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Every journey begins with its first step, or so the saying goes. The same can be said of the amazing journeys that this video-game generation has brought us. Few of the great games of these past 7 yrs. haven’t been without some spectacular intros. Some shocked us, a few tickled our funny bone, and others simply mesmerized us. Kick off your week with just a few of the best ways to jump off that diving board and into your game feet-first.
Note: While this list obviously does not elude to any end-game spoilers, it of course contains some details of opening cinematics for the games listed below: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patrios, Bioshock, Mass Effect 2, Infamous, Batman Arkham Asylum, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Portal 2, Batman: Arkham City, The Last of Us, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead Episode 1. If you don’t want to read about how these games begin, stop reading. If you do, read on!
10. Metal Gear Solid 4: War Has Changed
For all its moments of action, suspense, and the occasional monologuing of techno-speak, there’s something to be said about the few quiet moments that Metal Gear Solid captures. Many would write off Metal Gear Solid 4’s series staple of long, slow prologues, but there’s evidently a beautiful way it complements the somber narrative it’s a part of. The world that we find in Guns of the Patriots is undoubtedly the most ravaged, hopeless one that a Metal Gear Solid showed us up to that point. War is everywhere; worse, it’s a business that’s robbed individuals of their humanity. People were now products of a military-industrial complex bent on using soldiers as pawns in a larger game devoted to money and influence. As you step off the army truck that delivers you and your apparent comrades to the battlefield, the pointless slaughter that you see unfold before you demonstrates the harshest reality: war means nothing anymore. No ideologies, no beliefs, no honor follow a soldier into battle. By the time you finally sneak your way through to that top floor, you finally reveal yourself on-screen. You’re an old man in a world that’s outgrown your abilities. Such an opening only smartly foreshadows the mission Solid Snake will undertake to reclaim a small part of his world’s hope, even at the expense of his own survival.
9. Bioshock: The Crash
In contrast to some games’ long, drawn out stage shows, Bioshock is as unapologetic in its philosophies as its introductions are to players. The minute you begin your playthrough, you don’t even have the time to know who you are or where you’re going, only that you, the player, are someone special destined to do great things. It’s a mere second after you thoughtfully glance at the picture in your wallet that you go spiraling down with your plane in the Atlantic, quite possibly for good. Akin to the pilot of Lost, you emerge from the wreckage strangely alive with nothing but an alien landscape beckoning you. It’s not long after a short jog down the steps that you decide to take the elevator down to wherever you’re set to go. You hear the foreboding, and quite striking rhetoric of a single man boasting in your ear. The country you find yourself in after the you first gaze through the windows of your elevator is something not only remarkable, but frighteningly powerful. Like a submerged New York City out of Ayn Rand’s 1950s America, the city of Rapture is a hulking beast of twisted life and decor from a decaying culture of maniacs. Yet it’s based upon one simple principle that its founder’s banner will haunt you with, no matter what you’ll find in your visit. In Rapture, there is no god or king: only man. That idea will carry the game’s nightmare more long after you put it down.
8. Mass Effect 2: The Normandy’s Last Ride
Many players may ultimately remember Mass Effect’s experiences as the times you found yourself talking with your crew, making the hard choices, saving the universe, or just making some sweet love to some very fine ladies/gentlemen. All those great moments aside, it shouldn’t be forgotten how it’s second game opened, or what was to come from it. Only weeks after your first mission into the space, the Normandy is hit with everything the mystery ship attacking you has in its arsenal. No plan is good enough to save your ship and no matter what you do, you and your crew is left with only the toughest options: save yourself or save your comrades. The panic and chaos that ensues forces your Shephard to make the greatest sacrifice, one that leaves you floating in space, dead. . . or maybe not so dead. Two years later, waking up from your coma, you find that you’ve got your crew back, a sweet new ride, and a whole lot of questions unanswered for why you got such a bad “how do ya do” from that slimeball space mugger. The rest follows as complex and mysterious as a sci-fi RPG story gets, but there was nothing like starting out the intrigue with a bang.
