With all the time invested in video games, from a dozen hours in a tight FPS to hundreds in an engrossing RTS, it is easy to forget that it is the game opening that peak a gamer’s interest and generate the first inkling of intrigue, mystery, and wonder. They say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. Those words are true for these games that hit the ground running even if they don’t have the chops to finish the full race. Like the first kiss from a new amour, these three titles got the heart racing and the mind swirling in their opening acts.
3) Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, 2010
Enslaved is based on a classical Chinese novel, although, there is nothing traditional about this third person action puzzler from the get go. The game begins with about as much confusion as you would encounter if you were asked to describe the “taste” of “blue”. At the game opening, you are immediately thrust into the shoes of your character, Monkey, who is imprisoned in a chamber on a flying slave ship. Another prisoner, Trip, is escaping which affords you the opportunity to join in due to the destruction and chaos Trip causes. What ensues is a ten-minute white knuckle ride to get Monkey off of the ship as it steadily descends to a post-apocalyptic New York City. With barely an introduction to the controls and the completely bizarre world, gamers have to navigate Monkey over exploding bridges and up pipes before they crumble to the ground. Mechanized guards must be destroyed with limited weaponry through an ever steeper learning curve.
This is all well and nice but what puts Enslaved on this list is the urgency of Monkey’s every step in the first level. The flying slave ship he is on is disintegrating by the second and plummeting towards the city below. When his way is blocked, Monkey wastes no time by finding a way to the outside of the ship and advancing his way on its wings as engines, bursting with flames, are torn from the vehicle. These few minutes outside the ship, fighting against the deafeningly loud wind and mechanized enemies, are some of the few times when a vide game perfectly mimics the death-defying, yet ludicrously fun action sequences we have come to expect in a Hollywood blockbuster. Monkey’s desperate jumps from platform to platform feel like they belong in the realm of physics I know while at the same time embellishing all that is wonderful about the games and movies. Add to this fact that every new area or platform that Monkey gets to during the opening chapter feels like it is achieved by the skin of his teeth and you have an adrenaline soaked game intro with equal parts extravagance and absurd mayhem that will make it near impossible to set the controller down.
2) Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, 2005
By the time gamers visited the third installment of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell franchise they could be forgiven for thinking they had seen everything that Sam Fisher and Third Echelon had to offer. After all, Pandora Tomorrow was extremely similar to the series’ premier with the possible exception of the level where Fisher hangs off the side of a train. Chaos Theory kicked off with a boot to the gut immediately separating itself from its two predecessors. The first level of Choas Theory initially seems to be taken from the Splinter Cell cookie cutter operation by having Sam infiltrate a baron locale via cutscene. This new location though is a departure from what we expect to see Sam in. Instead of an exotic jungle or foreign embassy, Sam finds himself amongst waves crashing the rocky shore of a lighthouse base during a hellacious rain storm. Sam’s objective is at the top of a lighthouse that buttresses the violent ocean.
The rocky outcrop that surrounds the lighthouse is littered with paranoid guards in fantastically strategic locations. While Splinter Cell does not have the same options to dispatch your enemies, the opening encounters reminded me more of a Hitman game, due to the myriad of choices to advance. Within the outcrop, I soon learned that Ubisoft made some wonderful choices on distinguishing this game opening level and offering many surprises. You are soon greeted by howls of agony as a prisoner is being tortured and interrogated in a subterranean burrow in the rocks. The encounter to eliminate the interrogator breaks the tension of what was previously a pure stealth exercise and floods the gamer with a much-deserved sense of relief.
What follows is a perfect symphony of contained violence as Fisher traverses the belly of the rocks, hunting down the terrorists within. The constant pounding of rain, the perfect dichotomy of light and dark from lightning, search lights and the pitch black night ratchet the tension as Sam plays the deadly cat and mouse game. It is only after many tension fills take-downs that Sam finally reaches the lighthouse itself. He ascends its innards for much of the remaining level although options include the ability to hang off the top of the exterior to lure the guard with a new takedown that has now been copied in countless titles. All told the constant barrage of rain throughout the unforgiving environment leads to a new take on a level that was enclosed and claustrophobic at times yet still expansive and open to gameplay possibilities.
1) Wolfenstein: The New Order, 2014
With an uncle who served as a tail gunner over Malta with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, I have always had a particular interest in games that illustrated the aerial portion of that war. While 1984’s The Dam Busters on Commodore 64 was the first decent representation of what it was like to run bombing missions over occupied Europe, I had to wait a full 30 years to fully experience the intensity and chaos that the “greatest generation” must have experienced in the skies with Wolfenstein: The New Order.
The first chapter of the game opening features fleeting shots of an infirmed BJ Blazkowicz remembering back to an alternate 1946 history where the war is still raging between the Allies and the Axis. BJ finds himself aboard a cargo plane in hostile territory. The sky spills with allied bombers that are all taking fire. BJ’s plane is damaged so the race is on to repair the fuel line and to cut the plane’s cargo out of the bay door to drop enough weight to allow the plane’s remaining engines to keep the hulking ship out of the ocean. BJ soon has to man the plane’s guns to hold off the axis onslaught. It is incredibly intense seeing the protective glass in front of your gunner station begin to crack as you lock your guns on the offending enemies. There is barely a second to ever feel safe during this sequence as the skies light with explosion after explosion. Some of these are the members of your fleet heading to their deaths while others are enemies dropping to the ocean because of your actions. What follows is several minutes of nerve-wracking panic as you and your fleet take more and more damage thousands of feet in the air encroaching on a flying defensive fortress.
I won’t divulge all of the secrets of the first level, but suffice to say the action is only amped from these first fuel soaked minutes. The classic jump from one vehicle to another that is by now a gaming and Hollywood trope is re-enacted…. but from plane to plane!!! That’s right, there is no time to grab a couple of Cheetos and relax during the first minutes of Wolfenstein: The New Order. BJ Blazkowicz and the Wolfenstein game just has too much awesomeness to take care of. Gamers are to be warned, minds will be blown if you never visited this title when it first came out.cr
I hope the opening sequences that were most impactful to me resonate with you. What titles grabbed you from the first minute refusing to let go?