10 Best Video Game Intros of All Time

Starting off strong.

Force Unleashed opening
Force Unleashed opening | Credit: Ross Mahon

You can say it’s due to a lack of attention span in many players, but a game needs to captivate its audience from the get-go. Without a great opening mission, cutscene or premise, how is the player supposed to be hooked into the game’s world and the plight of its characters? Fortunately for us and the purposes of this, we can think of plenty of examples of games that nail those opening moments.

Whether it’s about building tension, setting the tone or raising the stakes in an otherwise familiar genre, these intros stand among the best of the best in the entire medium. While narrowing down the list of best intros to just 10 leaves out some utterly brilliant openings, we’ve collected a list of games that’ll blow players away within those first few minutes. With that in mind, here’s 10 of the best intros that gaming has to offer, and if you like this list, maybe we’ll cobble together 10 more.


1. The Last Of Us

What can we say about the opening moments of The Last Of Us that haven’t been blasted around the internet already? It’s the quintessential video game opening, as Naughty Dog sets its stall out from the first few minutes to let you know that this is going to be a bumpy ride. A lot of zombie/post-apocalypse games only depict the aftermath of the carnage, but The Last Of Us gives us a front-row seat to the great undoing of society, with the action on screen almost reminiscent of World War Z’s The Great Panic.

Again, we probably don’t need to go into the details of what happens during the opening of The Last Of Us, but if you’ve been living under a rock for over a decade, the opening level has you viewing the first proper night of the fungal zombie apocalypse through the eyes of Joel’s daughter, Sarah. It’s a night that doesn’t end well for Sarah, or Joel for that matter really, but it’s a harrowing opening statement from a game that’ll wreck you emotionally even more later on. The Last Of Us is like a Cenobite, just replacing “pleasures” with misery and suffering.

What an opening though, eh?


2. BioShock

From top to bottom, BioShock’s opening is utterly sublime, brilliantly weaving mystery and discovery as you find yourself immersed, or rather, submersed, in a city beyond imagination. Oh, and also the city’s falling apart at the seams because of an internal civil war and everyone has strange mutant powers. BioShock drops a lot on the player in its opening hour or so, but in doing so, we were lured into a world unlike any we’d ever seen before 2007, even if that’s just because System Shock was set in space. Everything’s better down where it’s wetter, right?

The intro to BioShock introduces us to Jack, the unfortunate passenger of a plane that crashes in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Rather fortuitously, the crash happens near a mysterious lighthouse, and inside, Jack finds a Bathysphere that takes him to the underwater city of Rapture. Andrew Ryan’s speech during this deep sea ride surely ranks among the best monologues gaming has to offer, while Jack’s first encounters with the Splicers, Little Sisters and Big Daddies helped cement BioShock as an all-time classic.


3. God Of War (2018)

We promise this isn’t a “we love PlayStation” fest, but there’s no denying that Sony’s exclusives have really got the formula nailed down when it comes to strong openings. God Of War (2018)’s might be a bit slower and more restrained than other openings in its own series, though most openings would feel restrained compared to GoW 2’s fight against the Colossus of Rhodes. Still mind-boggling how they accomplished that on the PS2. However, the GoW 2018 opening is the primer for what this game is all about: the bond between God and Boy.

The opening hour follows Kratos and his son, Atreus, as the two are still reeling from the death of Atreus’ mother. The two are clearly struggling to bridge the gap between one another, but through some father and son hunting, we see that there is love, it’s just that Kratos might not be the best at showing it. Your combat and emotional beats are met within that first hour, but then a certain Stranger knocks on Kratos’ door, leading to one of the best boss fights in all of gaming, and if you’re not sold after that, you were never going to be, honestly.


4. Mass Effect 2

There’s a trope in fiction where, in order to establish a new character as dominant, they take out an already established character. Usually, it’s a tough side character, which is what led to Star Trek: The Next Generation birthing the meme of The Worf Effect. However, what if instead of Worf, it’s your entire party and crew from the previous game? That’s the question posed by the opening of Mass Effect 2, which turns a routine recon mission into a cataclysmic moment for the crew of the Normandy within the space of 30 seconds.

Yeah, within minutes of Mass Effect 2 opening, the Normandy is attacked by an unidentified species with superior technology, causing half the crew to die and the ship to be destroyed. Before that happens, Commander Shepard, the person you played as in the first game, manages to escort the pilot, Joker, to an escape pod, while Shepard is ultimately left to die out in the vacuum of space. It’s fine though, as a group of human extremists spend two years spamming Phoenix Downs on Shepard’s corpse until he’s ready to rock and roll again, but either way, consider the stakes raised.


5. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed

Considering that it’s just a silly licensed tie-in game, you’re probably wondering how Star Wars: The Force Unleashed managed to worm its way onto this list, but Star Wars: TFU is a wonderful example of the “first one’s free” method of video game openings. In games where you can level up your abilities and earn tons of new skills, developers might choose to have an opening where you’re given all the toys immediately, with the idea that you’ll want to get to that stage again once the game starts proper. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed achieves this in the greatest way possible: you play as Darth Vader.

