Sometimes I like ads. I get mad if the trailers run before I get to the movie theater. I live in the 21st century, so obviously I fast forward through ad breaks on my DVR, but I regularly stop and rewind to watch some commercial that caught my eye. E3, the game industry’s annual trade show, elevates the commercial to an ecosystem, turning the entire Los Angeles Convention Center (and surrounding environs) into a single massive ad for games. That system is composed of smaller, discrete ads for specific games and products, trailers for the latest bullet-ridden polemic on the immutability of war or the next remnant of 80s/90s/00s childhood ephemera reheated for the consumers of today. Trailers, they call them, in the parlance of the movie industry, and the word makes even less sense with games than with the digitally downloaded movies of the post-film era. Most of the game trailers debuted at E3 are loud, boorish and depressing in that specific way that AAA videogames are so often depressing. But some are good. Some game ads are worth watching. Here are five of them from this year’s E3. Take a look.
The best trailer of E3 dispensed with the cinematic bombast expected from AAA action ads, instead offering up what’s supposedly a solid three minutes of unedited gameplay. It shows off the game’s procedurally generated interplanetary exploration with the option of starship shootouts in space, as the player moves seamlessly from wandering around a pastel-colored, dinosaur-populated planet, to taking off into space and flying to another world. The kicker is the music, a propulsive Tangerine Dreamalike that creates a 70s sci-fi movie vibe.
Generally a good game trailer should include a fair amount of actual in-game footage. It should give some indication of what the game will actually look like, or the most basic semblance of how it’ll play. Nintendo’s trailer for the upcoming Wii U Zelda game doesn’t really do that—it doesn’t even show a glimpse of the new game until halfway through. What it does is use an interview with the game’s director, Eiji Aonuma, and footage from the original Zelda and 2003’s Wind Waker to explain some of the design philosophy behind this new open-world Zelda. The new footage is gorgeous and makes us excited for the next Zelda, and the interview provides a brief background on the driving concept behind the still-untitled game.
The trailer for the new game from Dark Souls developer From Software doesn’t show any in-game action, but it reveals that this Sony exclusive will maintain the horrific atmosphere of the Souls games. It’s a grisly bit of business, like so much else at E3, but unlike much of the other graphic violence there’s both a strong sense of style to From’s degradations and a thematic unity not often found in the typical army man face-shooter. Although geez does this guy totally get shot in the face at the end of this ad.
What sets this trailer apart is that it might be the first time any major videogame hero has been shown in therapy. And for Lara Croft this probably isn’t just some ploy to get a prescription—after the betrayals, murders and improbably survivable rebar impalements of 2013’s Tomb Raider, she should have some serious PTSD to deal with. This trailer works because it deals with the themes of these current Tomb Raider prequels in a way that very few similar AAA games would.
E3 is so humorless that you’d think any attempt at levity would be welcome. You’d be wrong—the few trailers that try to be funny are often among the worst each year. (You work 60 hours a week for two years making the latest high-tech death spree, knowing full well you’ll probably be fired the day it hits the Best Buy, and try to keep your sense of humor.) This ad for Super Ultra Dead Rising 3 succeeds not just by making fun of itself (something Dead Rising already does all the time) but Capcom’s insistence on releasing an inane number of slightly modified spin-offs of every Street Fighter game.