In all forms of entertainment, a strong opening salvo can be the difference between capturing an audience and them rummaging in their pockets for the receipt. The opening lines of A Tale Of Two Cities, the boulder run in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, the plane crash aftermath in Lost – classic examples of a strong first impression.
Games are no different, particularly in predominately single player and story-driven titles. This week Fallout 4 and Rise Of The Tomb Raider have had a good stab, but neither is as impactful as it wants to be – read what we thought of Fallout's opening here – leading us to consider the best video game openings ever.
Let's get the really obvious one out of the way. Bioshock always sits at the top of lists about the best game intros and rightly so. It's a perfect scene-setter introducing the ruinous underwater city of Rapture and setting up important plot points for the game to follow.
It works so well because of the strength of the setting, the design and the script. Irrational's game eventually suffers during its final act, following its unforgettable twist, but the strength of everything up until that point carries it home.
Both the original Half Life and its sequel have brilliant opening sequences but Half-Life 2's is undoubtedly better. The train immediately evokes the original's monorail but lets the player off much sooner, from there they move through City 17's checkpoint – watching Wallace Breen's Big Brother-style message and seeing the evidence of a violent dystopia.
All the way through until Gordon Freeman's reunion with Dr Kleiner, Half Life 2's opening is a thrill ride. Multiple playthroughs will reveal just how linear it is but linearity is no opponent of good storytelling.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
For a long time, Treyarch's Spider-Man 2 movie tie-in was considered the best superhero video game. Granted it was not a particularly crowded market, but there was always a sense that comic book games, like comic book movies, could be so much more.
As it proved on the big screen, so it did on the small, due to Rocksteady Studio's incredible standalone adventure that brought together all the best aspects of the character and his world. It begins with Batman delivering Joker to Arkham Asylum, walking him slowly through its dank halls. The tension is palpable, trading on the player's understanding that inevitably the clown prince of crime will escape.
Super Mario Bros
A lot of the games on the list are modern. In large part, this is due to technical possibilities, the industry's greater narrative ambitions and the ever-improving storytelling ability of developers. Super Mario Bros makes this list because of its narrative-free, effortless simplicity.
A simple transition from the game's title screen into gameplay has long been a tool of game makers, and there is no finer example than Nintendo's game-changer. It also helps that we transition into World 1-1, perhaps the best-designed level in video game history.
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
From one Nintendo classic to another. Ocarina Of Time's brilliance is in simple storytelling but also the use of a small area as a place to teach players how to play the game, before unleashing them on a bigger open world.
Kokiri Forest puts the player through their paces, The Great Deku Tree offers them their first challenge and then they are pushed out into the wide expanse of Hyrule Field. Near-enough everything in Ocarina is pitch-perfect, and its intro is no different.
Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Modern Warfare brought the Call Of Duty series out of the Second World War and into a contemporary setting with a single play campaign that still ranks among the finest in shooter history. It begins fairly routinely with a tutorial at a SAS base but then starts the Crew Expendable mission.
Remember the rain-lashed mission aboard the freighter? It was a wonderful start, bringing together all aspects of what makes Call Of Duty great, and made Modern Warfare a classic. A slow start, a emphasis on tight, tactical play and then, inevitably, the explosive finale. The following sequence, in which the player sees through the eyes of a Middle Eastern president executed during a coup, is an excellent end to a strong prologue.
The Last Of Us
The Last of Us is Naughty Dog's finest game and an instant classic. It was clear this post-apocalyptic survival drama would be something special from its wonderful opening, a beautifully paced escalation of fear and desperation as the virus that will bring humanity to its knees deals its first heavy blow.
What worked so well in its favour was none of it had been seen at preview events or in trailers, so the pre-apocalypse opening comes as a surprise, as does seeing protagonist Joel with his daughter. What happens sets up the story to follow, and the hard cut to the game's title is a perfectly placed gut-punch.