One of the most challenging things for developers is crafting a memorable video game opening. It’s vital for a game, and can usually last several hours, in order to hook players instantly. Having the opening hours be substandard and uninspired is unacceptable these days, as gamers will quickly move on to the next title.
It’s a similar situation with movies and TV shows. If the first ten minutes of a film or the first episode of a series is a complete letdown, viewers won’t stick around. This especially rings true in an age where people have plenty of entertainment options at their fingertips.
Creating a satisfying and thrilling opening requires a herculean amount of effort and skill. BioShock’s iconic opening shot of Rapture, or Super Mario Bros.’ expertly designed first level, which teaches player the game’s core mechanics, are just two examples of how to nail intros.
These are the 15 Best Video Game Openings Of All Time.
15 Assassin’s Creed II
Assassin’s Creed II’s first few minutes are beautifully poignant and breathtaking. Ubisoft has players assume the role of a young, charismatic Italian named Ezio Auditore before he eventually becomes one of the most ruthless and deadliest assassins in history.
You witness what caused Ezio’s transformation. However, before that, you’re given the task of racing your brother through the rooftops of Florence. Not only does this set up Ezio as a protagonist and allow you to form a close relationship with his family, which player a major role in the plot, it also cleverly teaches you the game’s platforming mechanics.
In a matter of minutes, Ubisoft pulls off the difficult task of kickstarting Assassin Creed II’s complex story while also setting up the fundamentals of gameplay. Not to mention, Jesper Kyd’s mesmerizing score also makes its grand appearance, resulting in the best introduction to a main character in the entire franchise.
14 The Force Unleashed
There’s only word to describe the opening to The Force Unleashed: epic. The game is set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, when Emperor Palpatine just committed the Jedi purge.
The story begins with Darth Vader, who is ordered by Palpatine to hunt down surviving Jedi across the galaxy. The Force Unleashed kicks off with its own opening scroll - an important staple in the Star Wars series - complete with John Williams’ brilliant score.
Then, as you witness several Star Destroyers make their way to the Wookie planet of Kashyyyk, you suddenly assume control of Darth Vader himself. Vader is on a mission to destroy a Jedi named Kento Marek, and no one’s going to stop him.
You’re given an immense amount of power and the ability to force choke and slash your way towards your destination. It’s a grandiose and effective opening to an original and exciting Star Wars story.
13 Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is a haunting tale of one man’s guilt, as he's driven to madness following the death of his wife. From creative director Masashi Tsuboyama, Silent Hill 2 is often heralded as one of the best horror titles ever made, and for good reason.
From its atmospheric and frightening setting, complete with engaging puzzles and creep locales, to the emotional story filled with striking symbolism, Silent Hill 2 is a work of art.
Tsuboyama kicks things off rather slowly, establishing the history of protagonist James Sunderland, the tragedy that has befallen him, and why he decides to travel to Silent Hill.
Unlike most of the openings on this list, which are filled with spectacle, Silent Hill 2 takes a different route altogether, instead opting to patiently get under the player’s skin. Starting off in an abandoned and decrepit public bathroom, Sunderland stares at himself in the mirror, wondering how this nightmare will unravel.
12 Resident Evil 4
Resident Evil 4’s first chapter is the complete opposite of Silent Hill’s opening, as it’s filled with non-stop action and countless demented townspeople hellbent on murdering you.
Main character Leon S. Kennedy arrives at a mysterious nameless rural village in an unspecified part of Spain. What starts out as a meandering and slow-paced walkthrough in a quaint little town quickly devolves into an all-out battle against a mindless and vicious cult.
You have to maneuver around the town, searching for supplies (as you barely have any in the beginning of the game), figuring out Resident Evil 4’s mechanics all the while trying to survive.
The game also throws one of the toughest and most iconic enemies at you, the chainsaw man who loves to wear a paper bag over his head. Once you do manage to escape and catch a breath, you realize that this fourth main entry in Capcom’s long-running horror franchise will be unlike any Resident Evil game you’ve played before.
11 Medal of Honor: Frontline
Before Activision took the gaming world by storm with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and before Electronic Arts kickstarted the resurgence of its Battlefield franchise, Medal of Honor was one of the biggest military first-person shooters around.
