I am a sucker for cinematic cutscenes in video games. On one hand they can really give depth to the characters or events of the game. On the other hand they can be absolutely spectacular, showing off the talent of the direction and animation team.
I remember wen Diablo II was released. I was just a few days away turned 13, and oh boy, when I first saw the cinematic intro of the game, I was convinced that this is it. We have achieved ultra realism, there is nowhere else to go beyond.
Of course I was still 12 and naive, cutscenes of that time are somewhat funny and clunky by today’s standards.
Still, the mix of nostalgia and otherwise amazing dramatization have a great effect on me to this day. I will list a few cinematic cutscenes from games of my childhood, that still give me shivers. Actually it was very fun to make the list, re-watching these videos.
Fallout 2 – Arriving to the Enclave Oil Rig (1998)
The old Fallout games were something else even back then. A grim, dark post-apocalyptic world where you really felt that every shot counts, every turn can be your last one.
There was a sense of danger and uncertainty in these games, that was lost for me with the new, 3D instalments. In both games you played as a character that was shielded from the true dangers of the nuclear wasteland. Someone, who enters this wild and unforgiving land as an outsider, and then gradually learns of its inhabitants.
I remember the build-up of tension before facing a Deathclaw for the first time. Then after you defeat one, you stumble upon your first mutant. A dying Super Mutant. On him, you find a holodisk, that for the first time mentions the mysterious Master.
There was serious suspense in these scenes, as you kept diving deeper and deeper into the lore of Fallout. You constantly felt that something is off, something even more dangerous is lurking around the corner.
The “Tanker scene” in Fallout 2 does something similar. You finally go to face the Enclave and free your tribe. But you know very little of the Enclave besides the fact that technologically they are far more advanced than anyone on the Wasteland. They are shrouded in mystery, and you have no idea what to expect once you set foot on the Oil Rig that is their HQ.
Now that I have re-watched this cutscene, it still amazes me. Forget its crude graphics. The way the ship slowly comes alive, coasts in complete silence under the stars, then slides under the metal frame of the Oil Rig is so ominous.
It is masterfully done, I wonder what those people could do now with today’s tools.
Diablo 2 – Diablo goes home (2000)
Diablo was one of the most defining games of my teen years. Its gothic setting was something that really resonated with a somewhat edgy teenager at that time.
Its lore was grim and cryptic, you learned the story as you progressed, and got betrayed at the end, becoming the new vessel of the Soul Stone.
Diablo 2 gave much more context to the story. You chase after the Dark Wanderer, the now possessed protagonist of the first game. The story unveils itself trough flashbacks from Marius, the poor soul who became a follower of the Dark Wanderer. Then he eventually got deceived and killed by Baal.
When he dies, you cannot help but feel like he can finally rest now. By the time we see him in the game, his mind was consumed by the horrors he has witnessed.
One such horror is my favourite cutscene from the game, the intro of Act IV. In this video Diablo’s older brother Mephisto opens a portal to Hell for the Lord of Terror. While this takes place, Diablo finally sheds his human disguise and we can see him in all of his demonic glory for the first time.
It is a masterfully done cutscene. The story-telling gets cranked up to 100. From dusty scrolls, and vague monologues we get to see horrific events unfold. Diablo ridding himself of his flesh prison, as the chamber is echoing from the agonizing screams of the tormented souls from the other side of the portal to Hell.
Still Life – Ida’s death (2005)
Disclaimer: this video is graphic, please only watch it on your own discretion.
I will be honest, I don’t remember everything from this series, but the video I will link shocked me back then. Even now, when re-watching it, it almost made me tear up.
In the game, she find out that her grandfather, Gus McPherson (the protagonist of Post Mortem) was investigating after a similar case in 1920s Prague.
The game itself is a dark serial killer story, something that was very intriguing for me as a kid.
The cutscene is from the diary of Gus. He finally tracked the killer, whose profile was brutally murdering young women, just to turn their suffering into obscure art pieces on the canvas.
Mark, the murderer knocks Gustav out, ties him to a chair and makes him watch as he brutally stabs the helpless Mia. I remember seeing this scene for the first time made me cry. Throughout the cutscene there is a sense of helplessness, which turns into hatred towards Mark.
I warned you before, but I will again: only watch the video if you can take violent scenes.
Baldur’s Gate – Intro (1998)
Making this list I realized one thing. Late 90s and early 00s were crazy. These videos are quite gruesome compared to what we have nowadays. I am not one to decide if it is good or bad that we toned down this kind of violence. But what I can tell, that the moment I laid eyes on the “Armored figure” (Sarevok) in the intro, I knew he is bad news. You know the antagonist, you know he is insanely powerful and violent, then you are just dropped in the game without knowing anything else. You know your goal, but the road there is covered in fog.
Baldur’s Gate is a cult classic and one of my favourite games of all time that I own on possibly every platform. It is timeless, unforgiving, clunky but fun.
I will not teach you video game history, but this game IS history. Luckily it has been remastered, so you can play it in a decent quality.
Sadly the Enhanced Edition does not have this cool and gruel cinematic intro. Like many other games (Looking at you Diablo 3) it has more of slideshows, guiding us between acts.
But hey, at least I was there in 98, I knew how badass this intro was.
StarCraft – Tassadar’s sacrifice (1998)
StarCraft is an other cult classic by Blizzard. To this day, those guys are truly masters of cinematic cutscenes.
I think I don’t have to introduce StarCraft. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but at one point it was the most popular RTS game, and one of the pioneers of the eSports scene.
Funnily enough, it is probably my least favourite game on this list, as I am more of an RPG guy. In fact, the cinematic that I will show you plays after you beat the last mission. And I struggled so much on that last one.
But once I beat it, I got fully compensated by this bitter-sweet masterpiece. One, where Tassadar gives his own life in an effort to finally defeat the Zerg, by crashing into the Overmind.
It is amazing how the orchestra is in sync with what is happening on the screen. It presents us one of the most cathartic and tragic moments in gaming. I literally cannot watch this video without a chill running down my spine.
I realized two things while compiling this list. One, that I already mentioned above, that the games of that era were insanely cruel. Putting things is today’s context, some of these scenes might not sit well with audiences. Times are changing, we are more critical with how violence is depicted to us.
The other thing is, that despite being gruesome, they really set the mood. I hate Mark from Still Life the same way than I was a kid. And I weep for Ida the same way.
I really feel the menacing aura of Sarevok even after all these years, and I still respect Tassadar for his selfless sacrifice.
And these emotions would not be possible without these cinematic marvels, these pieces of art.
What about you? Which old or new cinematic gives you goosebumps or makes your blood boil? Let me know in the comments, and follow me for similar content if you liked this list.