Nowadays, movie trailers tend to garner just as much anticipation (and controversy) as the movies themselves. Video games are no different. With conventions and expos, like the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Game Developers Conference and Gamescom, being primarily reserved for press and industry insiders, the only thing gamers really have to judge a product on (before reviews come out) is its trailer.
Over the past decade, instead of cutting a gameplay trailer themselves, studios and publishers have pivoted to hiring dedicated production companies to produce CGI-filled trailers (in the gaming industry, cinematic trailers are often referred to being CGI trailers, due to the trailers not being representative of the final product) that characterize a game’s tone and themes, as well as its story. No longer is gameplay the primary factor in a person’s decision to purchase a game — hype has replaced it. Hype has led to games like Tom Clancy’s The Division breaking records despite its blatant issues. And that’s all thanks to its story and trailers
For a trailer to be truly spectacular, and to be remembered years later, it not only must be different and effective, it must generate the hype needed for the game to succeed. That doesn’t mean a trailer needs to be all CGI or all gameplay; it means that a trailer should draw in the viewer, convey tone and produce an involuntary response of excitement and awe. Here are 15 video game trailers that do just that.
15. Assassin’s Creed II: Revelations
It’s rare to see a movie use mainstream music to a positive effect in a trailer, and it’s even rarer to see a video game do it. But Ubisoft managed to avoid making that mistake when they unveiled the third and final installment in the Assassin’s Creed “Ezio trilogy,” Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, at E3 2011.
Instead of using a Kanye West song like 20th Century Fox did with the Assassin’s Creed movie trailer, Digic Pictures used Woodkid’s Iron. Which fit more harmoniously because the song was a perfect representation of Ezio’s lifelong fight against the Templars, something that is exemplified by his valor in the trailer.
14. Left 4 Dead
Unlike most video game trailers, the Left 4 Dead trailer is a near-perfect representation of the final game, with the obvious exception of graphics. One-by-one, Valve revealed everything gamers needed to know about Left 4 Dead in the trailer, which also functioned as the game’s intro cinematic.
Along with the game’s quartet of survivors, the weapons available, the types of zombies (hunters, smokers and boomers) and the extensiveness of this particular apocalypse are all introduced in the trailer/cinematic — though it does end with the enigmatic phrase fans have come to loathe, “to be continued.”
13. Mass Effect 3
Like Halo and Gears of War before it, Mass Effect has a history of putting out terrific trailers, some gameplay-related, some cinematic. This one, though, is by far the best of them all. And that’s because it’s not so much a trailer as it is a prologue to the series’ concluding story.
The hype surrounding the final Mass Effect game was unimaginable at the time. It reached levels gamers hadn’t seen since Grand Theft Auto IV released. Everywhere, fans were anxiously waiting for the chance to “take earth back” from the Reapers, after an invasion that was all but absent in the final product. The trailer (which is also created by Digic Pictures) struck all the right cords, amplifying that hype. And like many games,
Like many games, Mass Effect gave players the option of choosing between male and female characters; however, unlike most games, the studio put out a trailer for both sexes — a female Shepherd version even had its own trailer.
12. Fallout 3
After a decade-long hiatus, Bethesda resurrected the Fallout franchise in 2008 with Fallout 3. The game is widely considered to be one of the best video games ever made — and it’s got a trailer to match its greatness.
When it comes to a beloved franchise like Fallout, how would a studio announce a new installment without infuriating fans with inevitable changes? Simple: make a trailer reminiscent of the first two games’ opening cinematics by slowly panning over a room (or, in this case, a bus) with old-timey music (Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire”) playing in the background. Then, end the teaser with a first look at a Brotherhood of Steel soldier.
The Fallout 3 teaser trailer was simple, yet effective, showcasing game-engine graphics instead of CGI — something that has become more popular recently due to some game engines (Frostbite, for one) nearing parity with CGI cutscenes.
11. Batman: Arkham Knight
Most trailers these days tend to cram far too much content and action just to show viewers what will be in the game. While the reveal trailer for the final installment in Rocksteady’s acclaimed Batman series, Batman: Arkham Knight, did the same thing, it also did something much more impressive: tell a story.