This now dormant series from EA focused on authentically recreating the major events of World War II, and arguably one of the most iconic battles in that war-- D-Day. Medal of Honor: Frontline throws you headfirst onto those blood-soaked beaches, forcing you to fight for your life while, slowly but surely, taking over the beach from the Germans.
Frontline’s opening battle is ripped straight out from the first 20 minutes of Steven Spielberg's epic Saving Private Ryan, which also showcases the horrors of D-Day.
You play as Lieutenant James Steven "Jimmy" Patterson, tasked with storming Omaha Beach as part of Operation Overlord. It’s a thrilling sequence filled with dread and fear.
10 Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Not only is Symphony of the Night undoubtedly the best entry in Konami’s fantastic gothic franchise, but it paved the way for more original level designs in gaming. Creative director Koji Igarashi’s near flawless title starts during the ending of the previous game in the franchise, Rondo of Blood.
It’s a surprising turn of events because, instead of assuming the role of Alucard, you get to explore Count Dracula’s castle as Richter Belmont. You can cap it all off by facing Dracula himself in a tense and challenging boss fight that perfectly sets up Symphony of the Night’s dark tone and high difficulty.
9 God of War III
God of War has always had grandiose boss battles and thrilling action sequences. It is what makes this blood-soaked PlayStation franchise stand out, after all.
However, while the first title’s opening ship sequence and God of War II’s first battle against the Colossus of Rhodes are exhilarating, Kratos’ march towards Mount Olympus in God of War III ups the ante.
This third entry begins with Kratos essentially riding on the Titan Gaia while Poseidon himself does everything he can to stop you from progressing. This first boss fight is a technical marvel, as Kratos slashes his way towards Zeus.
Though the rest of the game doesn’t disappoint when it comes to boss battles, the opening fight against Poseidon is still the best the entire series has to offer, and it concludes with the bloodiest and most disturbing death of a god.
8 Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid is set six years after the events of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, after the downfall of Zanzibarland. Solid Snake gets dragged out of retirement by Colonel Campbell, who sends Snake on a mission to dispose of a renegade, genetically-enhanced special forces unit called FOXHOUND.
Metal Gear Solid’s opening cinematic is gorgeous, and the game forces players to quietly sneak around several areas before reaching DARPA chief Donald Anderson. It’s a great intro to the game’s top-down stealth mechanics, which establishes the fact that you won’t be able to shoot your way through the entire game.
From a storytelling perspective, you’re also introduced to this slightly newer version of Solid Snake, Colonel Campbell, Mei Ling, and the threat of Liquid Snake. However, what really cements this game’s opening as the best in the series is how it cleverly demonstrates just how bonkers Metal Gear Solid is.
It turns out that Donald Anderson was Decoy Octopus all along, a member of FOXHOUND who’s a master of disguise. What follows is one of the most unusual adventures in all of gaming history.
7 Fallout 3
The one thing that most fans can remember from playing Fallout 3 for hundreds of hours is the first time you exit Vault 101. After being raised by your father in the safe confines of a Vault, you have to venture outside to find and, ultimately, save him once chaos erupts in the Vault.
What’s most effective about this opening is the fact that you start out as a toddler and slowly grow up. Bethesda Softworks cleverly shows players what’s it like living in a Vault.
It starts off in a small community in which everyone knows each other. Everything is going fine-- you can attend class and there’s always food to eat. It’s the most normal life you can have in this post-apocalyptic version of Washington D.C., and then it gets taken away from you.
While traversing around D.C. fighting for your life and gunning down ghouls, you always have the memories of living in Vault 101 in the back of your mind. You truly realize just how much humanity has lost in the aftermath of this nuclear war.
6 Onimusha 3
After the meteoric success of Resident Evil, Capcom had Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune craft a series from the ground-up that contained the same type of level and gameplay design as Resident Evil.
Onimusha sports Metroidvania-style levels where players have to learn abilities and find key items that can unlock new areas to explore. Onimusha is Capcom’s most underrated series, and the third entry, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege, is without a doubt the best one in the franchise.
After the events of the previous two games, protagonist Samanosuke Akechi infiltrates a massive demon temple to kill an undead warlord named Mori.
