Nobody, except for the most hardcore of gamers, wants to wait 20 hours before the game starts becoming interesting; they want their $60 game to entertain them as soon as they pop it in. Whether they’re remembered for a cutscene, a level, or a theme song, these are the games with the most memorable introductions of all time!
10. Mega Man X
The first level of Mega Man X is brilliant from a design perspective, and I’m not including it simply for the sake of nostalgia. Being used to the first six games of the Mega Man series, which immediately allowed players to choose which level they wanted to tackle first, I was surprised to be in the middle of a war-torn, futuristic city with little instruction on how to play the game. As I got the hang of it, the big bad guy, Vile, dropped down in a mech suit bigger than X to beat me until I was half dead. Then, as the villain was just about to crush me with his torso-sized hands, I saw Zero blast off Vile’s arm with a well-timed charge-shot. At this point I, and every other fan, wanted to be Zero–and we eventually could. Egoraptor gives a solid, lengthy explanation for the importance of this scene, but the introduction level of Mega Man X not only sets the stage but shows us things that are to come.
9. Final Fantasy VII
Square Enix has a penchant for beginning Final Fantasy games in media res (in the middle of the action instead of with dull starter fare), but the most popular one, Final Fantasy VII , had a distinct advantage over its NES and SNES predecessors: CGI. If you remember the excitement that came over everyone at the reveal of the Final Fantasy VII tech demo, which recreated the opening cutscene of the PlayStation original, then you can imagine how it must have looked to someone who thought CGI cutscenes couldn’t possibly look better than the original – Popeye the Sailor Man arms and all.
The beautiful imagery of the dystopian city, Aeris handling what looks like the only plant life remaining, and the train coming to a screeching halt come together to form a chilling scene. Afterwards, you take part in an environmental terrorist’s plot to destroy the reactor threatening to drain the planet of its lifestream. And so begins the brilliant tale of Final Fantasy VII .
8. Donkey Kong 64
Donkey Kong 64 showcases the power of music. I don’t even think I need to elaborate on this entry for most of you. If you played this game when it was originally released in 1999, then you probably have the DK Rap stuck in your head as you’re reading this. If you didn’t play this game as a kid, then I encourage you to look it up on YouTube ; you should understand why this introduction is still stuck in the minds of many gamers, including my own, much to our chagrin.
7. Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball
Discovering the photoshoot mode in DOA Hardcore 2 was a bit of a shock for me and my friends during the PS2 days. We lost our hormonal marbles over the low-quality, pixelated body of Laura Croft for the PS1, so you can imagine how we reacted in the days of the PS2 and Xbox, where the pixels were considerably (at the time) more realistic. Well, turns out there was a spinoff game called Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball that focused solely on the girls instead of combat. Sure, volleyball was in the title, but that’s not what we were thinking about when we saw the introductory cutscene .
Similar to the Half-Life series, you view Bioshock’s world, be it in a gun battle or in a cutscene, from a first-person perspective. While experimenting with the different powers is cool, most players enjoy the game for the city of Rapture, and the introduction is key for painting its atmosphere. The main protagonist, Jack, survives a plane crash and finds a lighthouse upon swimming to the surface of the water. Inside the lighthouse, however, is an elevator that leads him to a city that lies deeper than he could have possibly sunk before drowning. A grainy voice introduces itself as Andrew Ryan, the leader of Rapture, and as you walk through the city, you realize that it isn’t the paradise that the man made it out to be. The whole time you’re able to move, which helps create a more immersive experience.
5. Silent Hill 2
As I describe the introduction to Silent Hill 2 , I imagine that it will sound somewhat uneventful. However, much like Bioshock , Silent Hill 2 succeeds by creating a suspenseful, suffocating atmosphere fitting for one of the most highly regarded horror games. Protagonist James Sunderland begins his tale in a run-down bathroom just outside the eponymous town, confused by the letter from his dead wife of three years urging him to find her in the town. Then you begin the long trek through the increasingly foggy road into town, expecting some sort of twisted creature to ambush you at every turn. Eventually, you reach town and discover a silhouette in a distance, leaving behind a trail of bloody footprints. You reach the overpass where you discover a radio that will help reunite you with your wife, but not before you’re forced to take out the creature you’ve been following, which is no longer hiding its grotesque, monstrous form.
4. Super Mario Bros.
If released today, Super Mario Bros. wouldn’t have a remarkable introduction; however, when released on the NES, the game was many people’s introduction to sidescrolling platformers, and it taught them everything they needed to know about their two-button controllers. “Oh, there’s a small, brown mushroom monster walking towards me, and I die every time I walk into it. Wait, what’s this? If I press A I can jump over it – or on top of it! Oh, and now there’s this huge ravine I can’t seem to jump over it; however, I noticed that if I hold B I run, so maybe if I – yes! I can run and jump over the ravine.” The level really taught us how to proceed with sidescrolling platformers for the rest of our gaming lives. Plus, it has the most catchy video game theme song of all time, which nobody will ever forget.
3. Uncharted 2
Uncharted 2 literally begins on a cliffhanger – a train carrying Nathan Drake is hanging off a cliff. There’s no explanation and no time to relax. All we could do as half-dead Drake was slowly climb the train, whose abrupt noises hinted at its eventual fall if we didn’t hurry up. The moment was intense for sure, but it truly raised the stakes from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune while pushing the PlayStation 3 to its limits. There’s a reason Uncharted 2 helped launch the popularity of the franchise, and it’s this scene that most gamers picture when they reflect on it.
2. Mass Effect 2
It’s not often you see the protagonists of an RPG be dispatched so brutally in the introduction of the sequel, but that’s exactly what happens in Mass Effect 2 , and it’s shocking to witness. Having defeated Saren, Shepard and crew are following standard protocol in space when they’re suddenly ambushed by the Reapers. While most of the crew survives, Shepard does not, and we wait a few agonizing moments to see who we’ll continue the game as. Turns out it’s still Shepard, who is resurrected thanks to the wealthy Illusive Man. Not only is this scene a jarring introduction to the dark plot of Mass Effect 2 , but it’s also a great way to set up the end game: a suicide mission that could potentially, depending on how well you prepare for it, end exactly the way the game began.
1. The Last of Us
The Last of Us is one of the bleakest games of the last generation, and the situations these characters must force themselves through only worsen with time. You wouldn’t think so with the first fifteen minutes, where you switch between Joel and his daughter as they run away from the Infected, neither being seasoned enough to fight yet. It’s jarring to see the city fall apart so quickly, despite the night seeming like normal bedtime for Joel’s family, and seeing his daughter murdered at the end seems like an ending in itself; but no, it’s only the beginning of things to come in this masterful, dreadful game.