Throughout the trailer, Thomas Wayne’s last will and testament — including a note to Bruce — is read as a voiceover. Combined with breathtaking cinematics, we see how Bruce has perverted the wishes of his father by being frivolous with his wealth and squandering it away on “fast cars, outrageous clothes and the pursuit of a destructive lifestyle.” Yet, somehow, Bruce honors those very same wishes by committing himself “to the improvement of Gotham City.” As Batman, Bruce protects the citizens of Gotham and “safeguards them from forces beyond their control” (i.e. Batman’s rogue gallery) — that’s all Thomas Wayne ever wanted.
10. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
The Metal Gear Solid franchise has had some truly spectacular trailers, cinematics and cutscenes throughout its run, but the trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain takes the cake. Debuting at E3 2014, Metal Gear Solid V quickly became one of the most anticipated games of the new console generation, and the reveal trailer showed gamers just what was in store for them: genre-defining graphics and gameplay.
After briefly teasing the game at the Video Game Awards in December 2012, Konami waited almost two years to unveil the first footage of The Phantom Pain. When it finally came, fans were overjoyed. The Phantom Pain is considered by some to be the best game in the series, having earned numerous perfect scores and awards when it released. And there was no better way to introduce the game than with a trailer containing almost no in-game audio and, instead, have Mike Oldfield’s Nuclear playing in the background.
9. Battlefield 1
The same week Activision unveiled their latest Call of Duty game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, EA revealed their latest Battlefield game, Battlefield 1, which was developed by DICE, who’d returned to the franchise after taking a year off to make Star Wars Battlefront. Whereas Infinite Warfare takes the Call of Duty franchise into the future and new destinations, Battlefield 1 takes the Battlefield franchise back — way back — to World War I.
What makes the Battlefield 1 trailer special and deserving of a spot on this list is its spectacle: showcasing benchmark game-engine graphics and rendering viewers awestruck, with mouths agape at learning of the capability of using horses, swords, zeppelins, flamethrowers and biplanes, as well as the inclusion of trench warfare. Plus, the Seven Nation Army (Glitch Mob Remix) was hands-down the perfect choice in background music.
Shortly after the trailer debuted, gamers banded together and launched an unofficial campaign to make the Infinite Warfare trailer one of the most “disliked” trailers while subsequently making the Battlefield 1 trailer one of the most “liked” trailers on YouTube. They did this by getting Infinite Warfare to over one million “dislikes” and the Battlefield 1 trailer to over one million “likes.” As it turns out, the campaign was successful, and the Battlefield 1 trailer has since become the top-rated trailer on the site. Of course, it remains to be seen how this will ultimately affect the final sales tallies for the two games.
Some fans believe the BioShock Infinite premiere trailer is the best in the series, since it quite literally took the series to new heights, but, respectfully, the best trailer in the series is the debut trailer for the original BioShock game, hands down.
The trailer is two-fold. Beginning with a narration by the game’s lead antagonist, Andrew Ryan, who reveals why he built his underwater utopia, Rapture, the trailer moves into first person view and turns dark and violent. The tease does an impeccable job of representing the game’s atmosphere as well as the personal story.
The eerie quote, “we all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us,” alone is enough to justify adding the trailer to this list. It’s a quote that echoes throughout the game and plays a part in the larger narrative. It’s also something BioShock fans will not soon forget.
7. Halo 3
The final installment in Bungie’s Halo trilogy, Halo 3 featured arguably the finest trailers and commercials in video game history. Beginning with a spectacular announcement trailer at E3 2006, Bungie’s theme with their last Halo entry was obvious: “finish the fight.” And while its entire marketing campaign was tremendous, one trailer stood out amongst them all, and that was “Starry Night.”
The Joseph Kosinski-directed trailer debuted during the Super Bowl in 2007 and subtly revealed three things the game would include — equipment (for the first time), as well as the original pistol and assault rifle from Halo: Combat Evolved. But it was the bubble shield and inclusion of the iconic Halo music that makes this trailer, for the lack of a better word, awesome.
This trailer, along with the rest of the Halo 3 marketing campaign, won Microsoft numerous awards in 2007, including PRWeek’s Technology Campaign of the Year, and is widely considered to be the campaign that introduced gaming into mainstream media.
Nowadays, indie game studios are no different than the majors, spending a hefty portion of their budget on marketing. Sure, word-of-mouth still works best, but with a plethora of indie games on the market, it’s time-consuming to sift through the duds. That’s when an expertly produced trailer (like LIMBO‘s) comes in handy.