The game’s opening cinematic is stunning and jaw-dropping, filled with fantastic action sequences choreographed by the one and only Donnie Yen. The casual viewer doesn’t need to know much about Onimusha to see the third game’s opening as a beautifully directed piece of filmmaking.
5 Final Fantasy VII
As the most popular and iconic entry in Square Enix’s biggest franchise, Final Fantasy VII kicks things off with a fast-paced bombing operation featuring a group of hardened rogues. Without any exposition, you assume control of a mysterious warrior named Cloud who, along with the help of his grumpy sidekick Barrot, are on a mission to essentially perform a terrorist attack on the city of Midgar.
You don't fully realize the stakes and the reasoning behind this mission until well into the opening, when the game quickly sets up the main conflict in Final Fantasy VII’s story - Midgar is dying due to the overuse and exploitation of Lifestream.
Without the introduction of Sephiroth and JENOVA, this opening establishes a central theme that anyone can get behind: putting an end to the misuse of a planet’s natural resources.
From venturing to the slums of Midgar, to meeting a mysterious and kind character named Aerith, Final Fantasy VII’s opening is an emotional beginning to a near-flawless role-playing game.
4 Uncharted 2
Given just how successful Naughty Dog has been recently, fans won’t remember that the studio wasn’t always the critical darling that it is today. Before Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which impacted the games industry in such an astronomical way, people were questioning whether Naughty Dog could pull off a third-person action-adventure game.
The Jak and Daxter series is good, but it certainly wasn’t the best platformer on PlayStation 2, and, while the first Uncharted is engaging, it still contains a few poor design choices.
However, right from the opening cutscene, Uncharted 2 promises to be one of the most memorable and ambitious action titles ever made, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Nathan Drake wakes up to find himself trapped on a train that’s about to fall off a cliff. Wounded and slowly dying, you have to climb your way up the train and sneak your way towards safety. It’s a riveting introduction, and Uncharted 2 never slows down for the eight hours that follow.
3 Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros.’ opening isn’t cinematic, bombastic, or a technical marvel. However, it is a masterclass in video game design that should be taught to every single game developer who wants to make a great experience for their fans.
The first level in Super Mario Bros. is essentially a tutorial, but not many players will notice this. You learn the fundamentals of jumping, avoiding death, and how to attack enemies.
You find out that, if Mario eats a mushroom, he grows large and gains an extra health point, and that he can also discover the ability to throw fireballs if you find a Fire Flower. You learn that levels are often filled with secret areas which can be accessed via certain pipes.
Super Mario Bros.’, to this day, contains the most instructive and enjoyable tutorial level in any game.
2 The Last of Us
The second game from Naughty Dog on this list is the total opposite of Uncharted 2. The Last of Us is slow paced, brooding, depressing, highly emotional, and quite difficult to play through.
Naughty Dog sets up The Last of Us’ dark tone with one of the saddest introductions to any story and main character. Instead of trying to climb a falling train in a thrilling set piece, you’re tasked with keeping your young daughter alive through what is essentially a zombie outbreak.
Naughty Dog puts an incredible amount of responsibility on the player from the start, setting you up for a challenging and emotionally draining journey in a decrepit United States. The Last of Us’ opening hour has action, high stakes, and a devastating death right at the end which warns you that no one is safe in this world, not even the two main characters: Joel and Ellie.
BioShock’s evocative musical score plays in the background while the main character, Jack, gets ready to hijack a plane. The plane crashes in the middle of the ocean and you slowly make your way towards a mysterious lighthouse.
At this point, you’re confused. You don’t understand why Jack decided to, seemingly, kill hundreds of innocent people on that plane.
As you enter the lighthouse, you’re greeted with a large bust of Andrew Ryan, with a sign that promises the world you’re about to enter is unlike anything above surface. You make your way to a bathysphere and, as Andrew Ryan’s automated video message plays, the city of Rapture is unveiled.
BioShock’s opening is awe-inspiring, filled with wonder and intrigue. The first time you witness the beauty of Rapture is in an unforgettable video game moment, and what follows is a terrifying realization that this gorgeous underwater city, which was meant to be a utopia, has imploded.
Instead of a exploring a beautiful world, you have to survive a haunting dystopian city.
Can you think of any other breathtaking video game openings that left you feeling awe-inspired? Let us know in the comments!