The first five minutes of any game are important. The game in question might not offer any gameplay, but if it doesn’t, it better damn well set the tone and pull the player into its universe. The Dusty Cartridge crew have collected their favorite introductions. The ones that sucker punched us, made us lose control of our bladders and filled us with the unique brand of wonder that only games can inspire.
Warning: There will be some spoilers – just so you know.
1Javy: Mass Effect 2
Picture this: you’re a badass. No, you’re a badass in space whose resume includes saving the entire galaxy from an ancient race of evil aliens (eat your heart out, Kirk). So, obviously, what’s going to happen when a couple of bad space-bros warp drive into your sector and start blowing your starship to pieces? Some firefights, a couple of unimportant crew members die followed by a last minute escape, right?
Yeah – no. The eight minute introduction to Mass Effect 2 will go down as a classic because not only does it present an exciting spaceship destruction scene, but Bioware also had the cajones to tell players coming from the previous game where to stick their expectations by stealing everything away they had earned; your ship goes kablooey along with half your crew, and here’s the kicker — you die too.
And not only that, but you die in the most spectacularly and depressing way possible. After having saved
Seth Green the pilot, an explosion blows you away from the wreckage and sends your body floating toward a frozen planet while you slowly asphyxiate. For people who had played the first game, this was a punch to the gut. Even better: people who hadn’t played the Mass Effect were intrigued by the concept of killing off the main character before the first Act has truly begun.
Of course, scientists find a way to bring Commander Shepard back to life, like, ten minutes later, but those seven minutes flawlessly accomplishes what most intros set out (and often fail) to do: grab the player and refuse to let go.
2Phillip: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Man that game was cyberpunk. Transhumanism themes, a not too distant future of mega-corporations and the disenfranchised, neon lighting over a dark and gritty world and most importantly of all… Bitching sweet robo-arms. That was what really sold it to me. The introduction to Human Revolution had all of those, crafting an incredibly atmospheric setting, with all the brooding trappings of the genre.
Shadowy conspiracies run by a malevolent cabal of wealthy and influential folks. A world in turmoil over the ethics of replacing body parts with totally awesome robo-parts – it’s fairly obvious where I stand on the transhumanism debate, isn’t it? Glowing gold neon lighting everywhere. So god damn cyberpunk. When suddenly, armed forces raid your company, kill a bunch of people, attack your lady love and leave you so grievously wounded that the only hope is for you to be transformed into the badass super cyborg. Who I’ll thank you NOT to compare to a certain other “part man, part machine, all cop” cyborg law enforcer.
Classic 1980’s films aside, after a beginning like that, you knew that Human Revolution was going to be an impressive gritty sci-fi drama, filled with pathos. And it most assuredly was.
Black Mesa seemed like a pretty tame, but rewarding place of business. Smack bang in the middle of nowhere, it’s one of New Mexico’s most secretive laboratories. But don’t worry about that there desert heat, the facility is maintained at a very comfortable 68°F.
Taking the train cart in each day is an exhausting task in itself, the journey into the middle of a mountain — and to Sector C Test Labs, specifically, is an arduous one. I bet Gordon Freeman could relate to those short, hairy ring bearers. Though while Gordon takes in the usual sights—army helicopters, man-mounted freight shifters and a gaunt man who clearly hasn’t had his morning coffee, he isn’t in for any normal day at the office.
You’ve heard the phrase “the shit hit the fan,” right?
Does that idiom apply if you tear open a dimensional rift, referred to as a “resonance cascade”—jeopardizing your whole operation, essentially laying out a welcome mat for the aliens spilling across from the Xen? That’d be putting it mildly, I’d think.
It’s only by inadvertently snuffing all of his colleagues that Gordon is a frontrunner for “Employee of the Month.” Gordon’s enormous faux pas makes the girl who sticks her fingers in a bread slicer on those Worksafe ads look like a regular Einstein. Half-Life’s unforeseeable and frenzied intro, to this day, sits alongside the very best of them.
I’ve written articles on more than one occasion stressing the importance that lies within the first five minutes of a game, which is usually enough to let me know if I’m going to finish it or not. BioShock’s intro is a work of genius that sets the entire mood and purpose of the game from the outset, something that few games to date are able to achieve.
In these first five minutes, your plane crashes into the ocean, and alone you must navigate through the flaming debris to reach an inconspicuous island. After entering, and being transported to a city located at the bottom of the sea, the world you encounter is the very definition of uncanny valley. There is a balance of dread and hope as you walk past the abandoned amusements, wondering how the currently playing song ‘How much is that puppy in the window’ could cause so much tension.
The environment is dank, and its darkness is oppressing, and as the record starts to skip, repeating ‘how much is that puppy in the window in the window in the window…’ you see the silhouette of someone fleeing in the distance. Investigating the area, you hear a woman crooning over a child as the water drips, drips, drips, threatening to wear down your sanity.
The intro to BioShock introduces you to every element of the game as a whole – this is a place like and unlike what you know, there is always more going on than what you think, and there is fear to be had. So much fear. BioShock is a masterpiece of a game, and its intro is one of the best reasons why.
5Adam: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The Uncharted series has always been about cinematic experiences coupled with large splashes of spectacle, so it makes sense then, that each game’s introduction should follow suit. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves arguably does it best.
Awaking on a train just casually hanging off a deadly cliff, it’s a situation not bound to end well for everybody’s favourite treasure hunter. As you gradually steer Drake up each cart, Naughty Dog expertly places critical questions in your mind. How did the train end up here? Where the hell are you and where are all the Eskimos?
It also looks bloody incredible. Like ‘holy crap am I ‘actually’ meant to be playing right now?’ incredible. This brief tutorial sequence is capped off with an equally stunning cutscene; effortlessly setting up the narrative arc for the next eight hours, establishing a tone and providing just enough intrigue to have you hooked. It also has Chloe, and let’s be honest, she’s pretty smoking.
Uncharted 2 outdid its predecessor in pretty much every regard and that couldn’t be more evident from this amazing introduction.
So what’s your favourite video game intro? Got a burning desire to let us know? Just head down to the comments below and share your thoughts!