Video game trailers are an odd and immensely important part of gaming culture. Like other mediums, they exist to inform consumers of an upcoming product, to hype up a release and ultimately get you ready to spend money on a new game. Yet they feel even more integral part of games than say film or television.
When you watch a trailer for a movie, it must entice you to sit down for 2, maybe 3 hours. When you watch a trailer for a video game, it must convince you to spend upwards of 100 hours in a game, maybe more. As a result, the hook that game trailers need to have is sharper than any other.
For us, this usually means that game trailers are far more memorable and are something that can be fondly looked back upon. The game itself does not even have to be good – in fact, many times the trailer overdelivers or presents something completely different than what players will experience – to have a good trailer.
Seeing as it is currently trailer and announcement season for the gaming community, let’s look at some of the very best video game trailers of all time.
The trailer for Dead Island is perhaps one of the most iconic and memorable in all of gaming.
It is tragic, compelling, and moving all at once, as we watch as one family struggles to fight back against the zombie outbreak. We watch in reverse as they succumb to it, as the family’s young daughter changes, and eventually, we watch her die. It was haunting, easily one of the most talked-about trailers of all time, and a great hook to get people interested in the game.
Dead Island is also a perfect example of how a trailer can both deceive an audience and exist apart from the game it is advertising. The actual game of Dead Island was a pretty average first-person melee game, where the opening cutscene shows pretty typical party life on a resort – a far cry from the emotionally poignant display in the initial trailer. It hurt, even more, seeing how the trailer was able to perfectly capture in 3 minutes what the entire game missed in a dozen or so hours.
However, now that time has passed it is this beautiful trailer that is remembered and for good reason: it excels at telling a heartbreaking story… and for getting people interested in something as dull as Dead Island.
The Evil Within 2
The cinematic reveal for Tango Gameworks’ The Evil Within 2 is a super stylish trailer that captures the creepy atmosphere that seeps into the main game.
One of the key reasons why this trailer is so well remembered and thought about is the imagery employed and how it tells the story of the game perfectly without a single spoken word. The milky white substance that is all-consuming, the repetition of cameras and shutters, the burn marks and remnants of fire – it all weaves together to present Sebastian’s struggles with an artistic flair.
A lot of the imagery was carried over into the main game, too, and the score backing the trailer only added to the feeling. On the whole, it was just a superbly well-put-together trailer that definitely got a few more people interested in the game, especially when compared to the rather drab artistic style of the first game.
Final Fantasy VII Remake
Iconic doesn’t even begin to cover the reaction in response to the Final Fantasy VII Remake reveal.
After years and years of waiting, of teases and rumors, the long-awaited remake for Final Fantasy VII was finally revealed to the public with this absolutely fantastic trailer.
The building score, the little hints and reveals that slowly mount as the audience understands where and who they are looking at, the final reveal of Barret’s gun and Cloud’s buster sword to that iconic Final Fantasy tune. The hype and excitement it generated would rarely be matched at any other game reveal: videos of the reveal still give me chills to this day for the joy and hype they displayed.
Even better is that when the game released a few years later, it managed to live up to that hype and was a stellar addition to the Final Fantasy line up. Let’s hope that we get another incredible trailer for the reveal of the 2nd part of the Remake.
Halo has a lot of great trailers and many of them could have made this list.
The ‘Starry Night’ trailer for Halo 3 still holds a special place in many Halo fans’ hearts for being a great showcase of the Master Chief and the fight he embroils himself in, the live-action Halo: Reach trailer shows Kat as she runs around a battlefield presented the reality of the Spartan life, even the Halo: Infinite reveal trailer was a great reveal when we finally learned that it was the Chief who stood amongst the grassy plains.
However, for me, the Halo: 4 trailer will always be the most memorable. The humanity it gives to the Master Chief and his life, before showing him facing down a new foe in the creepy, technological Prometheans. He hunts them down, showing off his one-man army sensibility before being captured by a mysterious villain who looks down on Chief like he is nothing. It embodies everything that Halo is about.
Halo is a series about overcoming the odds as a one-man killing machine, and the Halo: 4 trailer presents that fact plainly and in spectacular fashion.
After disappearing for many years, Elden Ring returned to plenty of fanfare.
The trailer that accompanied the game’s return was one that fans were waiting for. We got to see the sheer scope of the Lands Between that we would soon be unleashed upon, we got to see some of the monstrous creatures that we would battle (and inevitably die to), and we got to see the innovations to the Souls formula that From was creating. It piqued our interest and gave us our first look at a title that many would consider that Game of the Year.
This trailer was one of the best ways to welcome people into the world of Elden Ring and it most certainly worth the wait for fans. It’s going to be hard for Geoff Keighley to live up to anytime soon, that’s for sure.
