Putting together this top five compilation has been harder than Jimmy Saville in a school for the blind. Today’s video games begin much like a big Hollywood blockbuster, with running commentary from the main protagonist, several people being strangled and shot, all mixed to a track from this week’s electronic Beethoven. The new game worlds and game engines enable developers to go full Michael Bay and deafen you with cinematic bass, whilst blinding you with strobe effects.
In the past however, there was a time where a more humble approach was taken to video game intros, where original ideas and artistic personalisation were showcased, to convey the right message and immerse the player, given the constraints on hardware and software. They left more to the imagination and in someway become more like reading a novel, unlike modern titles which are much like watching a movie in a cinema, pressing a button when you wish the main character to perform something.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been roaming my shoddy memory banks of the hundreds of titles I’ve played and completed, to make a list of my personal top five game intros and why.
#5 – Soviet Strike
Almost six years after I played my first Strike game on the Megadrive, Soviet Strike, the fourth installment was released on the brand new 32bit PlayStation.
If you never played the series, you’ve missed one of the greatest series of games ever to appear on computer. In 1992 Electronic Arts released Desert Strike, Return to the Gulf. A controversial title that became a talking point for using recent real world war situations to create a game. But Mike Posehn, lead designer, pulled this off perfectly with new slick gameplay mechanics, with visually pleasing graphics and a new era of SFX.
“The lead designer, Mike Posehn, had no video game experience prior to developing Desert Strike. Inspired by Choplifter, he aimed to create a nonlinear game with smoothly animated vehicles. Posehn, a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, developed a camera system with momentum to mimic realistic helicopter movements. Three-dimensional (3D) modelling was used to generate the vehicle sprites, which were later touched up on the pixel level with color.”
When the most inspiring video game era began in the late nineties, everyone was eager to lay eyes on the new tech and the next generation of titles. Soviet Strike was one title I would have eaten through a crowd of people to get. It did not disappoint. Utilising more space on CD ROM, the intro video to this game set the new pace, and this was sprinting. The audio and visuals were ramped up to real footage, whilst graphics were used to create a very futuristic look and feel.
Stop the war before it happens
#4 – Grand Theft Auto III
When Grand Theft Auto appeared as a 2D bird’s eye view driving based, one man crime spree, I was impressed by Rockstars new ideas for the free roaming elements and wasn’t overly fussed that graphically it was lacking in parts. What really made GTA stand out from the crowd was the attention to detail, the influential soundtrack and solid sound effects. The media however, saw it another way. It was to be sat on the naughty step in the middle of yet another media shit storm, backed by bored middle aged keyboard warriors, who demonised the game because crime isn’t for fun, it’s only for real life. If anything, GTA taught young people that if you kick someone out of their car and drive at triple figures in the wrong direction, when you collide with another vehicle, it should explode.
You would have hoped that they learned from the game Carmageddon, that it didn’t spawn a generation of boys and girls who enjoy mounting the pavements ploughing through dozens of innocent people. Nevertheless, GTA made its mark in more ways than one. In 2001 when it was announced Rockstar had developed a 3D GTA for the Playstation, I would have broken the law to get my hands on a copy. If I could have grown a beard at the time, I would have emerged from my bedroom looking like Bin Laden.
#3 – Flashback
I mentioned my love for this game in part 10 of my gaming history. Flashback was pretty incredible for the time, with ultra-realistic character movements, an original story line and setting. From the beginning you know you are participating in a great piece of work. The SEGA Megadrive by today’s standards is about as powerful as a musical birthday card, so anything visually impressive meant that a lot of hard work and dedication went into the making of the game.
The intro wastes no time getting going and shortly after the very cool Delphine Software logo appears accompanied by some moody synths, you’re thrown into the action. The main character, so it seems, is being chased, by who we don’t know but you do see lasers weapons, you do see this guy escape on a flying motorbike in space, when sadly he is shot down by his pursuers and left for dead. If that isn’t enough to keep the pad in your hand, then nothing is.
The main menu appears, again with an unforgettable intro track, you then begin your journey as Conrad B Hart, a lone man on a mission to retrace his steps before he purposely erased his memory. It’s blade runner, terminator and total recall all rolled into one, that’s like eating only the marshmallow pieces from Lucky Charms.
#3 – Half Life
If you had access to a PC capable of playing Half Life when it came out and didn’t, you should have been dragged outside and trampled by the North Korean army. The Valve Corporation combined everything you’d ever enjoyed about first person shooters and squashed it all into one disc, it gained a cult following and for good reason. Quite simply one of the best concepts and game designs to date along with it’s equally satisfying sequel. To top it off, one of the most memorable intro’s into a game.It was ground breaking in all areas, graphics, sound and gameplay, the sense of immersion was incredible once you stepped off the train at Black Mesa.
In a nutshell Gordon Freeman, the main character, saves the world with a crowbar. It’s a little hard to explain the full plot here but there’s a lot more to it than bludgeoning things. Black Mesa is the facility where you work and well, your normal working day is about to get very not normal.
#1 – Fallout 3
I must admit, i hadn’t played any other Fallout before No3 and that was probably partly to do with my obsession with motorbikes and no funding for a PC from the bank of mum and dad anymore. A good friend of mine explained Fallout 3 and it sounded like a fantasy come true, in post apocalyptic landscape, you emerge as a lone wanderer with no real objective only that to explore the land. The intro was voiced by Ron Perlman and your father is non other than Liam Neeson. For anyone who played Fallout will know how it felt when you first stepped out of that vault and into the sun. I think at the time i was wearing a vault jumpsuit and a welders mask for protection. Stoned off my tree I took the long walk into the wastelands, peeking over rocks, armed with only an air rifle and a police baton i found on a corpse. Over two hundred hours well spent.