Getting to experience the first level of a video game is always an exciting moment and it’s often your first impression of whether you think it’s worth more time. While most games today are less organized around levels, there have been several classic opening levels throughout game history whose slick designs provide a more compelling way to ease you into the controls.
Whether it is a story-driven game, platformer or shooter, the opening sections provide you with the necessary mechanics that you will occasionally use in unforgettable cinematic and original styles that can hold your attention. Here we take a look at some of those deserving of this recognition.
10 Max Payne 3
The opening part of the third installment of Max Payne features a fearsome Max working as a bodyguard for an influential Brazilian family until masked thugs infiltrate their penthouse party to kidnap them. After watching the visually elegant cinematic, there is a smooth transition as you are instantly thrust into the action.
Targets appear on screen in sync with the Max noir style narrative, and a bullet time counter is populated to let you know the fantastic shooting mechanic instantly for your first pair of enemies. Even with the pressure of the situation, you can still interact with objects in the surrounding environment, such as stopping to play the piano, but you continue to shoot in slow motion and prevent capture.
9 Super Mario Bros.
World 1-1 from the original Super Mario Bros. Ultimate. 1985 is the first featured level featured in the first ever Super Mario game developed for consoles and really paved the way for the series to reach the coveted position it has today. From classic theme music, sound effects, characters and environment pieces. All of these elements that were introduced defined the concept of Mario.
The level also ignores any tutorial and drops you straight into the platforming world, adding an almost whimsical feel for you to play with the environment and try some trial and error. Eventually you learn that navigation gets you places, such as making it over platforms, defeating Goombas, earning coins, and gaining some abilities from mysterious blocks like the Super Star or Fire Flower.
8 golden eyes 007
The 1995 film adaptation starring Pierce Brosnan, Rare’s GoldenEye 007, has been hailed as one of the best James Bond games for a reason. The first level stays faithful to the film’s opening scene, placing Agent 007 on the outskirts of a facility near a Soviet Union dam. Immediately, the effective camera transition shows a bit of planning and then defaults to Bond being the first person.
The FPS action begins the moment you turn the first corner to shoot a guard, and then you learn that you can pick up new weapons dropped by enemies. Other awesome elements include the mechanism for using your watch face to monitor health, select weapons and spy tools, and the result is a nod to bungee jumping from a dam.
7 Special Ops: The Line
Even before the first chapter in Spec Ops: The Line begins, you already have a massive combo that includes shooting down enemy helicopters with a minigun. After this brief sequence, the final helicopter will crash into your craft and then take you to the first level of the game, where Captain Walker and his team traverse the storm-ravaged landscape of Dubai.
Third-person shooter conventions are played out during combat, where you shoot enemy combatants from behind cover and give your squad special attack orders. And you also begin to see the chemistry form between Walker and his colleagues through the dialogue they exchange. It comes off as a straightforward fling, the perfect setup for the dark story that’s soon to spin around.
6 Battlefield 1
In 2016, Battlefield tried something different with its formula and went the historical route, sending you into the brutal trenches of World War I. It also has one of the most immersive openings in the series. Before accessing the main menu and selecting from the campaign war stories, you must complete an extensive tutorial level where you play through multiple viewpoints of random soldiers.
There is a warning from the start that you are not expected to survive, and your characters will automatically shut down once they die. This go-to style showcases the many weapons, detailed sound design, futuristic enemies that await, and the apocalyptic chaos of what it felt like to be on a battlefield during World War I.
5 Call of Duty: Ghosts
Call of Duty games’ opening missions always tend to set the stage and deliver some set pieces, but 2012’s Call of Duty: Ghosts shakes things up in a big way. You’re walking home with your veteran brother and dad after sharing a story of a war in the woods when it suddenly seems like the apocalypse has begun to fall upon the earth.
In the middle of your escape route, there is a transition to outer space where you are now an astronaut on the ODIN satellite. You can experience zero gravity inside the corridors of the space station and engage in gunfights with enemy astronauts trying to hijack the satellite. In the end, you have to blow up the ODIN program and sacrifice the lives of your astronaut characters.
4 Subway 2033
Metro 2033 begins with an intro level that sees series protagonist Artyom and his partner Miller venturing into the frozen wasteland through the titular network of Russian tunnels. Within the opening minutes, you already know how to climb stairs, scavenge for supplies like ammo and medical kits, and prepare your gas mask.
The first person shooter game starts right when the mask appears and you are walking into an ambush of mutated Watchers enemies that you have to eliminate. As you regroup with the other Guardians outside, an even larger crowd of Watchers surround you in a final battle you’re destined to lose, also giving you a glimpse of some of the other creatures you’ll eventually encounter, like winged demons.
During his decades with Konami, and long before he turned to developing Death Stranding independently, Hideo Kojima created and ran the pivotal series known as Metal Gear, which has had a lasting impact on the stealth genre. And for a late-’90s Metal Gear Solid release, it’s the closest thing to a cinematic opening level you can achieve.
After a cut-back cutscene explaining Snake’s covert operation and details on the Fox-Hound group, the opening credits continue to pop up on your screen throughout the level. Your goal is to make your way towards the elevator while using the environment to your advantage in hiding from the enemy guards, tracking their path with the help of the radar map.
2 Detroit: Be Human
Quantic Dream’s Detroit: Become Human intro level is captured for one of the most tense and gripping games around. A robotic hostage negotiator named Connor arrives at a murder scene inside a condominium, where the pervert is still at large and is carrying the victim’s daughter over a ledge.
If you haven’t played any previous Quantic Dream titles, the tutorial UI here has a way of guiding you towards its style and encouraging you to interact with everything you can without losing its cinematic quality. The music playing throughout builds the tense atmosphere, and you learn the mechanics of Connor’s ability to analyze clues and replay events to increase your chances of success.
1 Knight hoe
Although it was released in 2014, Shovel Knight definitely brings back the nostalgia of the coolest games of the 8-bit era with its premium design that might rival some of those classic games. After a few short panels that provide some backstory for your character, you are taken to the fantasy plains setting of the first level that features waterfalls and the apocalyptic Tower of Destiny in the background.
You soon discover that your bulldozer is a versatile tool needed to hunt for treasure, loot enemies, place platforms, and remove blocks of debris. The music and sounds evoke a perfect retro aesthetic, gain some experience with the game’s checkpoint system and enemies like bubble-breathing dragons and boss fights with the black knight.
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