7. Infamous: The Package
This past decade arguably set the stage for the golden era of superheroes in mass media, but Sucker Punch certainly created something special with Infamous, a game that opened with as big of a one-two punch as its developer’s namesake. Though we never get to learn much from Cole McGrath’s past, what we do discover of him is immediate from the game’s onset. A simple every man on a seemingly every day delivery gone horribly wrong, Cole McGrath’s first moments on our screens is met by the deadly explosion that his package brings upon his home city and everyone he loves. The destruction is as devastating physically as it is emotionally for Cole and his friends and even the “gift” it gives leaves Cole a walking electric generator capable of saving or destroying his city. It’s that difficult scenario that Infamous begins with and it’s just as hard upon its end. You begin a superhero with all the toys in the world to play with in your sandbox, but how long is it until you want to be come the supervillain?. . .
6. Batman Arkham Asylum: Welcome to the Madhouse
It’s still remembered how long the Dark Knight suffered through a slew of bat (*ahem*) “bad” games, but the stage that Arkham Asylum set with its very opening took his fans on a wild ride that was unlike most others in the superhero realm. Like some twisted children’s bed-time story, the rain beats down on a sleeping Gotham one long night as Batman escorts Joker back to Arkham in a routine visit to Arkham Asylum, or so he thinks. The long march you take with Joker recalls that of a carnival ride down freakshow avenue. Some of Gotham’s worst villains and villainesses taunt and gaze at you from afar with their terrible reminders of Batman’s long, hard career while Joker cleverly needles you along the way. Mark Hamill’s banter never ceases to keep you immersed in his character’s inspired work of evil genius and Kevin Conroy’s deep-throated Batman reminds you of the legend you’re playing as. Your short-lived tour of Arkham is interrupted in only the kind of break-out that the Joker could arrange for and the chaos you’re faced with soon amounts to the spectacular ‘bout of fisticuffs and Batman lore ever explored.
Next: Zelda, More Batman, Portal 2, and Naughty Dog's Finest [PageBreak]
5. The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword: At Home in the Clouds
Every title in the Legend of Zelda series has the blessing of introducing players to an entirely new vision and adventure and Skyward Sword opened with a kind of unforgettable charm and adorable passion that invoked some of Nintendo’s best take on cinematic storytelling. After the most traditional of Zelda storybook motifs, you find yourself as a simple boy named Link, but still unlike any other. The home you live in isn’t by the sea, or on the wrong-side of the train-tracks, but above the stunning view of the clouds below. Rather than just admiring the picturesque beauty of your surroundings, your neighbors are just as colorful. Your teachers, your fellow students, namely one named Groose, are all amusing caricatures straight out of a Pixar film. Most of all, a friendly, chipper girl called Zelda is the private apple of your eye. Completing your knight’s training to fly as an official Skyloft protector isn’t the end to your peaceful daily routine, it’s just the beginning. As you finally get your close-up moment side-by-side with Zelda flying through the clouds on your Loftwing, it’s all too soon that she falls away in a mystery storm. From the on, you’re drawn into a series legend that’ll change the way you think about the landmark series forever, and it’s quite the quest to complete.
4. Batman Arkham City: Breaking In
If Arkham Asylum was once Batman’s Citizen Kane of gaming, then Arkham City brought us the nearly impossible sequel that built upon Rocksteady’s dark masterpiece. The Asylum has long been shut down in the wake of your long night battling Joker and now lower Gotham itself is a prison of scum and villainy. (*so I say in my best Obi-wan Kenobi voice*). Criminals are killing each other in the streets, Batman’s streets, and it’s his death-defying plan of breaking into Hugo Strange’s imposing prison complex that leads you into arguably the best superhero game developed. From outcrying against Arkham City from your podium to being snatched by Strange’s Tyger guards to finding yourself tied to a chair in a cell, Arkham City begins with a blur of events that plops you into a bigger hellhole than you envisioned. The prisoners that you see as your Bruce Wayne is dragged to his feet mock him from their cages and the few super-villains you meet along the way make for some memorable encounters., a.k.a ripping handcuffs with your bare-hands and breaking the Penguin’s right one. You quickly climb up to your escape on a nearby rooftop, don your Bat-suit in all its splendor. It’s the moment you look over the court-house that you are to save Catwoman from that it finally dawns on you the scope of this city. It’s big, it’s impenetrable, and you’re locked in it with your worst enemies. The story from there is video-game history and left us with a shocker that I still personally hope is followed up by a true sequel.
