Thursday, November 17, 2011

KGB TOP 5: Favorite Opening Sequences

We like to arrange things in an order that is pleasing to us. This one is about the beginning of games. Read.

5. Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Released in late 2010, Ninja Theory’s Enslaved was destined to become a hidden gem. Namco Bandai left this game out to die in the notoriously brutal holiday season with little promotion or fanfare. While it received great word of mouth from critics, most of the public has never heard of Enslaved. If gamers were lucky enough to stumble upon it, they were treated to one of the most intense and jaw-dropping intro sequences of this generation.

Awakening upon a doomed ship, lead protagonist Monkey has to escape the confines of the transport before it goes down. The player is introduced to combat techniques via run-ins with activated security mechs, all the while attempting to move forward to an escape pod. Following a woman he spotted who was also trying to make her escape, Monkey must climb and parkour his way around the ship after it breaks apart, sending half the ship plummeting. Navigating the outside of the ship, hopping from wing to wing is exhilarating, and the sense of speed is conveyed greatly, allowing the player to feel the pressure and anxiety of Monkey’s escape. Eventually the ship crashes into the Statue of Liberty, and Monkey makes a last minute escape along with his female companion. It is an epic 15 minutes, which very few games can replicate ever, let alone in the introduction.

4. Batman: Arkham City

The opening sequence to Batman: Arkham City is so well done that it feels like a spoiler to talk about it. The original Arkham game also had a fantastic opening, with Batman escorting The Joker into the asylum. The follow-up released last month also features a great intro, which feels right out of a Hollywood movie. Rocksteady obviously has a great grasp on the personality and mannerisms of the Batman cast, and the top-notch voice work is the sturdy foundation upon which the rest of the game is laid. A lot of care and love obviously went into the first 10 minutes of Arkham City.

Beginning with an ominous voice over by Hugo Strange, we open on Vicki Vale introducing Bruce Wayne as he makes an impassioned plea to shut down Arkham City. Eventually, Bruce Wayne is tossed into the super-prison, and makes a daring escape to the rooftops. This provides the game with a context for introducing the control scheme and mechanics to the player a bit at a time. When the Batsuit finally arrives via landing pod, the gamer is set to lay down some dark justice on the thugs of Arkham. Rocksteady are masters of the intro, and this is further proof.

3. Final Fantasy 10

Final Fantasy 10 was big deal for a few reasons. It was the first game in the series to come to the PlayStation 2 and the first in the series to feature voice acting, to name a couple. But for me, one reason why Final Fantasy 10 rules so hard is because of that incredible opening! The game starts out with the heart-wrenching song "Zanarkand", with a brief glimpse of the game's heroes camped in a ruined city. You don't know what any of it means yet, but you will.  The game then flashes to the futuristic city, Zanarkand, and you take control of Tidus, a young, cocky blitzball player of considerable renown, on his way to a game. Tidus makes his way through the mob of fans, at one point confronted by a ghostly child who cryptically tells him that he won't be here later. Once Tidus makes it to the stadium, the game's first high-quality cutscene starts, and holy shit does it impress!

This was the scene that made me take notice of the power of the PS2. As Tidus' blitzball team kicks ass in the arena, a mysterious stranger in sunglasses calmly makes his way through the city, just ahead of some strange, colossal sphere of water.  Just as Tidus is hitting his stride, the sphere starts destroying the city!  Tidus is almost dead meat, but he's saved by the stranger, whom he recognizes as Auron.  Suddenly the pair is beset by insectoid beasts and are forced to fight. Tidus quickly demonstrates that he has no combat ability at all, and Auron must quickly teach him how to use a sword that he claims is a gift from Tidus' father. And so you are introduced to the game's new combat system, with Auron shouting out advice as the pair fight and run through the crumbling city.  Finally, after a boss fight, the sphere starts to pull everything, including the heroes, into it.  Auron seems to have a conversation with someone only he can hear, and he lifts Tidus off the ground and tells him, "This is it. This is your story.  It all begins here."  The two are then sucked into some sort of portal, and so begins the greatest Final Fantasy story in the series.

2.  Half-Life

Half-Life has one of the best openings in video game history. From the very start the tram ride shows off both Black Mesa, the mostly underground top secret science facility where Gordon Freeman works, and the capabilities of the GoldSrc engine: from Barney Calhoun, the protagonist of the Blue Shift expansion, being locked outside of a door, to glances at the enigmatic G-Man, to pauses while your automated tram waits for an automated hazardous waste robot to clear the path, intriguing sights abound. Little details are scripted throughout the game, and the opening really highlights the possibilities.

Unlike more recent titles, however, the game does not jerk your head to the action and scream "HEY LOOK AT THIS!" If you want to jump around like a cocaine-addled howler monkey in the tram, you absolutely can. Once the tram ride is over, the game even gives you opportunities to unleash your inner child, turning off light switches to the consternation of the inhabitants of the now-darkened room, flipping the security alarm to annoy the guard, and pounding on restroom stall doors to aggravate those trying to JBPD(Jack Bauer Power Dump). Rather than immediately throwing you into action, the opening serves to set up the game, allowing you to ease into the setting and get used to controlling Gordon Freeman. By the time things begin to go awry an alert player has already been given hints of the disaster to come, and though the opening never outstays its welcome, by the time you pick up the iconic crowbar, you're ready for the game.

1. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

Metal Gear Solid 2 was the reason I bought a Playstation 2, and the game wasn’t even released until well after the system launched. A good amount of the hype for MGS 2 can be linked directly to the E3 2000 reveal trailer. The original Metal Gear Solid was a major hit for the first Playstation, and the first glimpse of Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece-in-the-making was a religious experience for some. Featuring mind-blowing graphics and a Hollywood-caliber score, Metal Gear Solid 2 promised to deliver an experience unlike any other game had been able to offer up to that point.

The 9-minute reveal trailer featured at E3 2000 featured several scenes taken directly from the game’s introduction sequence. Opening on the George Washington Bridge in New York City, the sky has opened up. Torrential rain floods the streets, and car lights bloom to a squint-inducing brightness. A lone figure walks along the side, cloaked in a hooded rain poncho. The camera pulls in to reveal this as Solid Snake, who tosses aside his cigarette and breaks into a dead sprint. Shedding his raincoat, a stealth-cloaked Snake bungee jumps off the bridge and lands on the deck of a tanker.

The cinematic flourishes, the awe-inspiring graphics, and the incredible sound design all conspired together to make me piss my pants. Games simply didn’t look, move, and sound like this before. Whatever you may think of how the rest of the game played out, there’s no way to deny the level of awesome contained here. Metal Gear Solid 2 remains the best intro sequence in any game, at least in my opinion.

What are your favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Special thanks to Travis Jones Schultz for the Half-Life entry!

Christopher Linendoll makes great first impressions. He can be reached via Twitter, or found in the hummus section of your local grocery store.

1 comment:

  1. For me, the opening to Uncharted 2 is incredibly strong, with a special mention for Silent Hill 2's opening monologue.