Assassin’s Creed: Unity
While not always the most standout trailers, the Assassin’s Creed series has always boasted a good selection of enjoyable trailers.
Whether it is Brotherhood with its inventive use of color to present Ezio as some force of nature or Valhalla with its intense look at a more action-oriented assassin in Eivor. It is the trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Unity that has made this list for presenting the fantasy of being an assassin, alongside presenting the unique selling points of the game in an interesting way.
The lookover of the warring France classes sets the scene for the introduction of the multiple assassins, as multiplayer was one of the biggest focuses of Unity. The ending sequence as the assassins all storm the keep, taking out foes stealthily or in hand-to-hand combat culminates in a really cool sequence where the music dulls and we see the brotherhood for the terrifying threat they really are as they take dispatch foes with a deftness from a smoke cloud.
It embodies the assassin fantasy to the ‘T’, whether or not the game lived up to that same fantasy.
Another reveal fresh off a multi-year absence, another reveal that wowed fans.
After many years of silence, the first thing trailer we saw that pertained to CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 was a showstopper that came at the end of an Xbox E3 Showcase. Like the assassin fantasy of Assassin Creed: Unity, this trailer showed off the fantasy of living in Night City: the gangs, the cybernetics, and the chaos and panic of a dystopian metropolis.
It was inviting for all the wrong reasons and it was certainly able to whet the appetite of many wanting to venture into the world of Cyberpunk 2077 for themselves. It was especially interesting when compared to the initial reveal, where the style was dark and drab – here, Night City was full of color and life (and people who wanted to take that life by any means necessary).
Whether the game itself lived up to those promises is here nor there, because this trailer certainly delivered on them and made us want to immerse ourselves within Cyberpunk 2077.
Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers
Honestly, just like Halo, any of the Final Fantasy XIV trailers could have made this list.
They all are beautifully animated and show off the appealing characters, world, and story of the MMORPG in a dramatic fashion. Whether it is the culmination of a decade of storytelling in Endwalker or the samurai-dripped aesthetic of Stormblood, all of the trailers for XIV have a specialness that many other game trailers lack.
Shadowbringers is the expansion trailer that we have decided to add to this list. The scene of the Warrior of Light against Zenos at the beginning serves to set the scene, showing off their final duel in a mesmerising clash. From there, it just keeps mounting: the battle against the Angel, the rapid switching of classes from the Warrior of Light, the appearance of all the other Scions and central characters, topped off by the absolutely insane score by Soken.
It’s a masterclass of a trailer and every time I return to this trailer, I get chills. Well done Square Enix, well done indeed.
The Last of Us 2 Reveal Trailer
It is only fitting that one of the most highly anticipated games of the last decade got one of the best reveals.
The reveal trailer for The Last of Us Part 2 managed to capture the brutal but immensely profound world of the first game once more, but amped up. Ellie’s shaky hands as she tries to strum the guitar, while a body grows still and lifeless beneath her perfectly showed off that the little girl we all knew from the first game was gone: she had grown up, she had embraced this world and what she had to do to survive in it.
It’s a trailer that makes the audience ask the right questions, it makes them speculate on what Ellie wants to do, and what has happened to her, while still retaining all that is distinct from the original. The Last of Us Part 2 is certainly a controversial game, and future trailers would certainly deceive audiences in one way or another, but this reveal trailer was a great reintroduction for fans and an amazing way to invite people back into the world of The Last of Us.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This is my personal choice for the best video game trailer of all time.
Many times, game trailers are memorable for portraying events outside of the game in flashy cinematics. They work and oftentimes are incredible, but what makes this trailer from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild so special is that everything in it is from the game itself.
While it accomplishes that, it goes even further by creating a trailer that perfectly captures all the vibes and emotions output by playing the game: the endless urge to explore, the loneliness you’ll feel, the wanderlust and the attachment to Hyrule. The story portions and the voice over work only add to this, with everything building and snowballing as the trailer continues. The score builds and builds into this cacophonous and explosive finale – ‘Open your eyes’.
I can’t think of another trailer that made me feel so many different feelings at once. I come back to watch this trailer every few weeks and it never disappoints, no matter how many times I watch it. That is the mark of a good trailer – it exists as both an extension of the game it is advertising and something that can be enjoyed outside of that context. It becomes a separate entity.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild has one of these rare trailers and it is a masterpiece.
Game trailers are something that we are continually looking forward in the gaming community as it allows us a look at what we will eventually get to play ourselves. Sometimes they are as incredible and worthy of awe as the game itself, sometimes they are disappointing presentations that fail to interest the audience even slightly.
In any case, I doubt we will ever stop being excited for the next showcase of trailers and announcements – it’s become a part of the release cycle for basically every game we play. A cycle that I and many others are more than happy to indulge in.
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