Video game trailers are all lies, damned lies. If they show us gameplay at all, it's cut together in the most exciting possible way. They're custom-crafted to generate hype, and they have the power to make a lousy game look fantastic. But, well... if they're lies, at least they're occasionally beautiful ones.
Over the last eight years, Kotaku has posted hundreds of video game trailers. Some have been amazing. Some have been, let's face it, boring. Some have been good enough to stand apart from their associated games and live on as standalone entertainment.
In no particular order, here are our favorite video game trailers from the last generation of gaming.
Prince of Persia 2008, feat. Sigur Rós
Oh, this trailer. Set to Sigur Rós' "Sæglópur," it so expertly captured the beauty of Ubisoft's 2008 Prince of Persia reboot that I might prefer the trailer to the game.
Red Dead Redemption, "My Name is John Marston"
Jason's already expounded upon why Rockstar made some of the best trailers of the past gaming era. This one for Red Dead Redemption, "My name is John Marston," is surely one of their best.
Gears of War, "Mad World" Sadvertisement
This now-famous trailer for Gears of War was the first of what came to be a trend over the last generation.
- Take scenes from a dark, moody action game.
- Remove all game audio.
- Play an introspective, beautiful song.
And lo, the "sadvertisement" was born. Love 'em or hate 'em, this trailer was one of the most influential of the last generation. Speaking of emotions...
Halo 3, "Believe"
I can't help it. I like this trailer. It's goofy and melodramatic, but I honesty am affected by it, what with the piano and the sad, sad toys, and Master Chief moving at the end. I believe, Halo 3 ad!
Which isn't to say I don't think the trailer deserved the parody Bulletstorm gave it:
The PlayStation 3's "Michael" Commercial
This is the only platform advertisement to make the list, but it earned the honor. It's built around such a lovely idea: That our game characters are alive and rely on us, Toy Story-like, to give them the courage and skill to overcome the obstacles in their way. What a sentiment!
GTA IV Trailer #1, feat. Philip Glass
No other trailer on this list has made me as purely hyped for a game as this one did. Thanks to this trailer, every time Glass' "Pruit Igoe" came on GTA IV's classical radio station, I'd turn the volume up and keep on driving.
Borderlands, "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked"
That song, man. It was the song that sold Borderlands, and has continued to be associated with the game even after the success of its much-improved sequel. Cage the Elephant's "No Rest for the Wicked" did the heavy lifting, and this trailer's Guy Richie aesthetic did the rest.
Mass Effect 3, "Take Back Earth"
Before the game came out, Mass Effect 3 reached some stratospheric hype levels. However you feel about how the actual game played out in the end, it was hard to deny that this trailer hit all the right notes.
Best of all, BioWare made a FemShep version:
The Beatles: Rock Band, Debut and Intro Video
The Beatles: Rock Band was the rare big-budget nonfiction game. It was a biographical, musical journey through the history of one of the greatest bands of all time. I'm not even a diehard fan of the band, but I never got tired of this trailer, which doubled as the game's intro video.
The Last of Us TV Spot, "What are you afraid of?"
I liked The Last of Us' debut trailer, but this TV spot that ran close to launch best captures the many emotions the game conjured. Geico could make an ad with that driving pig and set it to Gustavo Santaolalla's music, and it'd keep me riveted.
The song, the visuals, even the opening splash screen… from the first moment, Mirror's Edge was like nothing we'd ever seen before, or have seen since. Luke's already laid out why the game was so special, and this trailer captured that perfectly.
One of the most gonzo games of the generation and my personal favorite action game, Bayonetta was likely both easy and difficult to sell in a trailer. Sure, the game looks brilliant in action, but how best to cut together in-game action and out-of-game cutscenes? Turns out this is how.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The moment a new Deus Ex game was announced, longtime series fans began to get scared. Would this be another shooter that loses the heart of what made the first game great? Or could it be something more? Not only was this first trailer drenched in Jonathan Jacques-Belletête's gorgeous art direction, it promised us an open-ended game that'd live up to the Deus Ex game. And what do you know, they delivered.
Left 4 Dead, Debut and Intro Movie
Left 4 Dead's trailer is one of my favorites on this list, not only because it's fun to watch but because it manages to function as a complete tutorial for the entire game. I'm not 100% on this, but I don't believe there's an in-game move or system (car alarms, witches, downed shooting, smokers, hunters, tanks, catching falling teammates) that was left out. It's also got one of my favorite bits of zombie-movie cliché-talk:
"Run or shoot? RUN OR SHOOT??"
MLB The Show 2012, "Cubs Win"
This one got Cubs fans right in the feels, capturing just how real a world series victory in MLB The Show can seem. Aw, man. That guy finally got to see it.
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Not only is this one an epic sadvertisement, it's an epic sadvertisement starring giant, goofy robots. And yet… dude. It's so good.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, "The Vet and the N00b"
Okay, yes. Not everyone loves Call of Duty's "Citizen Soldier" ad campaigns—our own Owen Good protested mightily at my inclusion of this ad on this list. But putting aside the glorification of violence and the casual depiction of war-torn New York… well, this ad makes me laugh. So.
Kirby's Epic Yarn
Our list is almost entirely bereft of Nintendo games, but Stephen suggested this one for Kirby's Epic Yarn, which was, in his words, one of the best-looking games of the generation.
Assassin's Creed Revelations
The game may have disappointed some, but the trailer has got to be the best one Ubisoft has ever made for their flagship series. And as it happens, I finally went and finished Revelations earlier this year and found that I actually liked the game, too. So there.
And last but not least...
This fucking trailer, man. We might as well end on this one, the ultimate in emotional manipulation. Produced by Axis Animation, this trailer for Techland's Dead Island caused such a stir that it was mentioned in almost every review of the final game. (Which, it should be pointed out, bore next to no resemblance to the events in the ad.) I've already said more than enough about how effective it was, but it most certainly deserves a place on our list.
And there you have them, our favorite video-game trailers from the last eight years of console gaming. May the next eight years be as exciting, and may the games live up to their trailers even more often.
And now we open the floor to you: What were your favorite game trailers of the last generation?
Last-Gen Heroes is Kotaku's look back at the seventh generation of console gaming. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, we'll be celebrating the Heroes—and the Zeroes—of the last eight years of console video gaming. More details can be found here; follow along with the series here.