Top 5 Game Beginnings

A strong beginning can carry a game, it’s what will make someone excited for what to come while at the same time helping teach the player about the world, how to interact with it, and their role in it. For the purposes of this little article I’m being vague about my definition of the ‘beginning’ of a game. I’m mostly going for the opening sequences and that little tutorial section that exists in pretty much every modern game, where it teaches you what to do. So let’s go ahead with the top 5 beginnings:


Number 5

Fallout 3

Bethesda are pretty famous for the opening sequences to their games. They like to create a pretty dramatic starter and generally it does a good job of getting you into the story. Unfortunately they also have a tendency of creating some of the most boring tutorial sections ever. The opening to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, is excellent from a narrative view but oh my did I ever just download a mod to skip it as soon as I could.

Fallout 3, for me, is the exception to it. For those that don’t know the Fallout series is set in an alternate history post apocalyptic game where you’ll spend most of your time scavenging the wastelands of America shooting raiders, super mutants, and giant scorpions. Fallout 3 begins with your character being born, which is awesome! It the proceeds with your childhood growing up with your dad, played by Liam Neeson.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

I think this is what makes Fallout 3’s opening better than it’s sequel, Fallout: New Vegas. It gives you a much greater attachment to your character because you are there during their life. Yes the same thing will happen all the time with only minor changes, the robot will always mess up the cake and you’ll always get a BB gun from your dad. But it just gives this real impetus to continue the story. When stuff inevitably goes wrong it does feel important and exciting. It also gives a very good reason why an adult knows so little of the world around them. It makes sense that you constantly have to ask who Three-Dog or the Enclave are if you’ve spent your life in a vault.

Fallout 3 is probably my favourite beginning to a Bethesda game, better even than Morrowind, and is probably the only one that I don’t try and find a way to skip. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it sets a good tone, what more could you ask for?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?


Number 4

Dark Souls

I have struggled with Dark Souls, and not just because it’s meant to be very hard. I keep going back to it but I find it difficult to get my head around all the mechanics and working out exactly how I want to play the game. Before I started playing it (and watching Vinny from Giant Bomb play it) all I really knew about Dark Souls was that it’s hard. What I didn’t know was that it has an awesome opening cinematic! I’m serious I haven’t been so impressed by an opening cinematic for a long while.

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

I think I was just impressed by the lore involved in everything. The opening cinematic really kicks you into this hostile world and gives you an idea of exactly what sort of fantasy scale you’re dealing with here. Beyond the opening cinematic the tutorial area is pretty good at teaching you about the game but did not impress me as much as this first scene. That’s why I put it lower on this list, if the tutorial built on how amazing the opening scene is then it would have been one of the best beginnings ever. But as it stands I found the whole Undead Asylum thing didn’t quite grab me as much as I’d hoped.

I’m sure I’ll keep going back as I’m still trying to find my playstyle for Dark Souls which requires making lots of different characters. I don’t know what sort I’ll end up with but I do know that I will watch that opening scene in full every time.

I did have someone laugh out loud at that line.

And a shout out for the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten!


Number 3

Alice: Madness Returns

So I’ve already reviewed Alice: Madness Returns so you may well know my opinion on it. Objectively it’s a pretty good game but has some glaring problems. Subjectively however I would consider it one of my favourite games of all time. Pretty much everything just works and I have so much fun with it. It’s also one of the few games that I am pretty determined to complete 100%. The beginning of the game gives you a very good idea of what to expect from it, it’s big, it’s confusing, it’s disturbing, and more than a little scary. It is a bit of a slow burning beginning, really letting you get into the setting and style before actually giving you any real gameplay.

For some people this may be a point against it but Alice pulls off the grimy setting of London, the bizarre nature of Wonderland, and the fear and unsettling images that Alice is suffering from. The very first scene is pretty disturbing and those not knowing what sort of game they’ve let themselves in for may be seriously unsettled but I think it fits the game perfectly.

Yeah it's only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing... I'm not joking.

Yeah it’s only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing… I’m not joking.

