We are in the moments of 2023 before the title card, when things are still preparing to be defined. I love it—from here, the next few months look magical, like there’s infinite time to do anything, or for anything to happen. This is when we make resolutions, brainstorm logistics for the trips we’ve always wanted to take, pick up skills, or finally decide to watch all six seasons of Jersey Shore. While Apple Watches and sticky notes might help keep those specific goals in check, I recommend relaxing, too, and daydreaming about endless possibilities. Try shaping the start of your year with softer clay, like these 10 great video game intros.
These video game intros—which I’m defining as the first few minutes of a game directly before or after its title blinks on screen—might not be the greatest, ever, in history (there are so many greats!), but they are some of Kotaku’s favorites. Crammed with smoldering explosives, dripping with blood, or rinsed with nostalgia and humor, these 10 memorable intros should get you pumped up about your potential and about beginnings. Sink your teeth in and relish this new one. See where you’ll go when you’re being open.
Bioshock throws you in headfirst, with a cigarette in your hand.
“They told me ‘son, you’re special. You were born to do great things,’” protagonist Jack tells himself as you watch him wave around his cigarette in first person, a position that sets you deep in his skull. “They were right.” But then the screen turns black. And everyone on his plane, which was just gliding sleepily over the Atlantic, is screaming. Then they’re stuck under bubbling ocean waves…what’s happening?
“BIOSHOCK,” the screen informs. Alive, Jack cuts through waves, and, with no other choice, wanders into an ominous building. He descends deeper into it until he finds the secret city of Rapture. But there’s no time to rejoice in his continued survival—Jack watches someone get ripped apart with fish hooks moments after seeing paradise. It’s a short, evocative, and chillingly memorable intro. Something for the 2023 haircut mood board, perhaps.
A great example of the simple-but-effective first-person wasteland intro, 2010 action role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas shows you a ruined America, as gray and hostile as an undiscovered planet. But it isn’t completely unfamiliar.
“War,” the narrator says, after you watch someone dig a shallow grave. “War never changes.” And life is unfair. “You are a courier,” it continues, but “what seemed like a simple delivery job has taken a turn for the worse.” Then you’re in first person, and you’re being shot in the head. Goddamn it. This goes on the anti-mood board that depicts events to avoid in 2023.
Similarly pessimistic about the future and power, 2016 shooter Doom begins in a research facility crawling with growling demons. “Rip and tear,” you’re told seconds before you wake up as the protagonist Doom Slayer, chained to a stone casket, but already prepared to bust out and crush a skull with one hand. You do that, then pick up your gun to shoot whatever else gets in your way.
Then you get on an elevator. “You must understand,” Dr. Samuel Hayden, who is responsible for the mess, tells you over voice command. “It was worth the risk.” A dead body is slumped next to you. You smash the intercom. Then “DOOM” rumbles on screen. I should get into protein shakes this year.
1990 platformer Ninja Gaiden II arrived on the NES screen in a mournful storm of Chiptune. Its intro is brief but rousing, featuring a purple mountain range under bright white snaps of lightning, and the imposing antagonist Ashtar frowning into it.
“The time shall come…” he says to no one, “when the Gates of Darkness is cast open…” I might start saying that before my meditation sessions.
If you asked me what my favorite video game intro was in 2009, when I was in middle school and my hormones were doing all kinds of crazy things, I would say Batman Arkham Asylum. But, surprising to me, I don’t think that opinion is the consequence of eating too many strawberry flavored Nerds—it stands the test of time.
Though its key aspects—dour, foggy sky, a tense walk through Arkham Asylum’s Intensive Treatment center, the Joker escaping and launching bad puns at people after killing them (“The choke’s on you!”)—are moody middle schooler bait, the tension is tight enough to have generational appeal. Not everything has to change when the year does.
Now some bait for a college kid who recently watched Eraserhead. 2008 stealth game Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has a particularly surreal, unique introduction: TV programming and commercials, which you skip through upon creating a new game, all set in the game’s barbaric vision of 2014.
Programming includes a cooking show teeming with flies, showcasing ingredients like tire-pressed vulture, an ad featuring French girls swimming in kraken-infested pink waters, telling you to play dead, and an interview with the real voice of protagonist Solid Snake, David Hayter, who is fitted with a bionic eye patch. I assume this is what I’ve been missing in my unwatched seasons of Jersey Shore.
The first thing you see in action role-playing game Mass Effect 2 is a blue star, hazy, hot, and untouchable. “In 2183, the heart of the galactic community suffered a devastating attack,” a text screen swiftly informs you. “The Citadel space station was invaded…Commander Shepard led the defense, but the Citadel Council was lost.”
Cut to Commander Shepard in his pointy spaceship, Normandy. An unidentified enemy ship soon lights it up, making the inside pop with explosions and thick plumes of smoke, nearly immediately nudging the crew into death—including, seemingly, Shepard, who struggles to breathe as he floats alone into space—and chaos. It’s a reminder that some beginnings require sacrifice and strife. It also reminds me that I really like my name twin Ashley’s chrome catsuit. I need to put money in my piggy bank for this similar look from Ukrainian brand TTSWTRS.
Final Fantasy X-2 starts with fashionable flourish, under a bright blue sky, in a frosted glass dome where a concert is taking place. There are guitarists on winged hoverboards—protagonist Yuna’s microphone appears in front of her in a splash of light, and her miniskirt changes color as she grabs it.
2003 role-playing game Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean has an intro that slides pleasantly from character to character like marshmallows melting on your tongue, or like the pastel opening theme to Dragon Tales.
Like that show did for babies watching PBS, Baten Kaitos brought delightfully silly fantasies to the GameCube, and the intro showcases it as proudly as sparkling horses in a carousel. In a shaking voice, a wrinkled woman tells the story of a polluted earth and humans taking refuge in the sky. We then meet protagonist Kalas, outfitted with mechanical wings and clean blue hair (this was before pronouns), who amusingly screams “Who cares!” and dives into the sky during a cotton candy sunset. Maybe I won’t cut down on sweets in 2023 after all.
Castlevania’s 1987 NES port has a to-the-point, 11 second introduction. An 8-bit bat flies toward you as you’re encouraged to push the start key. Protagonist Simon Belmont stomps up to a sharp-looking red gate, and dexterously swivels on his heel as he turns to face a dilapidated castle shrouded in black shadow. His shoulders seem squared. Wonky Chiptune swells. That’s it. Walking into another year of pleasure, pain, and opportunity like…
What’s your favorite video game introduction?