I’ve written about my irritation at the Bioshock trailers’ propensity for fabricated gameplay and also how the too-polished quality of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution trailer made me look for other reasons to get excited about the game. But let’s put all this moaning and groaning, this arthritic cynicism, to one side. Whilst I distrust trailers as faithful representations of games, they still appeal to me on another level.
I’ve featured some of my favourites on Electron Dance. Some very earlier STALKER videos promote a game which doesn’t exist, but I still return to those trailers, with their foreboding techno track and off-kilter camera angles drifting across the body of The Zone. And there’s the wonderful 4fourths music video, juiced with primary colours and exploding blocks. But in fact I have an enormous list of trailers that are close to my heart – take the vibrant and pleasant World of Goo trailer which does an amazing job of evoking the final product.
And then there’s this. The trailer for zombie-themed Dead Island that everyone is talking about. Despite facing a public ready to cry “no more zombies”, the trailer still managed to shake half of the gaming internet out of its post-zombie funk. Not once does a game appear in the trailer, yet this short CGI film throws a surprising emotional punch, more gripping than anything from the Left 4 Dead stable.
The trailer shows the final moments of an ordinary family on holiday, falling to a zombie attack for which they are ill-prepared. Its most powerful moment is the final slow motion shot in reverse time, where the father appears to be handing his daughter to the zombie horde. It’s this haunting scene that really had me: giving her away because he can’t protect her.
Let me be upfront about something. Being a parent, I find stories involving families affect me much more deeply than they did pre-parent. Hell, I was a total mess watching similarly emotive parts of Channel 4’s adaptation of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart while Mrs. HM and children were in Japan. Anything nasty involving children is suddenly much, much worse, as Geoff of Rooster “Red Vs Blue” Teeth would attest (cheers to Switchbreak for this one).
Maybe the game will be prime horse manure and have stones thrown at it for betraying the trailer’s promise. Was it misguided to raise game expectations to breaking point? Maybe, but the trailer has been made now and will survive and endure even if the game does not. Of this, I am glad. I can’t think of another trailer as affecting as this one.
Of course, there are the naysayers, the backlash brigadiers, about how the wool has been pulled over everyone’s eyes AND YOU’LL BE SORRRRY. I was amused by Chad Morelock’s “meh” over at BNB Gaming about the new Dead Island trailer. Amused because despite completely agreeing with his general sentiment about those lying trailers, I could not join his cadre for this one. He’s not alone either. There are many brandishing the word pretentious along with the pitchforks and torches.
Trailers may not be able to tell us how a game feels and plays any more than a car advert can tell us how a car drives, but that doesn’t make them automatically worthless.
They entertain to draw our attention. They work hard to make us watch so that in the watching we remember something is for sale. This is the beating heart of any viral marketing campaign whether it be radio-play-in-a-puzzle I Love Bees or cybersavvy Old Spice Man – they must retain interest somehow. Singularity didn’t win awards in the FPS department or even the FPS basement, but you could still enjoy the Katorga-12 conspiracy regardless.
Much like advertising over the decades has been recognised as art in itself, the game trailer is also a worthy art form. Maybe it is time we admitted that.