Game trailers tend to be forgettable things. Explosive diversions paving the way for a marketing campaign that hits you, tries to sell you something then fades into nothingness as the next hype train takes its place. ODST’s live-action clip, though, lingers long after the game has disappeared off the charts.
I watched this the other day when YouTube did its thing and recommended it to me, based on a mysterious algorithm that I’m going to assume was “this guy really needs to watch this again”.
I’m glad I did, because it struck me that despite being almost seven years old—an eternity in the fast-paced world of modern video games—it is still easily the best example of a live-action, AAA video game trailer.
It does so many things that most trailers only try (and fail miserably) to achieve. There’s a sense of tone and place that burrows deep under your skin, leaving you with the weird sensation that this trailer is more ODST than the game itself managed.
It also looks incredible. OK, so some of the CG stuff has aged a little, but the cold, dirty and real live-action footage not only looks fresh, but looks professional. We were long teased a Halo movie from directors who have big Hollywood experience, but if a Halo movie is ever actually made, it can learn a lot more from this clip’s colour and lighting than it can from watching gameplay footage of a giant space soldier smash a fat purple alien in the face with a pistol.
My favourite part, though, is the little twist of switching languages. We’re so conditioned to seeing future soldiers speaking with American and British accents in our sci-fi media that it’s initially shocking to see them speaking something...else. Something we (well, most Kotaku readers, hi Europe!) don’t understand, and aren’t even afforded the decency of being given subtitles for (though you can read a translation here if you want to lose some of the magic).
Every actor in the clip is speaking (and screaming) in Hungarian. It’s a genius touch, because with Uralic roots Hungarian is one of the few languages in the Western world to not have derived, like everything from English to German to Spanish, from Indo-European dialects.
What this means is that we have no idea what those men are shouting about, because not a single word of it sounds even remotely familiar to us. Even the accent, given the lack of other Hungarian media in the wider global consciousness, is unfamiliar.
The song—which is not Hungarian, but in Welsh, another tough language to casually decipher—is also suitably “foreign” to most ears (and while we’re on it, what a hell of a song it is).
This all results in a clip that despite focusing entirely on events surrounding “us” in a war starring space monsters still feels alien. Like it really does come from the future.
For all that’s great about the clip, though, there’s a touch of hurt watching this in 2016. Back in 2009, if you looked past the craziness of Maser Chief’s personal story, the Halo series itself knew what it was about. It was the tale of a future human race with our backs to the wall, with even our best and bravest seemingly not enough to stop an alien alliance from wiping us out of existence.
That was the whole point of Master Chief. He was the superman here to save us where mere mortals were trying, failing and dying. There was a sense of inevitable bleakness to Halo’s tale, from Reach’s unfolding tragedy to the classic opening sequence of Combat Evolved, where despite your own best efforts most of your comrades around you spend the opening hours of the game dying.
This trailer, with its illustration of an ODSTs grim circle of life, nailed that feeling. And sadly, I think its a narrative anchor that Microsoft’s recent Halo games have lost sight of, which might explain why despite some solid play sequences I haven’t enjoyed the last two games in the series anywhere near as much as Bungie’s efforts.
Ah well. Times change, as do video games, and even if I can never again dig a Halo game like I did ODST or Reach, we’ll always have this trailer.