The opening to the original Half-Life was a defining moment for gaming. An iconic tram ride that presented Black Mesa as a fully functioning facility; a very real place, packed to the brim with scientists and near-future machinery. It gave life and background to the world in a way that few games of the time did. It might seem humble now, but back in 1998, it was nothing short of mindblowing. Countless games have taken inspiration from Half-Life’s intro, though few pull it off quite so successfully.
Half-Life 2 smartly chose a different approach. It called back to the original by opening on a train but promptly changed tack, dropping you directly into the oppressive world of combine-controlled City 17. It wasn’t quite as revolutionary a start as the first, but the “pick up that can” sequence remains a brilliant moment of worldbuilding from its era, and well worth a shared place on this list.
Red Dead Redemption 2 remains a divisive game. Some find it a miserably slow slog at all stages, while others relished its relaxing pace and attention to detail. In many ways, the opening snowbound section serves as the perfect way to weed out the careful cowboys from the impatient herd rustlers.
Taking place in snow-draped mountains, Red Dead Redemption 2’s opening is stunningly gorgeous, letting you know that you’re in a for a visual banquet of a game. As Arthur and his crew struggle through the snowy mountains, it also brings home the harsh realities of life in an ever-more constrained Wild West. The going is tough and the weather is cruel but hey, at least there are sweet train heists to keep fine folk like yourself busy!
However, if romping through the snow as you carefully track a deer’s scent for 15 minutes straight had you dozing off and dreaming of a real-life snow day, there’s a good chance RDR2 wasn’t for you. This beginning was more than beautiful, it was a perfect encapsulation of what Rockstar wanted to offer in the highly anticipated sequel.
No Gods Or Kings. Only Man. If you’re looking for games that learned the right lessons from Half-Life’s intro, BioShock is top of the list with its descent to underwater city Rapture. Whisking you away from a horrendous plane crash, a cramped diving capsule opens up to unveil the majesty and wonder of this underwater haven, built to house the finest and freest minds of humanity. Or so they thought.
The fate of Rapture was sealed the second human egos stepped inside, but for that brief moment, that first reveal of a glistening art deco city in the ocean depths, you almost believe in Andrew Ryan’s doomed vision. It isn’t long, however, before the cracks in the glass begin to show.
Resident Evil 4 marked a distinct shift in Capcom’s survival horror series. The scares were still there, but Leon’s journey to Las Plagas infested Europe was about action first and foremost. Nothing cemented this transition more firmly than the opening village sequence.
After making his way through a spooky woodland and fighting off a few individual crazies, Leon’s arrival in a small town is where things really begin to pick up. From afar, the villagers almost seem normal, but once alerted, things quickly turn vicious. Soon, enraged souls are practically poured out of the rotting woodwork, forcing you to hole up in buildings, blocking doorways and kicking down ladders as you fend them off.
Then, just as things seemed to become manageable, the rev of a chainsaw. Resident Evil 4 throws you in at the deep end with its intro, forcing you to run for your life from a chainsaw-wielding Ganado capable of killing you a single swing. An action game, yes, but one that wasn’t afraid to use the action to send a jolt of terror racing down your spine.
There aren’t many beginnings less beginning-like than your own death. With Mass Effect 2, BioWare decided that they’d had enough of humdrum RPG openings, shocking us all by straight-up killing protagonist Shepard. After surviving the initial obliteration of your ship the Normandy, you’re forced to watch Shepard asphyxiate and then slowly burn up as they drift into the atmosphere of a nearby planet. On that solemn note, the title screen appears. Damn.
Yes, Shepard is then magically revived and rebuilt by shady human supremacist organization Cerberus, but it’s still one heck of a way to kick off a sequel. Even in a beloved series packed with highlights, Mass Effect 2’s intro stands out, leaving you desperate to jump in and discover who was responsible for the attack and why.
Those are our picks for five brilliant video game openings. Have another one in mind? Let us know down in the comments!