Pre-rendered cinematic trailers. Exciting though they can be, brows are are raised, then furrowed, then frowned in the PCG office as we note how precious little these dramatic scenes reflected the actual action of the game.
It need not be so. Even fully pre-rendered trailers can do a decent job of encapsulating the games they promote—and probably do a better job of selling them too. We cast our minds back to our favourite trailers of yore, and picked out the five that we felt best captured the games within, while offering visuals that are every bit as thrilling, powerful and cool.
Save for a snippet of pre-rendered CGI at the beginning, this is pretty much just an expertly edited grab from the game itself. Not only does this succinctly explain the action and features of the game, but it creates an epic four-minute trajectory of awesome escalation. Then the camera pans back from what seemed surely to be its climax, to reveal yet another immense level of robotic carnage. Even now, years after Supreme Commander's release, the trailer still makes it look like the ultimate future of the RTS.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A cinematic trailer done right, Human Revolution's pre-rendered preamble introduces us to the world with expert scene-setting. It quickly sketches out the themes and setting, establishing Jensen as an embittered cyborg with super powerful robo-arms, a vengeful purpose and uncertain allegiance. And then its action sequences, while slightly more fluid and dramatic than possible in-game, do describe powers at the player's disposal: invisibility, x-ray vision, and retractable elbow chisels. It may have flash camera angles, bespoke mo-cap, and sumptuous subsurface scattering, but it's an honest evocation of the glories of the game itself.
Team Fortress 2
The jaunty crime-caper music and freeze-frame introductions make it clear: TF2 doesn't have classes so much as characters. The game's team-shooter action takes a backseat to showcasing the vibrant art style and humour, as well as articulating the distinct roles and capabilities of each of TF2's nine classes. A multiplayer shooter might normally offer scant cinematic thrills, or struggle to communicate what it's about without a dry breakdown of its mechanics. TF2 elegantly dances round these problems without being disingenuous about the game's contents.
There's no in-game footage here, but BioShock's trailer nonetheless captures a tremendous amount of the game within its short three-minute running time. Its opening panning shot establishes Rapture: its majesty, its dereliction, and the ideals that created it. Then the trailer quickly and unexpectedly segues into a thrilling action scene, witnessed in first-person. The ferocious combat seen here is more dynamic than that of the game, certainly, but the battle establishes the core relationship of the game: that between the little sisters and the big daddies. And, by putting you in the head of an child-stealing aggressor, also demonstrates the game's ambiguous moralities.
Grand Theft Auto 4
There's little in the way of explicit action in this trailer, even though it's shot within the game engine itself. Action isn't what the trailer is selling, however—it's selling the city. As Niko struts through its succession of quick cuts, the sheer variety of Liberty City is elegantly illustrated, and Niko's many guises suggest the freedom the player will have to self-define within that space. Meanwhile, the exquisitely cool LCD Soundsystem track reaffirms Rockstar as gaming's foremost tastemakers. It's a brilliantly simple and boldly idiosyncratic trailer, intriguing and evocative in equal measure.