The best and worst ways to start a video game – Reader’s Feature

A reader praises games like God Of War and Uncharted 4 for how well their opening hours work and criticises Red Dead Redemption 2 for being the opposite.

I know this was a weekend Hot Topic subject recently, but I was too busy to get in on it. However, on a slight twist this is both good and bad beginnings. I actually think video games, generally speaking, get it wrong when it comes to the first hour, with too much emphasis on narrative and too little on gameplay.

Too many games start with a whimper rather than a bang, so with that in mind here are some that buck the trend and some that are particularly bad.

The Good – God Of War
To me, a pretty much flawless first hour or so. It introduces the narrative and the characters without neglecting the gameplay. The cut scenes manage to convey a lot without being overly long.

Gameplay wise it introduces many of the core mechanics, how the leviathan axe can be used for both combat and solving puzzles, and exploration and traversal of the world. Not to mention that you get to take down a massive troll and do battle with the main antagonist, the stranger, in what has to be one of the most epic boss battles in modern gaming.

The Bad – Metal Gear Solid 5

I’m not really much good when it comes to stealth games, as I usually end up getting caught all the time, so didn’t play much of the game before giving up.

I feel I should give the game another try but can’t cope with having to play through the absolutely tedious first part. If I recall correctly, it involved crawling at a snail’s pace through drab hospital corridors whilst Hideo Kojima bombards the player with cut scene upon cut scene. I remember the opening of Metal Gear Solid 4 also had a ridiculous number of cut scenes too. It’s a shame as I have fond memories of the first PS1 game.

Perhaps someone needs to tell Mr Kojima he makes video games and that he isn’t actually Martin Scorsese.

The Good – The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

The first part of the game on the Great Plateau is like a condensed version of the whole game. A tutorial of sorts in how shrines work and how to cook and craft potions, whilst introducing weapons and combat. It does this in a way that never feels like hand-holding and allowing scope for the player to explore. And at the end of it is the lure of the hang-glider, which is a genuinely useful and fun item.

The Bad – Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is said to have taken inspiration from Breath Of The Wild. However, unlike Breath Of The Wild the opening chapter is a tedious slog. I’ve played the game a couple of times but always given up before the end of Chapter 3. This time I’m determined to finish it.

My god though that opening chapter is boring. For me the strength of Red Dead Redemption 2 is in the world. The exploration and the numerous chance encounters. There’s none of this in the first chapter. Just go to this place, listen to lengthy exposition during seemingly never-ending horse rides, shoot bad guys, and repeat for three hours.

There’s no chance for any interesting side content or random encounter. And although the snow looks pretty, the landscape is dull and uninspiring compared with the varied landscapes of the main bulk of the game.

The Good – Super Mario Odyssey

You could pretty much include any Mario game or platformer to be honest. Most of them seem to let the player jump straight into the action, albeit after a brief cut scene.

Super Mario Odyssey though I feel warrants a special mention. I recall watching the E3 demo where Mario transforms into the T-Rex and thinking it looked amazing. I was pleasantly surprised then when this occurs barely an hour into the game, and boy it doesn’t disappoint. The moment is bags of fun and one of the high points of the game.

The Bad – FIFA

I buy the FIFA games most years (I know, I’m sorry but I don’t buy any Ultimate Team nonsense) and recently most of latest versions feature some overly dramatic, opening cut scene/cinematic. It isn’t usually very long but always seems too serious and a bit pretentious.

I think EA should go back to the PS1 era way of doing things. Basically, for those that don’t remember, FIFA 98 featured a montage of various famous players of the era in pixilated form scoring impressive goals and doing fancy tricks, all set to Song 2 by Blur. Other years featured the likes of Fatboy Slim, Moby, and Kings of Leon.

More of this please EA, no opening monologue eulogising ‘the beautiful game’ with mournful music, as if FIFA is an arthouse film rather than a yearly sports game. Just a two to three minute up tempo number with Mbappe et al. showing off, just like the FIFA from the 90s. Extra points if the music is from the 90s too. Being a (relatively) old fart, modern music tends to make my ears bleed.

The Good – Naughty Dog

Perhaps as a Naughty Dog fan I’m biased but they seem to pretty much knock it out the park when it comes to how their games begin.

The obvious choices are Uncharted 2 and The Last of Us, however I’ve got a lot of love for Uncharted 4 and The Last Of Us Part 2.

Uncharted 4 focuses more on climbing and exploration rather than combat during the opening few chapters. The game also takes its time setting up the characters and is sort of a celebration of previous Uncharted games and of Naughty Dog as a whole, making various references to previous Uncharted games and also including a playable version of the first Crash Bandicoot level.

For newcomers to the series the game introduces the shooting mechanics in an interesting and novel way, by having Nathan Drake shoot a toy gun at targets whilst he reminisces about previous adventures in his loft.

The opening chapters of the game serve as a prologue of sorts and it’s a while before the player gets to the main part of the game. Some might see it as a bit self-indulgent and whilst I normally get exasperated with that kind of thing, thinking ‘get to the point’, I actually really enjoyed it. It’s very well done and never feels dull or tedious.

The Last Of Us Part 2 I also think is an effective first hour or so. There a lot of good narrative beats with one massively shocking event that happens early on. This plot point serves as the catalyst for the entire narrative.

Gameplay wise it isn’t long before the game has the player coming up against a number of infected foes, including the infamous clickers. It also introduces the new dodge mechanic.

In the quieter moments there’s some good interplay between characters that shows the relationships they have and introduces soome new faces.

Also, if that wasn’t enough the player gets to experience perhaps the most epic of all dad jokes, ‘What’s the worst thing about eating a clock? It’s time consuming’. Whoever came up with that in the writers room, take a bow.

By reader Matc7884

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

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