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Can game trailers stop lying about the artistic worth of their games please? It's bad for industry and audience alike

Somehow, I don’t think that head-in-hands laughter was the reaction Capcom was hoping for when its new Resident Evil 6 trailer started airing the other night. That’s the reaction it got from me though. Perhaps my response was amplified because I’d just been playing the very game it falsely claimed to promote, and so by that point knew exactly how flagrantly inaccurate a representation said promo was.

As the apologetic Hallmark card of a trailer seeped anaemically onto my TV screen, I’d just come away from another of the lengthy Resident Evil 6 sessions that had taken up most of my evenings last week. I’d been playing the hell out of Capcom’s latest for the purpose of a seriously in-depth preview I published the other day. My express intention had been to really get under the skin of the game’s new, significantly altered systems, gameplay flow and tone, so by that point I knew exactly what Resident Evil 6 was all about. And the game I saw being advertised in trailer was not the game I had been playing. It was nothing like it.


Above: Killing zombies is now art. And how did we possibly enjoy it beforehand?

Watch the new Resident Evil 6 trailer. Take it in isolation, as a singular taste of a supposed work you theoretically know nothing about. Hell, assume you know Resident Evil as a series, but don’t know a lot about the new game. What are you now hypothetically expecting from this one? A morose, poignant, genuinely upsetting horror game? A fatalistic tale of human frailty and existential defeat? A tragic musing on the power of the human spirit in keeping the physical body alive, a bit like a cross between The Walking Dead, Monsters and Weekend at Bernie's?

Yeah, good luck with finding that in Resident Evil 6. I think the whole situation is crystallised beautifully by the staccato tagline that the trailer so slowly, intermittently sobs into your ears, as if a gin-soaked divorcee sitting at the bottom of her stairs in the dark. “When our weapons failed, our hiding places were diminished, and they drew near, we turned to hope. But she had fled”

One point I’d like to raise about that, knowing the game as well as I do now. In Resident Evil 6, weapons never fail. Weapons are always the solution. Weapons not failing, but instead being a frigging awesome end to all of your problems, is the fundamental tenet of Resident Evil 6. Similarly, hiding places do not diminish, because the game doesn’t insult you by giving you any hiding places in the first place.

Above: While I was writing this article, Resi 6's press pack arrived in the office. It pulls the trite old 'poignant family polaroids of happier times' trick. The actual game's happiest times come from shooting the heads off things

In the rare circumstances that a problem in Resident Evil 6 cannot be solved with weapons (say, you’ve solved so many problems already that you’ve run out of ammo), then that problem can instead be solved by punching it in the face, suplexing it to the ground, and then stamping on its throat as if aggressively trying to force the last dregs of toothpaste out of the tube. This isn’t a game about timidly facing an all-consuming evil with a nauseous cocktail of terror and fragile dignity swirling around one’s stomach. It’s a game about facing evil with a pocket full of grenades and then punching it right in its stupid eldritch face.

So why do a trailer like this?

It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened. If fact the move to this kind of trailer has pretty much defined the marketing of games throughout this whole console generation. It all started just after the launch of the Xbox 360, with Microsoft’s 'Mad World' trailer for Gears of War. That one, I didn’t have a problem with. In fact I quite liked it. Say what you like about Gears being a series about tree-necked gun-bros fist-bumping each other with their big meaty fists full of guns. The first two games at least have a nice undercurrent atmosphere of mournful defeat trickling away under the surface. And I reckon the first trailer picked that out well. But that was before this sort of approach became such a tediously predictable and clumsily executed ‘thing’.


Above: The only version of this trailer I can now stomach to watch

Since then, sad trailers for balls-out action games have become the fallback cliché of lazier, less imaginative marketing men the industry over. They’ve become an increasingly over-cooked tradition for the Gears of War series. Halo 3’s live-action trailer was so embarrassing that I can only bring myself to post Consolevania's razor-sharp parody of it here.

