A well crafted introduction captures your attention, and entices you to dive in and enjoy more of the experience on offer. Maybe it starts an alluring story with characters you want to see more of. It might give you an idea of action you can take control of, or inspire you to go on quest, or take control of an empire. Or maybe it just looks and sounds awesome.
Go back 20-odd years and an intro usually meant some kind of VGA sequence with midi music. Later, full motion video became popular, built out of pre-rendered 3D graphics and sometimes the use of live actors. In those days it was generally understood that these kinds of intro would be more visually impressive than the rest of the game, given the limitations of the little sprites or boxy polygons that might make up in-game graphics.
In more recent years, though, game engines have increased in sophistication. So it’s more often the case that a game’s own graphics can be used to create a realistic and cinematic sequence, without the need for something created separately. The in-engine approach has in turn made it more popular to incorporate the into opening playable section of the game, rather than it being a purely passive experience.
This isn’t a list of Greatest Intros Ever because I don’t pretend to have widespread enough experience, and besides titles like that are rather clickbaity. Rather, this is just a few of my personal favourites in PC Gaming.
UFO – Enemy Unknown – 1994
This one is immediately eye-catching, drawn as a series of colourful, animated, comic book panels. Dynamic and exciting, it’s not exactly representative of the tense, cautious turn-based game to which it’s attached. Still it’s one of my favourites of its day, and it does at least show us what in general terms UFO is all about – aliens terrorise the population, X-Com agents swing into action to save the day.
Half-Life – 1998
A defining example of a great introduction that is incorporated into beginning of the playable game itself. We begin with the start of another day at work for Gordon Freeman. He travels through the Black Mesa research complex on a monorail, listens to announcements, gets grumbled at by superiors, finds his gear and shows up at the lab.
It might seem rather mundane, but it’s doing vital work in setting the scene. When suddenly something goes horribly wrong with the experiment, we’re already immersed in Gordon’s world, and ready to try and get him out of the ensuing crisis.
Thief – the Dark Project -1998
Moody and atmospheric, this one features some great hand-drawn artwork at a time when others might have used CGI. It introduces us to Garrett’s city and shows him going about a typical heist, and also gives some brief glimpses of the supernatural forces at work. So it sets the tone for the game in a highly effective manner.
Cannon Fodder – 1993
Photos of the developers in uniforms, presented as the cast of a war movie, along with a cheerful song about war and killing. This doesn’t remotely tell us what to expect of the gameplay, but it does set up Cannon Fodder’s irreverent satire on the brutal meat-grinder that is warfare.
(I’m cheating slightly here, that’s the Amiga intro. The PC version, iirc, lacked the vocals).
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – 1992
An early example of the in-game, interactive approach to an intro. You have to solve a basic puzzle to get from one room to the next, and with each new room some credits are displayed. The interface is simplified from that of the main game, making this a gentle but intriguing beginning to the adventure.