We've been covering our favourite, and not so favourite, virtual finales here at Dealspwn for a while now, so we thought it prudent to consider the opposite end of the spectrum, and recollect on our fondest moments when we first clicked Play. Quite how you define an 'opening' is, ahem, open to interpretation. Be it the debut cut-scene or the first moments of gameplay. Read on, although spoilers await...
10. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Bundled into a car, hands strapped behind your back, your bandanna-clad kidnappers proceed to drive you through your own city, crumbling in the wake of political upheaval brought on by a military coup. You witness civilians lined up against a wall, executed in regimented fashion by an indifferent firing squad. Echoes of Nazi atrocities linger in the new modern setting. War never changes.
You're dragged into a courtyard, where your executioner awaits. I'll admit, when Al-Asad strolled over to me, hefting the Desert Eagle and pointing it square in my face, I jumped when he finally did shoot. It was a gripping, incredibly cinematic opening. It's an effective means of informing you what you're fighting for and why, instead of vomiting patriotic propaganda everywhere.
Smoking, aboard a plane? Must be the 50s. Dragging on your cigarette, you squint through the haze at a picture of your family. Rumbling. Screams. A fade to black. And then, chaos. Suddenly, you're in the freezing ocean, the fiery corpse of your plane slowly sinking. You spot a lighthouse, not too far off, so you swim through the wreckage, avoiding the huge fuselage as it dissapears into the sea's embrace.
Inside the lighthouse, you descend a stairway into a passage, where a bathysphere awaits. Instead of holing up in the lighthouse and waiting for the search and rescue team to arrive, you hope on-board the bathysphere and descend. Cresting an underwater ridge, your eyes light up as you see Rapture for the first time, a city on the bottom of the ocean. Utopia? Or hell on Earth? You decide...
8. Pokemon Red & Blue
Long ago, the opening to a Pokemon game wasn't a tired, recycled component of the series, but a truly wondrous introduction. Bored in your quiet rural village of Pallet Town, you venture into the long-grass, a dangerous route, indeed, until Professor Oak, a kindly Pokemon specialist, warns you of the dangers inherent in wandering alone, and decides to offer you three Pokemon to choose from, so you might be better prepared in your quest.
It's not cinematic or particularly innovative. But at the time, Pokemon was new and very special. It's always been a series about choice, and no moments sums this up better, than seeing those three red and white balls arranged on the table, clicking on each one and hearing the distinct roar and image of each occupant popping up on the screen.
7. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Hopping from stepping-stone to stepping-stone, dodging inexplicable boulders rolling around, trying to bypass that sidestepping kid blocking your way to the Great Deku Tree. The Ocarina of Time is littered with magical moments when you begin in Kokiri Village. Before the likes of Grand Theft Auto popularised the open-world design philosophy, Zelda was carving its own little do-as-you-please niche, albeit on an entirely insular level.
Great openings needn't be cinematic, but the payoff for all your early troubles, when you finally emerge in the clearing which houses the Great Deku Tree, looming above you, with the incredible soundtrack booming from your speakers, is more satisfying and engrossing than any Michael Bay-esque FMV.
6. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
In Pulp Fiction fashion, the opening to Uncharted 2 isn't the opening at all. It's partway through the game, with Drake waking up in a carriage of a recently derailed train, clinging to the lip of a cliff. Bloody and bruised, the train shifts, gravity exerting its implacable force, and Drake tumbles down the carriage and only just hangs on. Slowly but surely, he puts all his acrobatic acumen to use, navigating his way up each carriage, until he finally reaches the top and makes a daring jump for safety.
What's most impressive about this opening is the seamless blend of gameplay and moments that could simply be cut-scenes, but instead happen as you're playing, ensuring the sense of danger is very tangible indeed. Every creak, groan and screech inching you ever closer to a bathroom break.
5. Halo 2
Say what you will about how it finishes, but Halo 2's opening is great. Summarising the original's story in a scant few minutes, and expertly establishing the Covenant hierarchy's unstable politics, it sheds new light on what was once a growling, roaring, purple blood-spewing adversary. Cross-cut with gameplay and footage of the Master Chief at a military ceremony, we witness the disgraced and soon-to-be Arbiter accepting his own reward for his service on Halo.
On a tangential note, I often find it strange that Halo 2's ending is criticised above the original's. It's a cliffhanger, yes, but then in Halo 1, the Master Chief escapes from a crumbling alien fortress, having vanquished a biological galactic threat and an alien hegemony, and then... nothing. He's drifting off in space aboard a Long Sword, chatting with Cortana, his imaginary friend. Conclusive? Not really.
4. Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion
When your specially-crafted character wakes up in his cell to abuse from a neighboring prisoner and only a hanging chain to play with, it appears the opening to Oblivion might be a tad restrictive. Only Jean-Luc Picard arrives at your cell-door, dressed in medieval robes and toting an escort of armed guards. He sees something in you, and agrees to take you along as they escape from his own dungeon through rat-filled caves and sewage tunnels.
The best moment in Oblivion's opening is finally emerging from the sewers, the realm of Tamriel sprawling before you, all rolling hills dotted with trees and villages, a blue, cloud-swept sky arching over the mountainside. Just don't smack a passerby for no reason other than to amuse yourself, especially if he's got a big sword and rides on a horse.
3. Gears of War
Excusing the dialogue so bad it makes a Stallone script look night Shakespearean, the opening to Gears of War is a rollicking ride, as you're rescued from your soon-to-be overrun detention facility by old pal, Dom, culminating in a mad dash for a chopper as an enormous Corpser bursts from the ground on spindly legs.
What I love about Gears of War, and cover-shooters in general, is how plentiful cover actually is. Who built all those lumps of rock, the perfect size for a man of Marcus' frame to hide behind? And why was this anonymous, and frankly unimaginative, architect given permission to scatter his work all over the damn planet?
2. Metal Gear Solid 2
I remember playing Metal Gear Solid 2's opening level, set aboard an oil tanker harboring a particularly destructive stowaway, before I'd even purchased the game. The demo came bundled with Zone of the Enders, another classic, and I scurried around the tanker's rain-slick decks, dropping soldiers with tranquiliser guns and puffing on cigarettes to reveal trip-lasers.
What a shame the game starts so brightly, as before you know it, the grizzled, badass visage of Snake is soon replaced by the smooth, Boy Band-features of the infamous Raiden. Like to see effeminate men perform naked cartwheels as they clutch their sacred bits? Then you're in luck.
1. Mass Effect 2
Mass Effect 2's grim, explosive opening is top on this list, not only for its stunning production values, confident direction and great dialogue, but simply because you die at the end. So often in climactic encounters between the underdog and the Big Bad, the good guys somehow win, despite the odds. Here, Shepard and his crew come across a far superior force, and pay the consequences.
You can be sure if Kojima were in charge of a sequence like that, where the main-character dies in the opening cutscene, the credits would roll and the game would return to the menu screen. Only for the New Game option to return to the presumed dead Shepard, and gamers around the world praising Kojima as an auteur. I think he just enjoys screwing with us.
So we've wrapped up our favourite openings, and you, dear reader, no doubt have some suggestions of your own that should have made it onto the list. Let us know in the comments section what openings shocked and awed you.