When you rip off the plastic, crack open that case and smell that new game smell, the absolute last thing you want is a boring exposition dump about the game universe you’re about to enter. What’s this? Tutorials? Garbage. Put. Me. In. The. Action. This is a list of the most exciting, hype, and wild introductions and opening levels in video games.
10. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag
I don’t want a fortune. I want food that don’t make me sick. I want walls that hold back the wind. I want a decent life.
After a perhaps too long intro the modern day story at Abstergo (Ubisoft) headquarters in France, Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag sends the player into the shoes of a pirate at the helm of a ship. Almost immediately, an assassin attacks the ship during a naval battle. The player thinks “oh, okay, that’s my character, the assassin.” Nope. The pirate, Edward Kenway, washes up on the shore next to the assassin, and upon catching him, steals his clothes, his money and his identity. Killing the assassin (who is secretly a Templar) and discarding the body, Edward travels to Havana and continues the charade under a false identity. One last score and he can go back home to his wife with enough gold to raise a family. He’ll do anything to make that happen – including taking the Assassins and the Templars for all they’re worth.
9. Fallout: New Vegas
You’ve made your last delivery kid. Sorry you got twisted up in this scene. From where you’re kneeling it must seem like an 18-carat run of bad luck. Truth is…The game was rigged from the start.
One minute you’re delivering a package across the Mojave Wasteland, the next you’re getting held at gunpoint by Chandler from Friends. Unlike every other main series Fallout game, New Vegas tosses the player into the action right away. In less than five minutes, the opening cinematic sets up the world of Fallout, in which unchecked capitalism has met its natural conclusion in Las Vegas. Benny is immediately set up as your enemy, and the player already knows exactly where they’re trying to go and what they need to do there (confront Benny) – and all before even creating a character. The cinematic ends with Chandler shooting you in the head and leaving you for dead in the desert. Could he be any more rude?
8. Portal 2
Okay, look. We both said a lot of things that you’re going to regret.
After a short introduction to new companion and sure to be forever-friend, Wheatley, Portal 2 tosses Chell back to the depths of the testing facility to greet an old friend. That’s right, after escaping the facility, Chell is once again in the presence of GLaDOS, who is less than happy about being murdered in the first game. Having such a legendary villain awaken right out of the gate (rather than towards the end with copious foreshadowing) was a brilliant narrative move by Valve. The stakes are immediately set such that they could not get higher, and the player is left running and panicking before they’ve even had a chance to learn about the cool new grey goop.
7. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard
All I can say is that if you get this… stay away
How Resident Evil 7: Biohazard managed to bring such a legitimate scare with a solid story after the travesty that is Resident Evil 6, I may never understand. Ethan is sent a video from his missing wife begging him to stay away. He has finally tracked down her location and enters a mansion in the remote bayous of Louisiana. The house is, at first, much more disgusting than scary – it’s covered in rotting food, large insects, mysterious goop and pitch blackness. The creepiness of the classic Resident Evil games is back in full force, but the lack of a monster of any kind is unnerving… what’s going on? Ten minutes into the game Ethan finds out the horrible truth – his wife, the person he came here to save, is the monster…
6. Prey (2017)
Good morning, Morgan. Today is Monday, March 15th, 2032.
To avoid spoilers I can’t get into too much detail on why Prey‘s introduction is so mind-bogglingly good, but suffice it to say that things are not what they appear. Morgan Yu wakes up on March 15, 2032 to finish her final tests before taking off for the TALOS I space station. What appears at first to be a badly made tutorial is revealed to be a living nightmare. Aliens wait around every turn. Nothing, not even health packs, can be trusted. The corpses of your colleagues stalk the halls, reciting their last words in low, broken static. And the coffee mugs… and suddenly, it’s Monday, March 15, 2032. Time to get up – you’ve got some tests to finish today.
Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? “No,” says the man in Washington, “it belongs to the poor.” “No,” says the man in the Vatican, “it belongs to God.” “No,” says the man in Moscow, “it belongs to everyone.”