After this scene you get a fairly long sequence of Alice’s London which is gritty and dirty and full of grotesque character models. It’s pretty glorious and in a way reflects Alice’s disgust with the world around her. There are also a few very subtle clues to the game’s conclusion which, when looked at during a second playthrough, are pretty clever. When you get to the actual gameplay the game still does well at keeping a good tone and pace. People who didn’t play the original American McGee’s Alice may find references going over their heads and may well become confused by the references and character changes. But to these people I say that you should play the original game. Find some way to get it and play it because it is an excellent game as well and well worth it.

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin'

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin’


Number 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The very first thing I reviewed on this site and another of my favourite games. The opening scene of XCOM sets up the admittedly simple story beautifully. You have aliens, scared people, and the para-military organisation set up to the stop the invaders from space. The opening cutscene is good enough but the great thing about XCOM is that the tutorial mission really builds on what you’ve already seen.

What's that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? ... Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

What’s that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? … Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

Yeah you shouldn’t get attached to the soldiers on the tutorial mission because XCOM is almost as punishing as Dark Souls. The first mission shows you exactly how vulnerable your soldiers are and how likely they are to die: very and very. The only real problem with the tutorial is that it’s a great scene that I want to see again but it does last for such a long time and beyond the first mission I just want to get on with the game. There is an option to just start with a random mission and forget the tutorial entirely but I really love that scene with the first contact and the sectoids appearing, it’s brilliant.

To be honest there’s not much more to say than that. XCOM’s opening really gets you in the mood of the commander and prepares you for a lot of tense moments and, of course, vast quantities of death to come.


Hidin' behind this pillar, mind controllin' yo friends!

Hidin’ behind this pillar, mind controllin’ yo friends!


And Number 1


Oh my but the Bioshock series is excellent. Good gameplay, thought provoking themes, fantastic environments. The Bioshock franchise has always been viewed with excitement and interest. To my shame I still have not been able to acquire a copy of Bioshock Infintie but I have heard excellent things about it. But it is the first Bioshock game that I want to talk about here. I remember seeing Bioshock for the first time, it was amazing. Going into the lighthouse and heading down into Rapture, hearing Andrew Ryan talk about the ideals behind the underwater city, only to discover the place in chaos and filled with some pretty terrifying enemies.

The opening to Bioshock is wonderful and it is creepy. The first introduction to the Splicers made me not want to leave the safety of the Bathysphere and it is only because of the comfortingly sane voice of Atlas that you feel at least a little safe leaving in search of ‘a crowbar or something…’ What you might call the tutorial section doesn’t last particularly long because most of the gameplay is pretty easy to explain. What Bioshock does better than many other games is how it draws you into its world.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

The first view of Rapture is one of the most iconic parts of the series and this is a series with more than a few iconic moments. Then once you start playing you quickly learn that you’re pretty much alone here in Rapture and this is a very dangerous place. This doesn’t mean it’s as punishing as Dark Souls or XCOM. No, what Bioshock does well is that it keeps you tense but at the same time shows you exactly what to do to beat the game. There aren’t heaps of nuances to learn in order to master it. You don’t have to learn what Poise does or that not getting into cover is a death sentence. You learn that these are your plasmids, these are your weapons, those nasty looking people over there are the enemy, knock yourself, or preferably them, out.

It’s a game that’s very easy to pick up and that’s why the beginning is so streamlined, you’re not spending hours being taught exactly how to play the game because the mechanics are very easy to learn. The game teaches you as you go along by letting you experiment with plasmids and weapons and combinations of the two, it doesn’t lead you by the hand and it doesn’t leave you completely alone. You know enough to enjoy it. Add this to an absolutely beautiful art style and atmospheric introduction and you have, in my opinion, the best opening to a game.

If Big Daddy is watching you then it's probably best to just cut your losses and leave... until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

If Big Daddy is watching you then it’s probably best to just cut your losses and leave… until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!


XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Hello, Commander, welcome to the XCOM project. You will head this paramilitary organization of multicultural, but strangely all American sounding, soldiers trained to defend the Earth from alien attack. Good luck.

