I always liked the way Wolfenstein 3D starts. No intro cutscene, you just start in a room. It’s small – a jail cell. There’s a dead Nazi in front of you. You have a knife and a pistol.
I think that’s great. Without any special art or text, they’ve introduced the entire game story and player objectives. You’re opposed to the Nazis, probably a soldier. But they captured you and imprisoned you. But you’re tougher than that. You’ve killed a guard and taken his knife and gun. Now it’s time to find the exit to this maze.
Half-Life gets a lot of praise for its minimalist story, pulling the character into the plot without explicitly telling them anything. But let’s not forget that some of the classic games featured some pretty sophisticated storytelling, too.