The introduction of compact discs (CD’s) in the mid 1990s as the data storage device of choice for games (excluding Nintendo) had quite a few notable side effects. In addition to larger game worlds, more complex graphics and better sound quality, the increased space available to developers allowed for the inclusion of something quite new – an opening cinematic video that played before the title screen popped up. These videos were often pre-rendered and served no purpose other than to get gamers pumped for the experience ahead of them. It became quite a popular feature, and nowadays many games offer opening cinematics with extraordinary production values. In this list, I aim to offer my opinion of what are some of the finest opening videos in gaming history.
For the purposes of this list, I wanted to limit any choices to purely video footage, or at least bare minimum interaction before you start the game – I will admit I am quite a fan of ‘interactive openings’ combining cinematics and gameplay (the openings to Mass Effect 2, Bioshock and Uncharted 2 in particular are excellent examples), but for me personally an opening cinematic should have no interaction from the player; they should have to do nothing except enjoy watching it.
10 – Half Life 2
“The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world…”
The opening 50 seconds or so of Half Life 2 must be very strange for newcomers to Valve’s award winning masterpiece; I know I found it weird first time round. Half Life 2 starts with the faceless and silent protagonist Gordon Freeman having a very strange vision of the enigmatic G-Man, whose face drifts in and out of view with shots of things that have passed in the Black Mesa Research facility, and things that are yet to come in the dystopian City 17. I love it because it creates the opening sense of dread – as soon as the G-Man tells you to wake up and smell the ashes, you immediately assume control of Gordon aboard a train heading into City 17. Best find that crowbar quickly.
9 – Lost Odyssey
Similar to Half Life 2, the opening cinematic transitions smoothly into the first piece of action in the sadly underrated JRPG Lost Odyssey; and what a cracking start to the action it is. The scene opens on a colossal battlefield with soldiers and their futuristic armaments trading blows, and after two minutes or so a silver blot darts onto the screen and starts to mess stuff up in glorious style – this chap is Kaim, a 1,000 year old solider who can’t actually die. It’s beautifully animated, and Kaim looks like a complete badass (amusingly, he dispatches at least 20 enemies before even breathing) – your reward for completing the battle is a second cutscene, where the heavens themselves split and drop lava on the battlefield, leaving Kaim as the only man standing. Sadly, the game never gets to be quite this cool ever again.
8 – Borderlands 2
Both of the Borderlands games have very good, stylish openings with some similarities: a poor skag gets hit by a moving vehicle, and we get to see the four Vault Hunters for the first time. I opted for the second game over the first however; the splash screens for each characters name are a bit more unique in the second game (“and Zer0 as a number”), and ‘Short Change Hero’ by The Heavy somehow fits the frenzied madness onscreen. It also ends on a quite unexpected note with Handsome Jack leaving a surprise for the Vault Hunters…
7 – Driver
Water drips from a rusty pipe as a man walks across a quiet multi-storey car park, gets in his Ford Mustang clone, and sets off. As he sees a police vehicle patrolling the area, the man puts his foot down and races away. The opening to Driver encapsulates a lot of what you will be doing for the next 12 or so hours – throwing ludicrously big American muscle cars round corners with reckless abandon, and causing the destruction of so many police cars that it would make The Blues Brothers jealous. The video also looked spectacular at the time; just look at the way the weight of the car shifts as Tanner throws it around. Glorious.
6 – God Of War 3
It seems Santa Monica Studios liked the look of the openings to James Bond films including Casino Royale and decided to incorporate the style into the opening cinematic for the PS3 title God Of War 3. Recapping the events of the first two games, including Kratos’ ascent and consequent descent from godliness, the opening is dashed with splashes of blood red on backgrounds of grey and black to give a very striking effect, matched to a rousing choral score. Epic is very much the word that comes to mind.
5 – Fallout 3
An old transistor radio sparks into life, the song proclaiming “I don’t want to set the world on fire…”. The bitter irony of this is slowly revealed as the camera gradually zooms out not to the world of 1950s suburbia, but rather to show the ruins of Washington DC claimed by nuclear warfare in Fallout 3’s post apocalyptic world, as a member of the Brotherhood Of Steel stares coldly into the screen as the video cuts away. I remember this more than anything for the inspired choice of music, which features greatly in the game to capture the retro feel caught in the nuclear terror of the Wasteland.
4 – Final Fantasy VIII
There’s a lot of things that I don’t like about Final Fantasy VIII – but I’ve never been able to criticise the opening. Set to the tune of ‘Liberi Fatali’, the opening movie intersperses all kinds of shots of Rinoa and the Sorceress Edea with a frantic gunblade battle between the two young SEED recruits Squall and Seifer. My copy of Final Fantasy VII came with a bonus disc for the opening of VIII, and I couldn’t believe the jump in graphical quality – at the time of its release, it was genuinely difficult to imagine that games might get any better looking. We were wrong of course, but it still doesn’t stop the cinematic being quite impressive.
3 – Playstation All Stars Battle Royale
While the game may not have enjoyed critical or sales success, All Stars Battle Royale is still quite fun to play with friends; and whenever I’ve been round to a mate’s house to play, we’ve barely ever skipped the opening. I don’t know quite how it works, but the opening cinematic which introduces the rivalries in the game (Ratchet fights Jak, Spike attempts to capture Parappa) carries such a swagger with it that it’s hard to ignore. Maybe it’s the beautiful use of colours that illuminate and follow the characters around as they dance a ballet of death, or the choreography with Madeon’s ‘Finale’ (it also makes me laugh when Nathan Drake kicks Ratchet just as the music kicks in). Whatever the case, it’s the best openings I’ve seen in the past few years.
2 – Gran Turismo 3
For a long time, this was by far and away my favourite opening cinematic in a video game. It opens with a mixture of real life footage of a Castrol Toyota Supra being prepped for a race and CG footage on fuel flowing into the engine and lighting up (the moment the engine lights up at 0:46 still gives me shivers), before switching to game footage to the tune of Feeder’s ‘Just A Day’ (or if you got the American version, the equally awesome ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ by Lenny Kravtiz). You get showed a mixture of the real life tracks including Laguna Seca, as well as the dirt track action, and then of course it showed off the cars. It astonishes me that now, almost 12 years after the game was released, it still looks nothing short of superb.
1 – Street Fighter 4
In this list, I have highlighted game openings that had amazing graphics, catchy music, and importantly set the tone for events to come. In every category, the opening to Street Fighter IV is unbeatable in my humble opinion. Making great use of the new art style that the fourth main game of the series brought with it, the opening to SFIV is a spectacular visual feast, with an annoyingly catchy song to boot as well (Indestructible by EXILE). Fighting games often have the best intro videos, and for me this game is way ahead at the top of the pile. Little else to say except watch it really.
I would like to quickly give honorable mentions to the likes of Wild Arms, Civilization V, Kingdom Hearts II, Gran Turismo 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3. If you reckon I’ve got the list wrong (entirely possible), let me know in the comment section.