Press Start: The best video game trailers

Video game news, reviews and commentary with Gazette reporter Jake Magee.

Jake Magee

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Video game trailers are important to fans.

During the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, held in California each summer, trailers are often the only thing gamers get to see of an upcoming sequel or new franchise for months at a time before a game is released—sometimes years later.

The trailers vary as much as the games they show off. Some include clips of actual gameplay to give fans a sense of what it might be like to play the final product. Others include computer-generated cutscenes that provide an idea of a product’s story or atmosphere. Still others are live-action adaptations of a game that don’t do much more than get people hyped for an anticipated release.

There are a few trailers that gain special attention, whether it’s for the strong emotions they convey, their artistic direction or just their pure awesomeness. In no particular order, here are five videos that stick out in my mind for being truly amazing video game trailers.

“Halo: Reach” Deliver Hope Trailer

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By the time “Halo: Reach” was announced, the “Halo” series had long since gained fame for being one of the best first-person shooter franchises to ever be released. Many thought “Halo 3” would be developer Bungie’s last “Halo” game, so not much had to be done to hype people up for the sequel, “Halo: Reach.”

This live-action trailer is pretty simplistic. A Spartan runs across an active battlefield in slow motion as stringed instruments crescendo behind a simple piano melody. She’s eventually hit by an energy blast and falls down, dropping the metallic device she’d been carrying.

As the emotional music swells, another Spartan steps in and immediately takes the device and blasts off toward an enemy ship in the sky. He throws the object inside, and an aerial shot shows the ship implode. We’re left wondering if the second Spartan made it out before the blast and if the first Spartan survived her injuries.

It’s amazing the short story and emotion Bungie conveys with the two-minute trailer as the words “Remember Reach” flash at the end of the video. The trailer not only gives me chills but also gets me excited for what a live-action “Halo” movie might look like.

“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” Official Trailer

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There are tons of reasons why “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” trailer is as amazing as it is.

The first half features a narration and scenes of a character fighting a dragon. Awesome already, but about halfway through the video the music grows and the character unleashes a powerful shout as the song turns to monk-like chanting. The following scenes showing off “Skyrim’s” unforgettable world and first- and third-person combat made me giddy the first (and 10th) time I saw them.

The trailer successfully mixes cutscene-like footage and narration, scenic shots and gameplay to give players an accurate sense of what the game is like. Watching the trailer makes me want to return to “Skyrim” and experience its role-playing wonder all over again, even five years later. That’s a quality only amazing trailers can accomplish.

“Gears of War” Mad World Trailer

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As developers plan to launch the fourth “Gears of War” game, I’ve realized each entry in the series has had some sort of emotional trailer featuring gritty, silent combat with a sad song as the only audio. Each one is better than the last, but the original “Gears of War” trailer deserves the most credit for setting the trend.

In the video, main character Marcus Fenix runs through a dark and desolate ghost town to the song “Mad World,” which perfectly encapsulates “Gears’” grim setting. As Fenix dives through a window to escape an enemy, he looks up to see a giant, spider-like monster looming above him. With no other options, he starts shooting before the screen goes black.

Having played all three games multiple times, I can say the world of “Gears” often seems hopeless, and the original “Gears” trailer exemplifies that feeling perfectly.

“BioShock” Announcement Trailer

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The first half of the “BioShock” trailer piqued my interest during my initial viewing simply because of its setting. Antagonist Andrew Ryan explains why he decided to build his own city as the camera eventually shows us his underwater utopia, Rapture. The foreboding world and ominous reasoning for its existence were enough to intrigue me, but then the trailer turned to something more personal and mysterious.

The remainder of the video is shown from the first-person perspective of a man who tries to pull a young girl from a vent. He’s stopped by what looks like an oversized, old-school diver who moans and groans loudly and is armed with an enormous drill. Clearly outmatched, the man is gruesomely drilled to death before the diver offers a friendly hand to the girl.

The trailer presented a lot of questions that wouldn’t be answered until the game’s release but set the stage for what would become one of last generation’s greatest story-driven shooters.

“Dead Island” Announcement Trailer

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“Dead Island” was a mess of a game. It was unwieldy, glitchy and just annoying to play—so much so that I never finished it. That is something I rarely do with games.

But boy, did it have a great trailer.

“Dead Island’s” announcement trailer wasn’t just emotional; it was clever, too. Mainly shown in reverse, the video shows a young, undead girl attack her father and mother in their hotel room shortly after she’s been bitten by a zombie in the hallway. Brief, intermittent clips played forward show the chaos of the situation as the mother and father try to save their daughter.

Choosing to show the trailer in reverse allows the video to “end” with shots of the family arriving on a tropical island and generally just being happy to be alive and together, which really hammers the tragedy home. The trailer gruesomely and devastatingly exemplified how quickly life can change to great effect—whether zombies are involved or not.

Too bad the game wasn’t any good.

Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.


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