And then there was another one for Halo: Reach. And then the infamously nothing-like-the-final-game-but-actually-way-better-so-hey-at-least-we’ll-always-have-the-trailer promo for Dead Island. And now Resident Evil is trying to be all poignant too.

Why is all of this happening? Seemingly, it’s because big triple-A games are increasingly desperate to portray themselves as more culturally worthy than they perhaps really are. And that sort of unnecessary thinking leads to an unfortunate implicit statement from the games industry. The statement that it’s a bit ashamed of the products it puts out. And it really shouldn’t be.

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24 comments

  • CitizenWolfie - September 17, 2012 6:45 a.m.

    I would say that I agree, but then there's something throbbing away at the back of my mind that lets me know it could have been much... ..much worse. DUBSTEP!!!
  • crswaites - September 16, 2012 11:19 a.m.

    You know, as much as I agree with this article completely and am annoyed by this trend, I can't help but think I know why this happened. It wasn't that long ago where every single game that ever came out, regardless of genre, was advertised with jump cuts of explosions set to metal riffs. I feel like there was even a Final Fantasy somewhere that had a metal trailer. I feel like the somber, sad trailer is kind of a reaction to stand apart from that, and everyone else just followed the lead. Also, isn't it interesting that movies do the exact same thing, make trailers that try to fool you, except it's usually in the opposite direction? When a company has no idea how to advertise a film, they usually make it seem way, way dumber-- the movie Jarhead, which is specifically about how these trained killers go to war and then have nothing to do, becomes an explosion filled action fest in its trailer. There are tons of other examples.
  • jackthemenace - September 15, 2012 1:54 p.m.

    Too right, Dave. The worst part is that when the games do eventually come out, I at least am always left feeling a little disappointed at having not been moved to tears like the trailer suggested. Gears 2 was the perfect game- it was awesome and ballsy, but also really deep and poignant, and the trailers suggested that. But then Gears 3 had the exact SAME trailers, and yet didn't move me anywhere NEAR as much as Gears 2 did. It was the same with halo: Reach, and with Skyrim, in it's own way.
  • SirManguydude - September 15, 2012 12:14 p.m.

    Not to piss in your cheerios or anything, but the Reach trailer doesn't take place on Reach. It is about the death of Thom-293 (the original Noble Six). Thus is why Spartan-B312(Noble Six you play as) was brought on the team as a replacement.
  • Fox_Mulder - September 15, 2012 9:55 a.m.

    I think only a few games deserve this treatment. Halo 3, and RE6 not being a part of the few.
  • Armondo28 - September 15, 2012 9:40 a.m.

    In an odd way, I don't think it's "lying" per se. I think game developers would like for their games to have the kind of emotional impact that great movies do, but even in 2012, the average game, well damn near every game, is so badly written, that this is impossible. In fact, I believe that has a lot to do with the decline of the JRPG. I know I got sick of horrible dialogue performed in high pitched, whiny voices. When game developers hire actual writers who understand how to write affective dialogue, then these trailers will be more accurate. Until then, yea maybe they should tone it down. ...but who would believe a Resident Evil game would have emotional impact anyway?
  • DarthPunk - September 15, 2012 9:08 a.m.

    I will say in defense of the RE6 trailer at least it actually uses footage from the game. The ones that don't are a whole extra level of BS
  • Apastron - September 15, 2012 8:36 a.m.

    Only one thing for it - Bring back Trailer Trash.
  • Moondoggie1157 - September 14, 2012 2:02 p.m.

    Hit the nail on the head once again, Houghton. This was a Great article.
  • Pwnz0r3d - September 14, 2012 1:16 p.m.

