehead masks naturally, the plethora of guards thrown at you die in appropriately ridiculous ways. Mostly groin shots. After reaching the top and finding the vault locked, you attempt to steal it the only way that anybody could possibly think of, by airlifting the entire vault out of there. After hitting the skys, the situation requires you to jump out of the airplane guns blazing, which is the only reaction that makes sense.
4. Portal: Come on, you had to know Portal was going to be on here. Waking up in a glass cage in some laboratory would be bad enough in even the most favorable conditions, but you quickly discover that things aren’t exactly right around here. As a feminine, mechanical voice starts giving you instructions, you have no choice but to listen and see exactly how deep the rabbit hole goes. Turns out it goes towards a fiery death pit, but that’s a completely different story. The introduction to GLaDOS is just one of those things that you don’t forget. This is storytelling at its best, and is the perfect introduction to the twisted world of Aperture Labs.
3. Dead Space 2: The first Dead Space was freaking scary. It combined excellent sound design, tight corridors and grotesque monsters to great effect, and did an excellent job of generally making people cry like little children. Oh, you didn't cry? Umm, yeah, me neither. Anyway, after the madness of Dead Space, fans hoping the sequel would be up to snuff had their fears laid quickly to rest. Dead Space 2 opens with protagonist Isaac Clarke being grilled about the events of the first game. As some guy mercilessly brings Isaac's dementia to the forefront in very graphic manner, all hell breaks loose. With Isaac bound in a straitjacket, a surprise necromorph attack leaves your captor turning into a necromorph in very awesome fashion, and a breath-taking escape takes place, with Isaac eventually tumbling into an empty corridor. You can then begin chapter one. Just epic.
2. Indigo Prophecy: There simply isn't another game out there quite like Indigo Prophecy. Although you can see echoes of it in developer Quantic Dream's seminal Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy forged its own path with its unique mechanics, interesting premise and downright weird story. The player starts off in a diner having hallucinations about committing some sort of ritualistic murder. As the scene plays out, the player realizes that this is no hallucination; they actually just murdered somebody. When the screen splits off to show a police officer headed your way, the player is tasked with cleaning up the scene as quickly as possible. Things go a (lot) little bit of the rails later on, but that set-up is one of the more gripping introductions ever.
1. BioShock: BioShock has one of those intros that just immediately hooks you. As you awaken in the middle of the ocean, the burning remnants of your plane scattered about, a lighthouse beckons in the distance. As you swim to it, the unsettling feeling that something isn't quite right immediately washes over you. Entering the lighthouse, things take a turn for the strange as unsual propaganda and startling imagery adorns the walls. The whole thing captures the aura of surrealness that permeates the entire adventure, and taking that bathysphere down to Rapture still gives me goosebumps. As the underwater dystopia grows closer, you just know that you are in for an experience unlike any other.
For more awesome Top 10s, check out the Top 10 Love Triangles, the Top 10 Least Charismatic Characters Ever.