Like the Rogue One scene years later, only longer and with way more destruction/friendly fire, the opening level of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed sees Vader himself leading the charge against some Jedi remnants. It’s a rare moment in the Star Wars fiction (not including all the comics and books that only four people have read) where we get to see what an “unleashed” Vader really looks like. Turns out, that’s the ability to yeet Stormtroopers and Wookies alike half a mile into the nearby jungle. Combine that with TFU’s excellent use of the Euphoria physics engine, and this is an all-time classic.


6. Final Fantasy X

Is it possible to include an opening on this list based on just music alone? Final Fantasy X’s “To Zanarkand” has to rank among the greatest songs ever written for gaming, surely, perfectly setting the stage for the emotional journey that Tidus and the gang are about to undertake. And, in another sense, the journey they’ve already taken, as Final Fantasy X’s intro starts near the end of the whole game, as the group marches on the ruins of Zanarkand in effort to take down Sin once and for all.

While the music of Final Fantasy X’s intro is sublime, it’s the words of main character Tidus that’ll compel you to stick with the game’s story for 40+ hours, as Tidus narrates the events of the game to the player. “Listen to my story. This may be our last chance.” isn’t a rousing endorsement of the group’s chances against the final battle, adding more intrigue to what’s already a brilliant intro. The only thing left is a giant, city destroying monster and you’ve — oh, well, there it is.


7. Resident Evil 4

A pitch-perfect example of steady escalation, Resident Evil 4’s opening moments are like the start of a rollercoaster. You know what’s going to happen, the tension is slowly building for that specific moment, but once it finally starts, it’s way better than everything you thought it would be. In this instance, we’re talking about the original opening as well, as while the remake’s take on it puts Leon in immediate and almost overwhelming danger practically immediately, the original version takes its time before reaching a fever pitch.

With Leon arriving at a remote Spanish village to locate the President’s missing daughter, he finds himself a seemingly harmless local to question, who then tries to take a swing at Leon’s head with an axe. After putting Mr Grumpy down, and finding a couple more locals during his walk, Leon finally reaches the town square, where dozens of infected villagers can be found. The ensuing fight turned violent siege is probably one of the tensest you can find in gaming, as you frantically try to deal with a maniac with a chainsaw who wants to chop your head off, along with his 15 mates.


8. Medal Of Honor: Frontline

Call of Duty might have won the battle of “which is the better war shooter?”, but for a time there, the Medal of Honor series was the creme de la creme. For many though, nothing that Call of Duty has done has ever managed to eclipse what Medal of Honor: Frontline accomplished for the PS2, Xbox and GameCube. We could probably sit here and talk to you all day about how the main menu theme feels like it was lifted straight from Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, but instead, let’s talk about its opening level: D-Day.

Titled “Your Finest Hour”, the level opens with an abridged version of a poem found at the grave of Marine Private William Cameron in Guadalcanal, sometime between August 1942 and February 1943. The poem reads: “And when he gets to Heaven / To Saint Peter he will tell: / One more soldier reporting sir – / I’ve served my time in Hell”. The level then opens on June 6th, 1944, as you’re storming the beaches of Normandy, about the closest thing to Hell on Earth any person could have experienced. From the boats being shot, friends dying around you and the general feeling of hopelessness as you storm Normandy’s massive cliffs, this level is a tour de force, and a definitive highlight of the sixth generation of consoles.


9. Prey (2017)

Prey (2017) is a headcase of a game. If it’s not for the fact that you have to spend the entire game wondering if the teacup you just walked past is going to turn into a weird shadow monster alien and try to kill you, it’s because you’re still reeling from the opening scenes which had you questioning everything about Prey from the get-go. If my swanky, inner city apartment from the future isn’t real, then what is? Please tell me, because Prey is about to make me lose my mind.

Playing out like an interactive version of The Truman Show, only you’re Truman instead of The Director (looking at you, Sims), you control Morgan Yu as they prepare for their trip to Talos I to join their brother, Alex. After hopping into a helicopter and completing some tests, albeit with some strange responses from the observers, a scientist is attacked by an alien creature. Snap to you, back in your apartment at the beginning of the day, only with different emails and reorganized props. We say props, because once you’ve found a wrench and smashed the balcony window, you realize you’ve been watched the whole time. Everything was part of the experiment, and you’ve been on Talos 1 this whole time. Incredible stuff.


10. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

Openings and introductions to games need to set the appropriate tone that’ll encourage players to continue through the game, but if they can also teach players the basic tools and skills they’ll need to survive for the rest of the game, that’s also fantastic. There’s been a good few examples of this in the past, with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon’s satirical take on over-tutorializing making for a pretty comical opening, but perhaps none have nailed the tutorial brief quite like Nintendo did with Breath Of The Wild’s Great Plateau.

BOTW was a Zelda game unlike most other games before it (we can’t say since there was a direct sequel), with that becoming immediately apparent when Link exits the opening cave and the player is allowed to view this version of Hyrule for the first time. It’s a massive world, which is why the game lets you stare at this vista for however long you feel like. However, the real brilliance is that The Great Plateau serves as a mini version of Hyrule proper, introducing you to the tools, skills and gameplay loop you’ll encounter when you finally grab a glider and can explore the world proper. Letting players fully loose from the start would have overwhelmed the majority of people, and in many ways, BOTW is still overwhelming, but The Great Plateau let’s players know that if they can survive that, they can survive anything.

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