Mortal Kombat X has received its fair share of internet hate this week after debuting a trailer that was promptly criticized as “everything wrong with video game trailers.” It’s a boring smattering of “is it gameplay, or is it just CGI” combat set to what is one of the least appropriate music choices imaginable.
A good trailer is key to generating hype for any upcoming game, and as we head into E3 where we’ll find countless new trailers, I thought it might be good to take a look back at some of the absolutely best. Here are what I consider to be the five best video game trailers I’ve ever seen, and why. Naturally, I’m sure I missed all the ones you liked, so link them in the comments.
5. Assassin’s Creed Revelations
One of the most common complaints about video game trailers is that they usually show a lot of CGI with little actual gameplay. Everything is often pre-rendered cutscenes, giving a false impression of the game.
As we move into this new console generation, that’s more of an issue because the line between what’s supposed to be gameplay and what’s cinematic is getting blurry (see the recent Watch Dogs controversies), but for a long while, everyone knew what was a CGI trailer and what was gameplay. In my eyes, if the cinematic is well done enough, it overrides the need to show gameplay, particularly for a well-established series.
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Such is the case with the trailer for Assassin’s Creed Revelations. I may have been so sick of Ezio Auditore at this point in the series I didn’t even finish the game once it was released, but this cinematic trailer is among the best ever made in the industry, in my opinion. The animation is flawless, the music choice is perfect (take notes, Mortal Kombat) and the cinematography and fight choreography were enough to convince me that an Assassin’s Creed movie might not be such a bad idea after all.
4. Halo 3
There are probably a few Halo trailers that could have made the cut here, but Halo 3′s “Believe” spot is the most iconic for a reason. Separate from gameplay and cinematics, the “frozen diorama” battle scene was an extremely creative way to show the central conflict of the game.
Despite there being little to no movement, the painstaking effort that went into creating this scene shows more emotion and peril than any shaky-cam, explosion-filled, typical trailer ever could. As cool as it was when Halo started to experiment with live-action trailers, this one still stands out as the most memorable of all, and we haven’t seen anything like it since.
3. Borderlands 2
I absolutely adore the “Doomsday” Borderlands 2 trailer which combines all in-game footage with an exceptional soundtrack to create probably the most “tone appropriate” trailer I’ve ever seen.
The action and captioning is perfectly synced with the Nero dubstep track, and the trailer does a great job at showing all the new additions to the game while simultaneously maintaining its trademark sense of humor. It’s the kind of trailer you can watch a half dozen times, and still be smiling by the end. A Claptrap dance number will do that.
2. Dead Island
Did you really think you were going to make it through this list without seeing the now-famous Dead Island trailer? The spot remains one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, not just in gaming, but across movies and television as well.
The haunting piano score combined with the brilliant concept of a rewound zombie attack managed to tell one of the most human, compelling zombie stories ever put to film. In only three minutes! That’s a hell of an accomplishment and show just how effective a trailer can be.
And how misleading.
Everyone now knows that while Dead Island may have been an adequate zombie sandbox game, this trailer was fifty times more emotionally engaging than anything found in the game itself. That’s the risk you run avoiding in-game footage and connecting a trailer to your game with only the loosest of threads.
1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
To me, this is the perfect video game trailer.
Dead Island may surpass it in terms of pure emotion and polish, but this spot for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a flawless blend of tone-setting, world-building, cinematic showing-off and a cursory overview of gameplay elements.
The Blade Runner-esque world is brilliantly set up in such a short amount of time, with cybernetic enhancement the clear focus from the beginning. The tone is helped immensely by our first introduction to Michael McCann’s amazing score for the game, which ties together everything else in the trailer.
Yes, this is mostly cinematic showing little gameplay, but again, like Asssassin’s Creed it’s so well done, it doesn’t matter. And even if it isn’t necessarily in-game footage, the action-packed final half of the trailer introduces us to a whole host of tech you do actually utilize in the game, from Jensen’s arm blades to invisibility to neck-breaking to wall-smashing.
It builds an interesting, engaging universe, sets a distinct tone for the sci-fi noir tale, and shows incredibly cool action that’s actually somewhat emulated in the game itself. Combined with a perfect score with timely narration, I still get chills watching this trailer to this day.