3. Portal 2: Your Wake-Up Call
You wake up from a big nap. A really, really long nap to be precise. You look out your window. Wait--you don’t have any windows. Worse, the tv isn’t working, the fridge isn't either, and you don’t even remember where you are. You hear a knock at the door. You open it and--aaghh! There’s some freaky, talking metal eye-socket rambling on. He says he’s there to help, his name is Wheatley or something, and you needed this rude-awakening to escape the facility you’re still stuck in. Things only get hairier as he attempts to move the room you’re in. The whole thing collapses all around you and, barely getting out alive, you think you’re one step away from finding a way out. . . until you awake another sleeping resident: Glados. You, that monster that killed her, are gonna pay again in the form of ever more Aperture lab testing and as Wheatley is tossed to parts unknown, you’re faced with even more of the brain-teasing puzzles you dread. The twists and turns Portal 2 puts you on isn’t any more coherent to anyone but Glados’s insane type, and for most of us, it was a worthy ride.
2. The Last of Us
Naughty Dog’s apocalypse epic just barely made this generation, but as a game of the PS3’s era, it made more than its mark on players’ minds and hearts. The first ten to fifteen minutes of the mutant contagion’s time on the planet is filled with more terror and heartache than most games have in their entirety, all carried through the pain of one man named Joel. At first the game opens like any other family hallmark scene. You’re a loving father having laid your daughter to bed and all’s right in the world. The shadow of tragedy lies over it though and in an instant it all disappears. Having your world fall apart around you is no cakewalk, but seeing the light die out of your own child’s eyes is where Joel’s true world disappeared. The life he carries from then on is nothing but a matter of survival from day to day, maybe only interrupted by the only other person he can see his daughter in: a girl named Ellie. Throughout the game’s course, you’ll kill more monsters with Ellie than even Nathan Drake and experience the most emotionally exhausting moments a game can throw at you. Nevertheless, it’s the game’s opening that reminds you that it’s still ultimately Joel’s story and it’s him alone that makes the greatest choice by the game’s end, even it it’s the most controversial. How far we’d go to save someone is what the game’s finale seeks to ask, but its opening asks us, “How long could you live without them?”
1. Uncharted 2: A Train-Ride Gone Wrong
As the creator’s of the Last of Us, it’s maybe only natural that Naughty Dog should be responsible for at least one other opening on my list. As much a fan of Indiana Jones and the adventure genre as the next gamer, it was providence that this generation essentially made the Indiana Jones game I wanted in spirit, even without the good professor actually in it. Uncharted is filled with many priceless moments, but the way Uncharted 2 opened was enough to keep you hooked the entire way. Rather than spend its precious minutes on exposition, Nate Drake’s second adventure doused us with a bucket of water to the face as it literally threw Drake into his appearance on-screen. Without any time to think, our hero’s tossed out the back of a wrecked train car, sent plummeting to his near-death, and just barely making it out of a frosty Nepal mountainside. Nolan North’s well-acted self-banter and self-awareness of the ridiculous danger he’s in keeps you engaged. Collapsing in the snow wounded and barely alive, the game flashes back to how everything brought him her and the adventure he had set out on. It’s this brilliant piece that captures the explosive, character-driven action that the game fleshes out for the rest of its run. Naughty Dog is one of the best at what it does, and if what it does is send you on the thrill-rides that Uncharted 2’s first minutes foreshadowed, then I’ll be loyal to them for a long time coming.
Highly Honorable Mention:
Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Episode 1
The last seven years of games have so many grand openings to them that a mere ten can hardly contain them. From the back of my mind, one in particular would be an easy choice for number 11, namely the first moments you take hold of one Lee Everett. While I can honestly admit that I’ve only just begun to play the Walking Dead’s 3rd episode just this year, the season’s beginning is surprising in the atmosphere it delivers in its earliest moments. Stepping into the shoes of Lee for the first time, there’s little gameplay or eye-popping visuals that beg for your attention. You’re set up as a mysterious man, you don’t have an obvious past, or a motive, but you’re allowed to fill in the gaps however you like. Cuffed in the backseat of a patrol car, the officer driving you quickly becomes the first person you kill in the wake of the zombie apocalypse in the most frantic sequences that a point-and-click can manage. It’s this shock delivery that Telltale accomplishes that does an amazing job at setting up the quick thinking and decision-making that you’ll make as Lee. For the sake of this top ten, I can only grant The Walking Dead an honorary position on the list but rest assured: it’s a well-earned one.
What are some of your favorite opening moments of this video-game generation? Write your thoughts down below, rate, and enjoy your week. Every beginning becomes an end. It’s our job to embrace the journey.