First impressions are everything so it's important for developers, now more than ever, to set the scene for gamers when they load up their purchase for the first time. For some games, the intro just about does the job, other times it just drops you right into the action. Sometimes, however, there are some titles that use the openings to burn into your mind that something epic is just ahead of you, waiting to begin.
With that in mind, this week we look at one such memorable opening from a forgotten genre, as we remember Why We Love... The Opening of Descent Freespace: The Great War!
Just over a decade ago Combat Space Sims were my games of choice. I’d play anything Wing Commander or Chris / Erin Roberts based to great amusement. Between those games and the X-Wing series my PC was constantly firing futuristic weaponry of varying nature, from tachyon pulses to FoF missiles. Hell, the house would shake when I took a hit thanks to my trusty Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro (which I still consider the best damn joystick ever made) and its colossal rumble ability.
While Wing Commander: Prophecy had been an entertaining romp it ultimately felt a bit shallow and sadly didn’t feel as epic as the previous instalments. Even the free spin-off Secret Ops couldn’t keep the wind beneath the wings of the franchise, and it was the start of the decline of a once revered genre. Things looked grim for Space Combat fans with X-Wing Alliance and Starlancer a few years away, and something was needed to fill the void.
However in 1998 Volition bought out a game to rival Colonel Blair, the Kilrathi, the Empire & the Rebels, and every other space-faring entity in gaming existence with the rather excessively titled Descent Freespace: The Great War. I remember playing the demo and being highly impressed by the graphics and the combat against the Vasudans. It was sleek, action-packed and more importantly it was fun. Volition got the mood exactly right and I was won over by the new series, my enthusiasm for Space Combat Sims reinvigorated. From there I decided to buy Freespace at release, and after the installation had finally completed my best friend and I sat back and started to watch the intro, preparing for an awesome game but what happened next caught us off-guard. All of a sudden the well-polished combat and fantastic graphics were about to be overshadowed by an intimidating foe, and a preview of the conflict that was yet to come…
It was dark, it was gritty, it was Ron D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot years before its phenomenal run on TV. That single cinematic had us both in awe of what was to come in perhaps the finest Space Combat Sim ever made. You couldn't help but feel the overwhelming fear of poor Lt. Ash as he headed to the ill-fated Outpost Riviera in the Ross 128 system, with the musical score perfectly capturing the panic and impending annihilation. While it would be several missions before you finally fought the Shivans, they were every bit as fearsome when you met them in-game as they were in that intro.
Sure, there were many other great moments in the game; the capture of the Taranis, the arrival of the Lucifer, the first time you got to pilot the Prometheus fighter, the fate of the GTD Galatea, but as impacts go the intro was powerful and effective. The series would go on to spawn an expansion and a sequel that was as good, if not better, than the original filled with its own fantastic moment. Of course, the genre has long been considered dead for years now, although a hardcore following still exists trying to bring the game back thanks to the now Freeware nature of the game. That said, as anyone who has played Halo: Reach will tell you, the potential to bring some good old fashioned deep space dogfighting back to the forefront of gaming is still there and, for me at least, that intro video has brought back a lot of fantastic memories.
Hmmm. If you’ll excuse me, I think it’s about time I got my Force Feedback Pro out of retirement…
Does this particular opening hold a special place in your heart? Do you have a particular intro that stands out in your mind? Perhaps you think this isn't a good example of a memorable intro? Well don't just sit there, sound off in the comments below!