Many action titles throughout gaming history follow a fairly simple formula - the gamer learns the controls, their hero gradually earns experience/items/abilities by defeating foes, and the action builds to a giant climax in the final third of the game. However, other titles (especially in the last five years or so) opt to throw the gamer and protagonist head-first into an insane, potentially pants-soiling situation. Here are a dozen games that waste no time in kick-starting the action.
While the game eventually turns you into a crazy-powerful lightning man, you start out as courier (and parkour dabbler) Cole MacGrath. Like on most days, he's tasked with delivering a package to a location in his hometown of Empire City. However, most of the packages that he carries don't cause six blocks of the Historical District to explode. Your first steps in Cole's shoes take place after he awakens on the pavement, scarred and thoroughly confused. A lot of games place their tutorials in a training camp environment, but Cole's training camp is the fire and wreckage of the ground zero he unwittingly created.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Like Cole, Nathan Drake slowly wakes up to a confusing and instantly terrible situation. At least Cole had the privilege of knowing which way was up, however. Learning that he's bleeding profusely turns out to be the least of Drake's worries, as he quickly discovers that he's precariously dangling off of a mountain in a derailed boxcar.
Finishing this trilogy of dudes that wake up with no idea of what's going on, Monkey escapes his pod to discover he's bee-lining towards a crash landing into the New York City skyline. Utilizing the skills that earned him his nickname, he flips around poles, climbs support structures, and basically does everything he can to prevent slamming through a 56th-story office. If that's not enough of a rude awakening, he's enslaved by Trip's headband by the time he comes to on the ground.
For at least the first few minutes of Prey, all is well. You can hang out at the bar, take a leak, pick some Ted Nugent and Heart songs on the jukebox, play arcade games, and hit on your bartender girlfriend. Sounds like a pretty fun Saturday night...until aliens destroy/abduct the entire bar and everyone in it. Soon after, you're watching your grandpa get murdered and following spirit hawks. I've had some Saturday nights lead to some scary and weird places, but Tommy from Prey has me beat.
Many complained about Bioshock's ending(s), but you never hear a bad word about the way the tale begins. With no real backstory to speak of, the first time you take control of Jack directly follows a fiery plane crash into the ocean. Seeing the tail of the plane slowly sink against a background of fire was a brief but unforgettable moment, and before you know it you're back on solid ground. Entering a mysterious building and descending into Rapture, it doesn't take long to realize that something has gone terribly wrong in this world.
Ninja Theory's PS3 debut begins with a one-two punch. Nariko is immediately thrust into a massive battle against Bohan's army, teaching gamers the combat controls in an environment with a predetermined outcome. As soon as the playable part of the intro ends, Nariko dies thanks to the cursed sword she's wielding. A large scale battle followed by the protagonist's death is an unconventional way to start a game off, but it proved effective in this case.
Mass Effect 2
Shepard started the original Mass Effect in the hostile world of Eden Prime, but that mission was a cakewalk compared to what he faces in the sequel's opening. Faced with a large attack on the Normandy, the commander struggles to save Joker and escape the ship before it's too late. While most of the main cast survives the ordeal, Shepard is blasted out into space and is presumed dead by all who knew him.
Turning Point: Fall of Liberty
Other protagonists on this list are space marines, superheroes, or gods. Turning Point: Fall of Liberty instead places you in the shoes of Dan Carson, a construction worker in New York City. As he hangs out on the top of a skyscraper under construction, he happens to see a somewhat unnerving sight - the entire Nazi army invading the city, bombing the Statue of Liberty and many other targets. Most civilians would understandably respond by falling into the fetal position and crapping their pants, but not Dan Carson. No, this construction worker somehow manages to quickly learn how to fire a variety of weapons and decides to take on the Third Reich.
Halo: Combat Evolved
The Xbox's launch lineup wasn't the only rough start that was going on in the fall of 2001. Bungie's first Halo title saved the console, but it also introduced gamers to the Halo universe in an immediate and dramatic way. After briefly learning the movement controls, the game wastes no time in thrusting Master Chief into a full-scale attack on the Pillar of Autumn. His defense of the ship during this opening established him as a no-nonsense protagonist to be reckoned with.
God of War II
If the first God of War began with Kratos at his most defeated, its sequel begins with him at his most powerful. He's literally a gigantic god at the beginning, but by the time you assume control he's been shrunk down to his original size. Oh yeah, and a massive living Colossus statue is destroying the entire city and killing everything he sees. As if this wasn't bad enough, you end up losing all of your magic and most of your health bar by the time you actually destroy the giant. It's not all doom and gloom, however, as Kratos still manages to find time to get laid in the middle of the terrifying ordeal.
If you're like me, the movie Event Horizon scared the holy bejesus out of you. When they went to investigate that mysterious ship in deep space, you just knew something awful happened onboard. Dead Space gives you the same feeling, but you actually have to survive the ordeal rather than passively watch events unfold. Within a couple minutes of boarding the USG Ishimura, you're screaming and sprinting through dark hallways as disgusting abominations try to murder you. Just when you think you've reached the safety of an elevator, you get to live the scene in Terminator 2 when the T-1000 pries the elevator doors open. It's a great way of setting the tone for the game, and it lets you know that you're gonna be on edge for the entire experience
"Boy, it sure is an honor to be the astronaut selected to go on this mission. I mean, only a handful of human beings have ever had the privilege to journey off of Earth and into the great beyond. When you think about it, the mere fact that I'm among the stars is a marvelous feat of technology and engine...OH MY GOD WHAT ARE ALL OF THOSE THINGS??!?! ARE THOSE ALL ASTEROIDS?!?!?! How did we not plan for this with all of our knowledge? They've sent me directly into a never-ending asteroid field!!!!! Ok, calm down...my ship is equipped with a cannon in case anything goes awry, I'll just shoot this giant astero...OH **** IT JUST BROKE INTO A BUNCH OF LITTLE ASTEROIDS!!!".