    I just wish Fall of Cybertron's VGA trailer was the tv spot; It was the perfect trailer for a game. It didn't bullshit you, it showed the whole point of the story in those two minutes. Autobots and Decepticons are fighting for the last bits of their ravaged planet, and not EVERYONE is going to get out alive, with the trailer outright killing major characters. It set the tone of being a desperate war, and thats exactly what the story was. Of course the gameplay wasn't melancholy, but at least it gave off the theme of the game. It didn't lie to you, robots are going to be killing each other and there's a fucking fire breathing robot t-rex. I totally agree, make the trailer ABOUT the feel of the game, the atmosphere to devs actually made it to be. The ONLY exceptions I can think of are yes, the Dead Island and GoW trilogy's CGI stuff. GoW 2 and 3 I can only accept because this "deep and depressing, almost beautiful" kind of trailerwork was brought into the spotlight with the Mad World trailer. And GoW 3's trailer was exactly what the 3rd game was all about; concluding the series.
  • FOZ - September 14, 2012 12:54 p.m.

    I don't have a problem with Deliver Hope. Reach was always trying to replicate moments like that (Kat and Jorge's deaths especially), so I don't think you can blame them. Plus it was also disguised backstory (the Spartan who gets hit is Kat, and the guy who takes the bomb into the ship is the guy Noble Six replaces, seeing as he blew himself up). As for Halo 3, definitely trying damn hard to turn Halo into more of an emotional experience than it ever was. Even the menu, with the piano music. The only moments that tried to be remotely emotional were Cortana Moments (annoying and make no sense to people who don't read every bit of Halo fiction they can get their hands on), and Sergeant Johnson getting fried by the flying toaster and giving his amazingly generic last words ("Don't ever let her go"). The rest is just purple explosions, space gorillas, and green abominations. The Dead Island one immediately made me disregard the game until I saw plenty of gameplay. I'm not falling for that cg stuff. Only cg trailer I really think of as worthwhile was Human Revolution's. Didn't Resident Evil 5 already have the guy in a dark room with "Kijuju" written all over the wall? Can't wait for the obligatory scene in RE6 where a bunch of civilians die and Chris goes nuts over it. There's also the moments WITHIN games that pretend to be much more emotional than they are, and I don't just mean ME3's hamfisted bullshit with the kid.
  • Apastron - September 14, 2012 11:28 a.m.

    Another great article Mr Houghton. If companies think that people want games that evoke the emotion and atmosphere portrayed in the recent spate of trailers, why don't they just make a game with the same values? There are fantastic examples of games that do orchestrate such subtleties as mentioned in this article, but they are few and far between and generally quite niche. Surely all the false-advertising does is disappoint people that are moved by the trailer that then find the game to be one massive genocide rather than a tale of the fall of man, and drive away those that aren't looking for a melancholic journey in the first place?
  • mikeylawson - September 14, 2012 10:15 a.m.

    The Borderlands 2 trailer irritates me. It is after all, a tongue-in-cheek shooter that is designed, primarily, to be fun. Yet they decided the trailer should be live action and feature terrible CGI. Its awful and doesn't show what the game is like at all.
  • BiscuitWheels - September 14, 2012 6:40 p.m.

    The commercial, yeah. That one blows. The three or four other Borderlands 2 trailers? They're some of the best trailers of their kind in ages. What other game would have "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" as the theme for a trailer?
  • codystovall - September 14, 2012 10:03 a.m.

    metroid other m, but that was wrong for any reasons.
  • brickman409 - September 15, 2012 5:03 p.m.

    yeah the trailer was way too over emotional and tried too hard to be sad, but so was the game
  • Sinosaur - September 14, 2012 10:02 a.m.

    Maybe game companies should start doing some designs and base game work, then ask someone to come up with a trailer for their game before they've actually got it running, then base their stories off the trailer and we'll have amazing game stories.
  • Godzillarex - September 14, 2012 9:53 a.m.

    Beautifully written. You nailed the sentiment that so many, including myself, are feeling.
  • Mooshon - September 14, 2012 9:50 a.m.

    Good words. The trend has simply got to be the Dead Island effect; Throwing some budget on an emotive, film-like FMV and shift millions more units than you possibly have any right to. Does a job of building up the hype but always a bit annoying if you're expecting something different. Saying that, back in the day I used to love game box art even though it bore no relation to the fucked graphics. I'm sure I used to hold the image in my head while I was controlling a blocky block man around! Things ain't so bad really :)

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