Are cinematic trailers worth getting excited about?

Star Wars Battlefront cropped

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Tyler and Chris L. argue about whether cinematic game trailers, like we’ve seen recently for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and Star Wars Battlefront, are worth getting excited about, or if they should be disregarded as pure marketing flash.

face off

Tyler Wilde

Chris Livingston, staff writer
Chris thinks cinematic trailers are fun and wants to be in a Mentos commercial.

Tyler Wilde, executive editor
Tyler wants real gameplay video, not flashy advertisements. He's also not a fan of Mentos.

Chris L.: YES. They don’t represent the actual game, but that’s no reason to not enjoy them or get excited. Cinematic trailers are the idealized versions of a game, where every move is flawless, every camera angle is perfect, every shot is beautiful, and every bullet is extra-bullety. We know that won’t be the case when we play, but there’s nothing wrong with developers knocking our socks off with a figurative vision of their game before they provide us with a literal one.

Tyler: NO. They can be enjoyable, but let’s not forget what they’re for: to sell. Fancy cinematic trailers exist to sell pre-purchases, but all they tell us about the game is how much money was spent on trailer production. Maybe I wouldn’t care if they reliably came after we saw a bunch of gameplay footage, but they’re reliably the first thing we see. And the games they’re selling can never live up to the expectations they set. Cinematic trailers, like the new Battlefront trailer, will only cause disappointment later on. Don’t set yourself up to be let down.

Chris: I can watch an advertisement without thinking my eventual experience will mirror it. Like, I’m pretty sure popping a Mentos in my mouth won’t lead me on some grand adventure where I cross a street in a really clever fashion while wearing pastel shorts. Cinematic trailers are ads, definitely, but due to my giant pulsing brain I can differentiate between the ad and reality. Besides, 743 different gameplay trailers are sure follow at some point. In the meantime, what’s wrong with whetting my appetite with a little fantasy? Furthermore, Mentos is the fresh-maker!

Tyler: I think the deception is subtle. We can think ourselves clever enough to distinguish flashy trailers from reality, but we still get pumped about them, we share them and talk about them without any critical footing—all we’ve seen are perfectly arranged shots that never occur in-game—and ultimately they can raise our opinion of a game we otherwise know nothing about. It’s not quite the same as a Mentos, which we already know to be chewy, weird-tasting mint things.

Star Wars: Battlefront

Chris: Yes, we talk about them and share them and get excited. That’s because we’re fans and enthusiasts. There will be plenty of time to become critics and naysayers later, when it turns out the game sucks. For now, why not get pumped up? Why not examine still frames and look for clues and chatter about them with friends? Why not get swept up in anticipation before all the cynicism and disappointment and glitches and bugs and children calling us horrible names over voice chat? Before the game that was going to make life worth living again turns out to be just another weird chewy minty piece of glop in our game-mouths?

Tyler: But Chris, I’m just so grumpy. I’m tired of exciting trailers trying to make me un-grumpy (see: my quivering lip at the end of the new Force Awakens teaser) only for the actual thing to make me grumpy again. I won’t be duped by your beloved marketing. I’m going to shove a handful of Mentos into my dumb mouth and cut up my gums and know pain, for pain is reality.

Or, you know, just not buy Mentos. Anyway, I do concede that it was fun to pick apart the Deus Ex: Mankind Divided trailer for story clues, but we already kinda know how that game will play. Back to Battlefront: How do TIE fighters control? Where do I spawn? How many shots does it take to kill a stormtrooper? The whole thing looked like movie scenes, but there’s no way that game really feels like the movies.

Chris: For a moment, imagine you’re in the Star Wars universe and you jump into a TIE fighter because rebel scum are attacking your poor, innocent Death Star. Is your first thought really “How do I control this thing?” Or do you simply imagine knowing how to scream right out of the hangar bay and shoot down that stupid farmboy terrorist? You don’t need to get bogged down with the details: that will come later when you have to review it during an eighteen hour game session because they sent the review code the day before it’s released. Right now, just gawp at the pretty things and worry about the specifics later. Also, it takes one shot to kill a stormtrooper, doy.

Tyler: You know, EA has actually been pretty good about getting gameplay footage out there—they let us record Battlefield Hardline a couple times before release, and did two public beta tests. So fine, I’m sure the gameplay trailers will come and I can’t deny that the cinematic trailer inspired my imagination. But my imagination is always so much better than the game. No game, not even the best designed game, can be as good as the Star Wars game in my head, where I’m always the hero, always doing impossible things (such as working cohesively with other players online). I just want to know what it’s really like to play so I can get excited about that, because that’s the truly exciting thing. It’s what I actually have to look forward to.

Chris: Yeah, discussing actual gameplay is definitely more rewarding and interesting than gushing over a shiny yet ultimately meaningless trailer. But, as you say, you already know the game will never live up to the version in your head, so what’s the harm in enjoying a trailer? At the very least, enjoy the craftsmanship and work that went into it: it’s like a clip from a new Star Wars movie. Don’t you enjoy Star Wars movies? You said you did earlier, you said you openly wept because you saw an elderly millionaire pretending to be a space-smuggler for two seconds. Just relax and enjoy the Battlefront trailer and stop stressing, willya?

Tyler: [Said through a mouthful of half-chewed Mentos] It was a pretty cool trailer.

Chris: I didn’t really like it.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.