What makes a good video game trailer?

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We don’t want celebrities pretending to enjoy a game, we want something mesmerising

Like a trailer for a movie, video games need to showcase the best of what they’re offering to prospective fans. The explosions, the cast, the random shot of a half-naked woman who may or may not be present in the actual product. But games have either a more difficult job or one with more creative choices, depending on how you see it. Rather than only showing off how good-looking and exciting their game is, developers can, like Microsoft and Aaron Paul have shown us, have celebrities endorse their product. But does it mean that, because a famous face is paid to look like he/she is enjoying that sparkling new game, that it’s a good trailer?

Even if Aaron Paul’s ad works only because, well, everybody loves Aaron Paul, other developers know how to pay celebrities to grace their trailer and pull it off brilliantly. So Sledgehammer games, taking the hate-it-but-still-buy-it helm of Call of Duty this year, come in strong with a trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare by playing the whole thing off Kevin Spacey’s cold, brutal speech. Coming straight off the back of House of Cards, Spacey’s casting is a no-brainer when trying to haul in the fans of online entertainment. And even without House of Cards, Spacey is an actor who rarely fails to take over a film with a full supply of charisma. In short, with one trailer, Sledgehammer have possibly reinvigorated the franchise. Or maybe I’m optimistic. Still, it’s Kevin Spacey. Buy it, skip the missions and pore over the cut scenes. They could give out achievements for the most time staring at his virtual face.

A developer who really know how to pull off a good trailer, Ubisoft, impresses with its historical epic Assassin’s Creed and witht he tech-bang wizadry of Tom Clancy’s games, but their biggest triumph was the trailer for Far Cry 3. From the moment they put him down onto paper, Ubisoft must have known the success that main villain Vaas would have amongst fans, and suitably, they focus their trailer on his bat-shit-pirate-crazy antics and give us an idea of just how dangerous their game will be. Add that to the live action comedy episode they put out, and nobody doubted who the star of the game was. They’re good trailers because they know their game’s strong points and they throw it hard at you – and they use just the right amount of dubstep.

Famous in its own right because of its atmospheric, dark, and terrifying nature, the trailer for Gears of War could be said to be the best trailer ever made for a video game. Personally, I could do without the game series, but maybe that says even more for its trailer, managing to completely sway me into purchasing the game. Against the tune of Gary Jules’ cover of Mad World, hardly anything is given away of the nature of the setting or the enemy. Following Marcus through abandoned streets, it gives just enough away to pique your interest. And then to cap it all off, it leaves you with a glow in the dark mammoth spider towering over a now very tiny looking man. This is the trailer that even those who aren’t gamers remember, and feels convincingly like it could be the trailer for a new movie.

But, topping even that, and what I believe is the unbeatable trailer for video games, is the Halo 3 ‘Believe’ trailer. Like Gears of War, Bungie developed an ad that captured the mood of its game to atmospheric music. But unlike any of the other trailers here, Halo’s, focused on a battle reconstruction with figurines, showed nothing of the gameplay, multiplayer or smoothness of the graphics. It was toys, arranged to emotionally blackmail viewers into purchasing the game. I mean, the only movement in the trailer is Master Chief’s head looking straight up at you on the brink of being torn apart by a Brute. If that isn’t good trailer advertisement, then I imagine that’s what Jesus tried to explain to the Romans before they shut him up.

These trailers are exactly what a game trailer should be. Show us what makes your game special; why I should buy it. A good game trailer tells you what to expect as effectively as possible, and all of the above do that. Fair enough, there’s nothing essentially wrong with the Titanfall ad, but it seems like that if you had hold of the document from the meeting, it would say ‘People like that Aaron Paul guy. Let’s pay him to like the Xbox.’ Microsoft did the equivalent of name dropping at a party, and then telling everyone that they paid him to be their friend. That isn’t what makes a good game trailer, that isn’t what gaming is about. We want experiences, beautifully crafted adventures to dive into, not celebrities paid to feign interest. That’s just sad.

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