Released in October 2012, XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of the big releases of 2012, creating a huge splash in the market and garnering great praise from critics. However, the game was met with trepidation. The original 1994 series is one that, I must admit, slipped me by. I had never even heard of XCOM before this game, nor did I know about the huge fan-base, the host of critics citing UFO: Enemy Unknown, or X-COM: UFO Defence in North America, as the pinnacle of gaming greatness.

So Firaxis, the developers of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and the very popular Civilization series, took a great risk in making this game. Not only was it a departure from the style of games they normally produced but it was one that was going to be held against an incredibly high standard. Not a simple challenge.

These aliens aren't just here for a probin'

These aliens aren’t just here for a probin’

This is the basic premise of XCOM: Enemy Unknown: aliens attack the Earth (proper thin grey men at that) and you head the organization designed to repel them. The gameplay is split between a management mode where you build up your base, research upgrades, outfit your soldiers and generally keep control of your finances and the level of panic across the globe. Let the panic rating of each country get too high and they withdraw their support of the XCOM project. Lose too many countries and that’s it, game over. The second mode is the turn-based strategy mode where you control your soldiers directly to complete objectives such as investigating crashed UFOs, defending citizens from mutant/zombie spawning aliens, escorting VIPs to safety, and more.

There’s not much plot to XCOM. The main story missions are few and far between and there’s not a great deal of depth beyond figuring out why the aliens are here and what their ultimate goal is. For me, a big fan of plot, this was a little bit of a flaw. I didn’t feel the main story was in depth enough and when I got to the end, discovered all the secrets, and got to the closing cinematic I didn’t really feel very engaged in this story.

There is a reason for this rather thin story: the main plot of XCOM is the one you make yourself. Your squad of 4 – 6 soldiers (depending on upgrades) becomes very close to you. You remember their names and nicknames, you remember when they pulled off that great shot (or you pretend that they did and it’s not the result of a random number generator), and when they inevitably die it’s a shock.

Yeah this is a soldier you shouldn't have gotten attached to

Yeah this is a soldier you shouldn’t have gotten attached to

Because XCOM is pretty hard, it’s designed to be. It’s designed with atmosphere in mind and it does it so well. You know you’ve got a tense game when managing your finances becomes a real point of excitement; because if you don’t manage your finances and don’t get to outfit your soldiers properly you have as good as killed them.

This is probably the thing XCOM does best. The atmosphere while managing your base and commanding your soldiers in the field is this grim combination of fear and inevitability. While in the base you are constantly waiting for there to be an alien encounter just before you finish a vital piece of research or before a soldier recovers from their last encounter. While you’re in each mission you’re waiting for the next level of alien to appear and kill your best soldiers before you have a chance to react. It is really tense in a thoroughly enjoyable way.

Squad, get into overwatch and- WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!)

Squad, get into overwatch and- WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?!)

XCOM is a fun game and a massive time sink but it’s not without its flaws. First and foremost the bugs, oh the bugs. Mostly these are little graphic errors, your soldier seems to be shooting the wrong way or you actually missed the shot despite the animation showing you hitting the alien right in the head. But there are a few more game altering bugs that range from issues with a soldier’s line of sight (which, believe me, can lead to your whole squad getting wiped because one soldier apparently couldn’t see the alien that was ten feet away) to complete game breaking save issues.

My other main issue with the game is its difficulty curve. The game does start off very difficult and it stays this way through the mid-game; but somewhere around the last third, once you’ve got some of the best armour and weapons, you can run through missions pretty easily. For a game which has such a great atmosphere of tension it’s a shame that it doesn’t last for the whole thing.

Oh god, what am I?!

Oh god, what am I?!

Many fans still (rather vocally) claim that this XCOM is not as good as the original. But speaking as someone who hasn’t played an XCOM game before I really enjoyed it and don’t think it deserves to be constantly in the shadow of its predecessor.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown does a fantastic job of drawing you into its universe and, when things go right, making you feel like a tactical genius. When things go wrong it hits you really hard in a way not many games do. If you are a fan of strategy and games with a real sense of tension then you can’t go wrong with XCOM.

XCOM, where we take “Shady Government Agency” literally

XCOM, where we take “Shady Government Agency” literally

Currently on Steam for: £29.99