Playdead’s LIMBO is an ideal example of the controversial concept of video games being a form of art. And it’s simplicity is not reserved just for the final product. The LIMBO trailer is arguably as artful as the game itself. In a time when teasers like this simply have to wow, it’s refreshing to have a trailer that simply astonishes.
5. Dead Space
Visceral Games’ Dead Space series is one of the most riveting survival horrors ever released. Comprised of three games, two animated movies and a comic book series, Dead Space has been the studio’s most critically and commercially successful franchise.
Prior to the first game releasing in 2008, Visceral launched an inspiring campaign, which included an animated movie, Dead Space: Downfall, and a six-book comic series that preluded the game. And the Dead Space launch trailer was the bridge between those stories and the game’s story.
Sure, there had been intro cinematics before that prelude to a game’s story (like the previously listed Left 4 Dead and Mass Effect 3), but those were CGI teasers. The Dead Space trailer debuted just prior to the game releasing and was a literal introduction to the game, one that used actual in-game graphics. That itself is rare.
4. Star Wars: The Old Republic
After years and years of waiting, BioWare finally made a Knights of the Old Republic follow-up game, Star Wars: The Old Republic, though it wasn’t quite what fans had in mind.
Ever since Obsidian released The Sith Lords in 2004, Star Wars fans had been wanting a third installment in the Knights of the Old Republic series, not an MMO. Nevertheless, the reveal trailer, “Deceived” (the first in a trio of cinematic trailers), blew those same disillusioned fans away.
Combining rich visuals, bombastic action and a spectacular soundtrack, the trailer depicts the true revenge of the Sith, albeit with more zealots than the customary “Rule of Two” allows for. In four short minutes, the trailer shows the sacking of Coruscant, the fall of the Republic and the return of the Sith. “Deceived” was followed by two more cinematic trailers, each telling a portion of a larger narrative leading into The Old Republic.
BioWare’s series of cinematic trailers has been considered by many to be better than George Lucas’ entire Star Wars prequel trilogy. In fact, many people have hoped for a Star Wars movie like this to be made, actually showing Star Wars fans the Old Republic.
3. DC Universe Online
The possibilities for a live-action Justice League movie are limitless, though everyone can agree it should look something like this.
Directed by Tim Miller (yep, that Tim Miller), the DC Universe Online trailer (which doubles as the game’s opening cinematic) shows Lex Luthor leading a dastardly gang of supervillains — featuring the likes of Joker, Black Adam, Deathstroke and Harley Quinn, among others — against the Justice League. While he wins the battle against the world’s finest heroes, he consequently loses the war against Brainiac, which forces him to travel back in time and ally himself with his archenemies.
It sounds like a would-be Justice League crossover event (something akin to DC Comics’ Flashpoint comic) but it isn’t, it’s the beginning of DC Universe Online. Video game developers have made it a habit of including opening cinematics in games, preluding the main story, but the DC Universe Online cinematic does it best. It takes several world-ending comic stories and combines them for one impressive battle.
It even seems to have inspired one or two things in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Can you spot the similarities?
2. Dead Island
Despite being a disastrous game, one that failed to deliver on virtually all of its promises, the reveal trailer for Techland’s Dead Island is still considered to be one of the greatest trailers ever created in entertainment — in any medium, not just games.
Told primarily in reverse, the trailer engrosses viewers with a gut-wrenching, self-contained story of a vacationing family fighting off a zombie horde. What begins with a young, undead girl biting and infecting her parents ends with a father reaching out to save his daughter.
Instead of showing gameplay and story elements, production studio Axis Animation focused on tone and emotion. The end result was something less of a trailer and more of a short film — one that managed to consume the internet for days upon its release.
1. Gears of War
There was a time when video game trailers were happy-go-lucky and simply showcased as much gameplay as possible. But when the Gears of War (Mad World) commercial released in 2006, things changed. Video game marketers realized it wasn’t just about the gameplay, it was about the story and the characters. It was about the emotion. And so, the “sadvertisement” trend was born.
Instead of jazzing up a game, marketers would take a short cinematic, remove practically all of the game’s audio, and play a thoughtful song in the background.
The song for this trailer, Gary Jules’ cover of “Mad World,” ended up becoming synonymous with the franchise. In fact, because of this trailer, Gary Jules is often wrongly credited with creating the song, when in reality the song was made by Tears for Fears.
What was your favorite video game trailer ever? Sound off in the comments.