A game's intro can set the tone, mood, and more than anything, they get you pumped to play the game. I know many gamers (myself included) who will take the time to pop in the disc and watch the intro even if they don't get the chance to play the game immediately. It's a great device to engage gamers and set up the overall story. With the latest advancements in technology and 3D graphics, this past decade has seen some of the most impressive-looking cinematic intros ever. Today, I’d like to take a look at some of the best ones the 00s have had to offer, and why they still rank among the best.
Opening cinematics are fun to watch (and in some instances provide the only redeeming part of a game). For me, since I work in film often, I enjoy the cinematics for their film-like qualities. It’s been frustrating to see so many games and developers moving away from the practice of these scenes. Instead of a cool intro, many games are thrusting players straight into the action. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I feel like we’re missing something.
Oh well, enough of my ranting for now. Let’s not look to what should be going on now in games, but what greatness lies in the past!
Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (2001)
I nearly peed my pants the first time I laid eyes on this intro back when the game first released. It felt like I was watching the trailer (or opening credits) for an incredible looking film. The editing is amazing, and gets you so hyped to play the game, it's nearly impossible to not play after watching it...Then you get to Raiden, and the feeling mysteriously goes away. Regardless, this is a prime example of an intro that gets you ready and itching to play the game.
Shadow Hearts (2001)
Like any great movie or book, this intro kicks things off right. It clearly defines the villain, adds in a little mystery, and gives us some solid action to get gamers in the mood to play. It really sets the tone for the game to come, and establishes quite a wealth of information without bogging you down with too much dialogue. The problem I've seen in many intros is they try to convey a bunch of initial information (like a book’s prologue) to catch players up on the game world. The problem, all too often, is they end up too long and and drawn out; making the game itself seem less exciting. With a good sense of dramatic timing and pacing, the Shadow Hearts intro avoids that problem. It still tells you everything you need to know, sparks your interest, and then lets you play.
The Mark of Kri (2002)
Here’s an amazing game that almost no one played. Sure there were some nagging gameplay limitations, but on the whole, the mechanics felt solid and rewarding; providing a game that was ridiculously fun to play. The story really set this game apart, using magic, myth, and religion (as within the game's world) to create a fun and engaging tale. The story was told creatively through the use of pictures drawn onto the screen as the narrator spoke. Part of the reason for its unique art style stems from the fact that the team was mostly comprised of old 2D animators, so they implemented many of their former techniques. The intro sets the game up for the hand-drawn look and feel of the game beautifully. While it gets a little on the lengthy side, the art style is hard to forget and makes for a unique storytelling device.
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (2004)
War is never pretty, but this intro sure makes it look cool. The massive battle portrayed in this opening scene only sets the stage for the epic battles you get to play in the game itself. After watching it, you’ll want to immediately jump into the action. Despite its lack of dialogue and short length, you do feel sympathetic to characters in the cinematic. You feel for them, want to avenge them, and more importantly you just want to blow the crap out of a bunch of damn Orcs! It's like walking out of the movie theater for a really cool action movie. It just makes you want to do...something. Whether that's blow stuff up, drive fast to the point of making your significant other smack you, or pick a fight against a dude you have no chance of taking, the choice is yours.
Final Fantasy III (for the DS 2006)
It's hard to believe this came from a DS. The graphics are stunning, and they really make you wish the game itself could look like this. Unfortunately, hardware limitations prevent you from playing a game that looks this good, but that's never stopped fans of Final Fantasy. Despite its compact size, the intro does a great job of giving the game a proper epic Final Fantasy vibe, and sets the tone for the game very well. It's so interesting, in fact, you won't even care about the random battles until you're already well into the game.
Sonic Unleashed (2008)
Say what you will about the game itself (believe me, it's no worse than anything I've said about it), but this intro is just fun to look at. Its only problem is that it makes a promise the game can't deliver on. Sleek visuals, a Sonic cool enough to hearken back to the days of the Sega Genesis—this intro does a lot of things right. It gives a lot of action, sets up the story, and does its best to prove that Sonic is back and better than ever. The intro most definitely succeeded, but I'm still waiting on Sonic: The Lost World to bring back the glory days of that rascally Hedgehog.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King (2008)
Do I really have to explain why this is on the list? I mean look at it. The animation is stunning, and the characters are painstakingly detailed. This long-awaited expansion to World of Warcraft started things off with a bang. Typically, anytime an intro can make gamers go "Holy crap!" you can call it a success. Bad guys drive the story (especially when you're talking about RPG style games), they're the reason you keep fighting through hordes and hordes of other lesser enemies, and the Lich King cuts a dominating figure. You know you're in deep when your enemy can swing a sword and raise an army of undead warriors.
There are still the occasional intro cinematic for video games today (Blizzard and Bioware are very consistent in providing continual awesomeness in this regard), but as games are able to close the gap more and more between technology and storytelling, I suspect they’ll continue to disappear. While it makes me sad, we’ll always have these to remember!
These are some of my favorite intros from the 2Ks, what about you guys? Tell us your picks in the comments below!