Best Openings in Games, Part I
Video games require a significant investment of time and money. Much like television shows, the first impression can make or break the game. We’re looking at games that did an exceptional job of hooking gamers in the opening level. We’re looking at games that looked us right in the eye and said, “Don’t worry, this is totally worth sixty dollars.” And we’re starting with one of the best.
Horror games might be the hardest to set up. The atmosphere of creepiness can’t be dictated by a few explosions or a humorous quip. There needs to be atmosphere. This is made even more difficult when the setting is far outside the norm. Bioshock might as well be the textbook for how to set up a horror game.
A short cinematic plane crash puts you quickly into the shoes of the protagonist which is always a plus. For its time, the graphics of the ocean were great. The creepy lighthouse was just out of place enough to raise suspicions. And then you take a ride down to Rapture… This capitalist-objectivist, dystopian nightmare is introduced to you by the pleasing voice of Andrew Ryan, an entrepreneur with the face of Howard Hughes. The city itself is beautiful on the outside and hideous on the inside as you’re immediately greeted by murderous splicers.
The sound is hollow and creaky, the lights are all out, and there always seems to be something waiting for you around the next corner – voices you can’t quite make out or shadows you can’t quite see. It’s a brilliant start to one of the best games ever made. Rapture oozes atmosphere without becoming cluttered with too much exposition. The opening minutes of Bioshock set the tone the whole game will follow, and it does it flawlessly.
2. Battlefield 1
Battlefield 1 was a fresh take in a genre filled with copy-paste titles. The top-tier shooters were focusing more and more on the future, on gadgets, and spending less time on giving gamers a good story. Not that every FPS has a bad story, but when DICE launched Battlefront, it didn’t even have a main campaign. It worried gamers like myself who want to be immersed in a good story.
Battlefield 1 abandoned a traditional campaign mode for a series of short stories and vignettes that sought to tell stories from across the long and diverse theaters of World War I. For the most part, they succeeded. Despite only featuring stories from the Allies, Dice still managed to touch on different cultures involved in the war, and gave us a look at the strange age technology was in in the early twentieth century.
And they nailed their opening mission.
Set into the shoes of the Harlem Hellfighters, one of the most decorated American units in World War I and one of two fully staffed by black soldiers, you as a gamer are told you will die. Waves of German soldiers crush you against barb wire and blown out buildings. It’s frantic. Its loud. And when the names of dead soldiers ease across your screen when you die, it’s deeply human. World War I is an interesting and complex topic, and in one short mission DICE managed to capture the existential feel of the whole engagement. Bravo, chaps.
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
“I did not tell half of what I saw, for I knew I would not be believed.”
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an incredible game. This sequel expanded on the Indiana Jones/Tomb Raider premise of the first game and delivered a globetrotting adventure with truly memorable characters. While I’m no fan of flash forwards to open any work, climbing over the busted ruins of a train in the snowy wastes of the Himalayas was fraught with danger and show cased the leaps in technology since the first game.
This level doesn’t happen until the mid-game. The train ride preceding this accident is made all the more fun, because you as a gamer aren’t entirely sure when the accident is going to happen. The opening is recreated in an abridged version with Drake giving his thoughts on how the plot has turned. It doesn’t create a “been here, seen this” attitude when you finally reach the flash forward.
Fans of the series could make a solid argument for the opening segment of any Uncharted game, but Uncharted 2 really welcomed back fans of the first game in the best way possible. For nostalgic players ready to jump back into the series, be sure to check out the Platted That! for Uncharted, Uncharted 2, and Uncharted 3!
4. Dragon Age II
At this point I want to remind readers that the list is openings of video games, which includes games that go on to be less than stellar experiences. Although Dragon Age II has a strong opening, it ultimately fizzles out due to a repetitive map and a lack of engaging narratives. Depsite it’s cult status for many gamers, it ranks low for me as a Bioware game and dead last in the Dragon Age series. But the first few minutes are exceptional.
The game opens with a fully leveled main character, known as Hawke, ripping through hordes of monsters. It gives players a chance to see what their investment will pay off with, and shows your character in Hawke’s iconic class-armor. Fans returning form Dragon Age: Origins get to see the revamped character models of the dark spawn, and narrator Varric Tethras is introduced, chest bush and all. For a studio often criticized for slow beginnings, the opening of Dragon Age II is a welcome, if short lived, adjustment.
These are just a few of Handsome Phantom’s favorite beginnings. We’re coming back with more of our top starting levels. If you’ve got a favorite you think deserves recognition, make sure to tweet at Handsome Phantom. Let those weebs know! Make sure to check out the other great content on HandsomePhantom.com, like our review of Phantom Trigger or the Great Gingers in Gaming!
Seriously! Let us know what you think! Did these opening levels hook you in? What are some of your favorite opening levels? If Varric is a dwarf, why doesn’t he have a beard!? Let Handsome Phantom know your thoughts and you could get a shout out on the Adventure Mode podcast!
Author: Kevin Lukacs
Kevin enjoys writing plays, short stories, comedy, history, and of course opinion pieces and listicles about video games. His dad could totally beat up your dad. You can find him in DC getting his M.A. in history, should you ever feel the need to fight about weebs and whether or not Knights of the Old Republic is the best game ever made.