Happy New Year, video game fans! To celebrate the start of 2020, we here at Checkpoint thought we would take you through some of our favourite openings in video games. Get your minds out of the gutter; we mean games where the first couple of hours or story beats were such a captivating opening that they had us hooked right from the get-go. Whether they impressed us or tugged at our heartstrings, here’s some of our favourite introductions to some of our favourite games.
If you count an intro to a game as anything before the title card, then Undertale’s intro lasts for its whole first area. It’s filled with an incredible amount of detail that masterfully introduces the player to its setting and themes, a lot of which only becomes obvious on the second playthrough. And nothing illustrates this better than the encounter with the antagonist, Flowey.
If you were one of the few who had followed Undertale during its development, you may have known what kind of game Undertale was going to be already. If not, your first impressions of the game might be spent wondering why everyone is fussing about this game with strange minimalist graphics, bitcrushed music, and fairy tale-like setting.
So when a grinning sunflower calls you an idiot for taking what you were told at face value before telling you to die, it’s a bit of a surprise to say the least. Such a small, simple misdirection, and yet it sets the tone for Undertale above anything else in that beginning area. It introduces the meta aspects of the game, while also being a genuinely great little twist. Whether you fell for Flowey’s trick or not, it taught you one crucial rule about Undertale: be careful what you assume about this world. — Edie
Dragon Age 2
I know I go on about Dragon Age 2 a lot, it’s one of my favourite games and while I recognize it’s technical flaws it’s themes and story are the series strongest, and that all starts with a perfect opening. Having come off the back of Origins and Awakening your wardens had already faced some of the worst things the Blight had to offer and Dragon Age 2 was ready to keep the badass action coming. The tale begins as you and your sibling face off against a wave of Darkspawn enemies before taking down a formidable ogre like it’s nothing. Your character is already fully decked out in badass armour and wielding a full set of skills or spells, this is the most powerful version of Hawke and not even a dragon descending on the field can stop their stride. Until a voice calls fowl of the tale and we are jettisoned into a dark room to discover that Varric is retelling the tale of Hawke to his captor Cassandra, and possibly embellishing.
After some back and forth he agrees to tell the story for the truth that he knows. We are sent back into the opening we’ve already seen a portion of but now we are wearing rags, we are with our family, we have maybe one skill to our name because Hawke is not some mighty adventurer, Hawke is a refugee. Fleeing the Blight as it destroys their home town the team struggle with low tier enemies, befriend other refugees on the road before we catch up to the epic stand off we witnessed them making before, however this time Hawke is not unstoppable.
Quickly forced to watch a sibling be crushed to death by an ogre and then assist in mercy killing one of the other suffering refugees that joined your band you come to realise how dire your situation has become. This paired with the Witch of the Wilds, Flemmeth, revealing herself in iconic fashion and offering you safe passage to the city of Kirkwall for a favour, something you’d be mad to turn down.
What follows is a story of a family trying to find their way in a city that they are not welcome in, even after they find wealth. What this opening does for this story is two things. First it reveals that we are being told a tale by a storyteller and as such, an unreliable narrator, and explains how the power of story and gossip can turn this asylum seeker just trying to get by into the Hero of Kirkwall. The second thing it does is immediately grounds us with Hawke, taking away the high fantasy pretense that the false narrative was creating, and makes it clear what one of their key values is, family, which is going to make some stuff in the future really hurt. — Cameron
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
The intro of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed sets up the extreme power of the force players learn to control throughout the game. It opens with what feels like a leisurely stroll down Kashyyyk as Darth Vader wreaks havoc upon anyone in his path. The player has a full arsenal of force abilities at their will, seamlessly sending Wookies flying to a sudden demise as they search for a refuge Jedi Knight. It creates excitement, establishes the setting and story, and is so satisfying to play. — Omi
Fallout 3 was the first fully open world game I ever played. One of my friends had bought it for me, because there was no way I would have picked it up on my own. I dove into it without any context, or even any inkling of what the game could be about. Then the opening cutscene played. The stuttering, crackly version of I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire by the Inkspots plays through the radio. The camera slowly zooms out and the music echoes off into the vast wasteland, being overtaken by the deep droning of the game’s score. Cut to title. The most adult game I’d played at the time was some Wolverine game my parents had on PS2. I could feel my hands shaking on the controller as the narrator told me everything that happened in the world up until this moment. When the screen faded to black and back into white, I was almost relieved.