You begin in a crashing plane as it descends into the dark ocean, and wash ashore at a quiet lighthouse. The music fades, and only the emptiness remains. A pod offers to take you underwater – you oblige. Sinking into the depths, the first shot of Rapture: the capitalist dystopia of Ayn Rand’s dreams, and it’s breathtaking. Andrew Ryan’s voice creeps over the loudspeakers. A splicer with bleeding hooks for hands screeches at you and jumps into the cold, damp darkness in front of you. You climb through a vent and witness the emergence of a Big Daddy, a monster that lives to kill for its Little Sister. And then… it turns to you. If you haven’t already, would you kindly just play the game?
4. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle
Rollin’ around at the speed of sound, got places to go, gotta follow my rainbow!
City Escape is one of the most iconic levels in Sonic history, perhaps second only to Green Hill Zone. Yeah, sure it’s mostly the music, but frame your mind around the context of this release. Sonic Adventure 2: Battle was just the second 3D Sonic game to release in the west. When kids (like me) finally got their grubby little hands on it in 2002, they were met with maybe the coolest opening sequence ever. Sonic has been captured by the military! He’s bored of being captured though, so he breaks the door of a helicopter off, then uses it as a snowboard as he catapults himself 30,000 feet towards the ground. He must then ride the board down the streets to escape from the military, who send robots, tanks and even an armored truck after him. The whole time you’re headbanging, squinting your eyes in concentration, sweat collecting on your GameCube controller – it was transformative. If you were also nine years old when this game released, then this may have been the coolest 15 minutes of your life as well. But it is mostly the music. Gotta go fast!
3. Far Cry 5
God will not let you take me.
Before playing Far Cry 5, players should check out Amazon’s original prequel movie, Inside Eden’s Gate. It’s only 45 minutes long, but they managed to adapt a video game into a pretty good live-action piece, and that should be celebrated. Nevertheless, the actual game begins by dropping the player, the Rookie, into cult territory with an arrest warrant for Father, their charismatic leader. Accompanied by the sheriff of Hope County, the deputy, and a US Marshall, you’re greeted by heavily-armed cultists that are much too certain that what they’re doing is right. Father’s depraved sense of righteousness is on full display in the opening, proclaiming with full confidence that God will protect him, and then smiling smugly as it happens over and over. Father is set up to be invincible, untouchable, with a legion of brainwashed followers that take his word as divine law. And you’ve come here, to his home, to arrest him? No one can be trusted in Hope County. Anyone and everyone could be one of his followers, walking amongst the common folk… and you’d never know. Even if you have no intention of playing Far Cry 5, watching the opening cinematic is absolutely worth it.
2. The Last of Us
We’re gonna get outta this, I promise.
The opening 15 minutes of The Last of Us were, much like Pixar’s Up!, created to make you cry. The visceral, real sounds of death as the infection spreads and loved ones turn on each other is enough on its own to make you gag. But watching Joel lose his daughter in such a senselessly violent way, and watching his eyes as they break, and hearing the stuttering gasps of a child as she struggles to speak with her punctured lungs… if there’s only one video in this list you actually watch, please choose this one. Naughty Dog does in 15 minutes what most games fail to do in dozens of hours – they really, truly hurt you.
1. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask
You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?
Fresh off his defeat of Ganondorf from Ocarina of Time, Link ventures into the Lost Woods only to be mugged by Skull Kid and his two fairy compatriots, Tael and Tatl. Skull Kid’s body is controlled by Majora, a demon that resides in the iconic mask he now wears. Skull Kid swipes the legendary Ocarina of Time and runs into the forest cackling. After a short chase sequence, Link follows Skull Kid into a tree and falls into an endless pit, eventually meeting his death. Link’s soul awakens to find himself transformed, in a greatly disturbing scene, into a Deku Scrub. Link is greeted by the Happy Mask Salesman, maybe the creepiest game character ever, who tells him to retrieve the Majora’s Mask for him in exchange for his old body back.
Link emerges into Termina, a distorted version of Hyrule in which everything and everyone is just a little bit different. Old friends do not remember him, familiar people have different names. Everything is different yet somehow the same. It slowly dawns on the player that they are trapped in purgatory, somewhere between life and death. This Link actually returns in Twilight Princess as The Hero’s Shade, an undead warrior who stalks the woods. Like all who perish in the Lost Woods, he is doomed to walk the maze for the rest of eternity. Wait, this is for kids? I guess when you’re following up the most beloved game of all time it’s go big or go home.
Got a cool intro we missed? Mad that Mario getting arrested by the real police in Super Mario Sunshine didn’t make it? Let us know in the comments below!