Yesterday I rewatched the totally wackadoo trailer for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon in anticipation of its release tomorrow, and it got me thinking about some of my favorite trailers of the recent past.
Game trailers can come in many forms — cinematic trailers are often the most striking, but also lack the information I want to know before I buy a game. On the other hand, gameplay trailers can better show off the actual features but it’s not easy to make playing a game a spectator sport.
The best trailers, I think, manage to be memorable while doing a great job of representing the aesthetics of the full game. Below are a few of my recent favorites.
Mass Effect 3: launch trailer
This trailer makes me want to play Mass Effect 3 again, which really says something. The combination of Clint Mansell’s haunting score with quick shots of familiar faces and epic battles still gives me goosebumps. This trailer is really most effective for fans of the series — I’m not sure a total newbie will get as much out of it — but for the final battle of a story-driven trilogy, that seems like a great marketing decision. Also I’m irritated by the lack of FemShep, but I realize that’s a personal problem.
Dead Island: the “reverse trailer”
This trailer is infamous. It’s gory, it’s gripping, it’s heartbreaking — it’s everything you would expect from a zombie apocalypse. This trailer also demonstrated Deep Silver’s willingness to push boundaries (in this case by showing the death of a child), which in retrospect possibly helped encourage the nonsense that is Torso-gate. Unfortunately, this trailer is much, much, much better than the actual game, and so while it’s a pretty fine example of “cinema in a minute” it’s arguably not a great way to advertise Dead Island.
Portal 2: teaser trailer
This is another sequel trailer that was made for fans of the franchise more than new players, but honestly who wasn’t familiar with GlaDOS by 2010? I love this trailer because it’s a great example of Valve’s amazing marketing: in less than a minute they set the scene (a ruined Aperature Science), set the tone (with eerie robotic music), showed a bit of gameplay, and established that GlaDOS is back and still sassy. You monster.
Hotline Miami: live action trailer
I love this trailer. First, doing a “live action” game trailer is really unique, but it gives the trailer a visceral tone that it would probably lack from just 90 seconds of retro pixel action. It highlights the awesome Hotline Miami soundtrack, the review snippets are really artfully designed, and the whole thing just leaves you feeling unsettled.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution: cinematic trailer
Cinematic trailers can encourage terrible marketing practices, but the lengthy one for DE:HR is an example of it done right. This trailer does a great job of establishing the setting and tone of the game world, and introducing us to Adam Jensen, an ex-cop with robot arms and the feeling that things are not as they seem. Like all good trailers, this makes me want to go home and boot up DE:HR, like, right now.
Wrath of the Lich King: cinematic trailer
Did you really think I’d make this list without a single Blizzard title? It was tough to settle on just one trailer, since Blizzard arguably makes better cinematic trailers than any other developer of the last 10 years. Wrath was not my favorite expansion (that would be TBC, obvs — OLD SCHOOL RULES), but this trailer is a perfect mix of lore and action, and actually made me tear up a bit the first time I saw it. Poor Arthas and his haunted hat.
Borderlands 2: doomsday trailer
This isn’t a great trailer exactly, and people generally seem to like the Wimoweh one more, but there is a lot about this trailer that I admire. 2k Games / Gearbox / whomever is really really really really good at branding. Seriously. This trailer has lots of action and a lot of guns, it has catchy music, it introduces us to Handsome Jack, and it does a rock solid job of demonstrating the joyous, irreverent violence that Borderlands fans love.