Despite everything, Vault 101 felt safe. I had a dad, I went to a birthday party, to school. And by that time I’d almost forgotten about the opening. Thinking that the game started in the vault and that was where it would end. After all “It is here that you were born, it is here that you will die.” So when I was told I needed to leave, and that I needed to leave now, my hands were shaking again. I was gripping a baseball bat my whole way out of the vault because (full disclosure) this was also my first FPS and I didn’t really know how to shoot. There was a moment when I crossed the threshold from the vault out into the rocky tunnel outside. I turned back, and all the guards chasing me had stopped at the door. Like they were too afraid to follow. Then, with a creak and groan, the door slowly closed behind me, and the only way to go was out.
This is the part that I feel no Fallout game since has gotten quite right. The moment where you step outside of the cave and the world turns to white as your eyes adjust to the sunlight for the very first time. The wasteland slowly fading in, it was big, it was empty, and I had no idea where to go. No opening has given me this feeling since. — Bree
What I consider the opening of Persona 5 is the thing that plays as soon as you boot the game up, before you even load your save file. It’s essentially a minute and 36 second long music video. It introduces the main characters, but it otherwise doesn’t make a ton of sense. Why are they ice skating on a freeway? That never happens in the game.
This opening is the mission statement for Persona 5 as a whole. I remember being in Year 7, thinking how cool the kids in Year 12 were. Some of them could drive, and they got to go to the nearby shopping centre during lunch. That’s the same feeling I get watching this video. These characters are teens struggling with difficult life stuff, but they struggle with perfect fashion sense and being in a constant state of photogenicity. Down to the style, the music, and the black/white/red colour scheme, watching this video with zero context is what got me to start playing the Persona games in the first place. — Pedro
When imposed with the idea of naming a brilliant intro to a game of this decade, the absolute first game that came to mind was 2017’s Prey. Prey was made by Arkane Studios and so much of the development team’s flair shines in that game.
The first 15 minutes of that game are absolutely stellar. You play as Morgan, a budding young scientist that has joined an organisation known as TranStar. Soon, you leave your place of residence and are sent off in a helicopter to undergo some tests for the company, proving your loyalty. Of course, if you’re familiar with Arkane’s other works, things aren’t quite what they seem nor do things go to plan.These very tests are in fact a simulation you’ve been undergoing for the company. You’ve been on this enormous spaceship the entire time, hurtling deep through space. The only reason the curtains have been pulled back is the alien threat known as Typhon have taken hold and have sent everything into chaos. This introduction alone is a great hint at what’s to come for Prey’s world. You’re not always aware of the on-goings behind the scenes of Prey, with you and Morgan discovering everything gradually. Twists of course, are at every turn.
The fact the opening to Prey sticks so fondly in my memory is a testament to the game’s out of the world story. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’m gonna go ponder that game again and be tempted to replay it for a while to come. — Charlie
The Last of Us
It would be nearly impossible to talk about a list of iconic video game openings without mentioning The Last of Us. In fact, I struggle to think of a game opening that hit me as hard as this. One challenge of the zombie horror genre in general is that, going into it, you already know that it’s an “end of the world” scenario, so how do you set it up for the player without being too cliche? Naughty Dog’s masterpiece does this be promptly establishing a relationship between Joel and his daughter via flashback, the night that the chaos began. You start by playing as his helpless child, which sets the tone in a gut-wrenching beginning, as the phone rings with scared relatives, police cars zoom past in the street and an infected crashes in through the living room.
What comes next is an intense and heart-wrenching scene that not only sets up the horror of the world you’re about to be playing in, but the emotional turmoil that’s going to be the foundation of this experience. The empathy you need to have for Joel and how that defines his relationship with Ellie is one of the keys that makes The Last of Us so fantastic, and this opening portrays a scene so horrible, so sad and so scary that you can’t help but be connected to him. There are lots of moving parts that they had to hit with this introduction to make sure that the setting of the world and the main characters motivations were clearly laid out, and it delivers an emotional gut-punch without overstaying its welcome, punctuated by its final moments, where it becomes clear that zombies aren’t the only threat in this world – not by a long shot. — Luke
So here’s hoping you’ve had a great opening to 2020 from all of us at Checkpoint
Make sure to let us know of any other great openings we missed!