The Best E3 Trailers of 2021

Games Lists E3 2021
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The Best E3 Trailers of 2021

E3 is fundamentally weird. Every year the trade show packs tens of thousands of people into two wings of a convention center full of unnecessarily elaborate booths displaying the hopeful videogame hits of the next 18 months. If that sounds like a recipe for multimedia chaos, well, it is: it’s a full-scale sensory assault amid non-stop shoulder-to-shoulder contact with absolute strangers. It can be miserable, sure, but also kind of exhilarating at first, before inevitably becoming just another thing you have to slog through for your day job. You get so used to that weirdness it doesn’t even register anymore.

This year’s E3 was weird in a different way. Everything above describes the actual E3 show itself, which always begins on a Tuesday and runs through Thursday. The two or three days before the show starts are usually full of press conferences where the major videogame publishers make new announcements or release new trailers for upcoming games. E3 is effectively two halves, this preshow period of press events, and then the official show where journalists actually get to play many of these upcoming games and talk to the people who make and market them. Obviously, the pandemic isn’t fully over yet, so that second half of E3—the actual, official E3—didn’t happen this year. Every year Nintendo holds its E3 press conference on Tuesday morning, and immediately afterward the show floor opens up for the first time; this year Nintendo’s press conference was basically the end of E3, and not the beginning it usually is.

The lack of hands-on opportunities and in-person interactions with developers strips E3 of what makes it useful from a journalistic perspective, and reduces it to what it’s basically always wanted to be, anyway: a big ol’ ad festival. Just like a carnival of commercials. All anybody can do with this E3 is talk about the trailers we were shown, the carefully constructed ads custom-built to show each game in what is considered its most marketable light. Paste always runs a list of the best E3 trailers every year, but we supplement it with our hands-on impressions of whatever we played at the show—opinions and information that I’d like to think are far more useful for our audience than a paragraph about an ad.

That won’t be the case this year. We didn’t get our hands on anything, because there was nothing to lay those hands upon. We’re just passive viewers of the ads that flashed across our computer monitor, willing consumers of the word as written by marketing execs and copywriters. Come, let us be the vehicle through which you experience your game ads—we’re here to serve.

Here are eight trailers that debuted during E3 this year that I thought looked kind of swell. They’re in alphabetical order, so don’t think of this as a contest or ranking, or anything. After all, all ads are beautiful and perfect in their own way.

Last Stop

Last Stop looks like a twisty sci-fi mystery that grounds its genre ambitions with characters that resemble real life. You’ve got parallel dimensions, portals, and a mysterious man with glowing eyes, but then you also have people falling in love, a couple having an argument, and an apparently joyful piano duet. It’ll be fascinating to see how the game unites these two sides. Variable States’ last game, Virginia, similarly tried to wed the prosaic with the fantastic, and although the result was a little too scattered and kaleidoscopic in its storytelling, it was still a very unique, interesting, and memorable game. I can’t wait to see how they follow that one up.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2

That might not be the official name of this one—Nintendo refers to it as “the sequel to Breath of the Wild”—but we’ll keep using it as shorthand until we’re given something else to call it. This cryptic clip reveals that the follow-up to our game of the decade will be set at least partially in the sky, and also that something’s wrong with Link’s right arm. The story’s still a mystery, and we don’t really see any heroes other than Link; it’s basically a short collage of impressions and brief glimpses of Hyrule, just enough to keep everybody excited for a game that has no official release window yet.


Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope

Ubisoft had the honor of debuting the trailer for their next collaboration with Nintendo, a sequel to the 2017 comic strategy hit Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The roster of Rabbid-ized Mario characters will grow with this installment, as the trailer gives us our first glimpse at the Rabbid versions of Super Mario Galaxy characters. The comic tone of the Rabbid games was an awkward fit with the world of Mario back in 2017, but the actual game itself was a lot of fun, so we’ve got some hope for the sequel.


Metroid Dread

Nintendo’s surprise announcement of a new side-scrolling Metroid came via a trailer that feels like a short horror film. The usually redoubtable Samus Aran spends most of the trailer running from a seemingly unbeatable new enemy. This trailer more than justifies the “dread” of the title, while also showing off a blistering pace and crisp new look for this storied franchise.


Redfall

Pour one out for the immersive sim, if you must; the current masters of the form, Arkane, revealed its next game will be a multiplayer co-op experience. In Redfall up to four players team up to make their way through an apocalyptic nightmare world, and if this sounds like Left 4 Dead, well, swap the zombies out with vampires and you might be on the right track. Redfall was announced through a cinematic trailer that doesn’t show any actual in-game footage, but its tone, character designs, and sense of style are all immediately engaging. People got hyped for this one fast, and it’s not hard to see why. Arkane’s Austin studio is prepping Redfall for a 2022 release on the Xbox Series X|S and PC.


Sable

I have no idea what Sable is about, but I now know what it looks like, and that alone has me excited. It looks like a Moebius comic come to life, with its detailed line work, muted color palette, and sweeping sci-fi vistas that simultaneously look like the future and the ancient past. Bonus points to this trailer for using a song by Paste-beloved artist Japanese Breakfast. Sable will be out through Xbox Game Pass and Steam in September.


Starfield

The creators of The Elder Scrolls and the modern Fallout games are set to unleash their latest new series in 2022, and we got our first glimpse of it at E3. This trailer doesn’t reveal almost anything about what kind of game Starfield will be, but it establishes a serious sci-fi aesthetic that sets it apart from Skyrim or Fallout 4. The ad copy touts that Starfield will let you “explore with unparalleled freedom as you embark on an epic journey to answer humanity’s greatest mystery,” but we’ll have to wait for later trailers to get an idea of what that exploration will look like. At least it makes a good first impression with this teaser—I don’t know what this game is but based on this little taste I know I want to adventure through its galaxy.


We Are OFK

It’s hard to tell stories about making music or being in a band that don’t strike a false note. They’re often too idealized, too unrealistic, and more interested in celebrity or the starmaking process than in capturing what it’s actually like to write songs and play shows. Also there’s a delicate balance to making the music within the story, which has to sound like something that could exist in the real world. It’s not quite as risky as writing stand-up or sketch comedy that’s supposed to be funny (aka the Studio 60 problem), but it’s still a potential pitfall for anything that wants to be taken seriously. Based on the song in this trailer, We Are OFK, a game about a pop band from Hyper Light Drifter co-designer Teddy Dief, seems to pull it off. Oh, it’s also got some sharp dialogue and great art design. We’re looking forward to this one.



Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.

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