In classic E3 tradition, the cinematic reveal trailer for this new RTS is so cool I wish it was an anime instead of a game

Battle Aces, just announced during Summer Game Fest, is a promising spin on the RTS that uses deckbuilding—we've played it, and writer Lincoln Carpenter says the cards serve as "a purposefully designed speed ramp angled to accelerate you towards what's most fun about RTS games." But I'm not here to talk about that, because something else about Battle Aces has wholly captured my attention: its two-minute cinematic trailer that showcases a mecha pilot performing an orbital drop, blasting into a firefight, and dodging the kinds of laser beams that seem to pause for a split-second after impact before the big boom. You almost certainly know the type. 

I'm an easy mark for almost any kind of mecha anime, so Battle Aces' cinematic was basically guaranteed to get me fired up. But it crucially ends on a high note, my favorite mech pilot trope—smashing a throttle all the way forward to signify action!! There's some fantastic animation in this minute-long cinematic, with some fun mech designs and a pilot wearing some vaguely Tracer-esque goggles that make me suspect fan art will be immediately forthcoming. I'm a little bummed that this is just a mood-setter for a real-time strategy game, because I could watch at least one and likely 13-26 episodes of an anime that looks just like this. 

E3 may be no more, but I can't think of a more tried and true tradition of the summer game announcement season than this: seeing a cinematic trailer, thinking "this looks absolutely sick," and then coming to terms with the game itself looking, y'know, alright!

Risk of Rain Returns is a recent one from last year. I enjoyed the remake of Risk of Rain when it came out in late 2023, but I have to admit to a glimmer of disappointment this minute-long animation wasn't for a short film or something other than a remake. 

Same with this year's Pepper Grinder. I've heard the game itself is a great 2D platformer, but all this trailer did for me was make me want to seek out the animation studio behind it. Look at that rough, vaguely MS Paint aesthetic coupled with incredibly fluid movement. It absolutely oozes style and reminds me a little of one of my favorite works of animation from the last decade, Ping Pong. And the list goes on: Windjammers 2, for example, probably should've just been a sports anime instead of a game.

Is it a bad idea to show off a new game this way? I think it can be—or at least a risky one. Animated trailers are "essentially the CG trailers of indie games," says experienced trailer editor Derek Lieu, who points out that they're extremely expensive at approximately $1,000 per second of animation. There's also the risk that animated trailers "don't actually help people understand what the gameplay is."

"People might not even realize they're watching a game trailer," he says in a recent video on why most indie devs shouldn't make animated game trailers. "I think it can even backfire if a trailer's visuals look so much better than the game's. If you make an animated or CG trailer that then cuts to gameplay halfway through, you never want the reaction to be 'Oh. Huh.'"

I think I have at least a couple "Oh. Huh" reactions a year at this point, but you know, I'm not too upset about that. Even if I'm bummed I'll never get to watch an animated series that teases out the full potential of a trailer that got me real jazzed, I still enjoy these snippets of gorgeous animation. And even when games don't do wholly distinct cinematics, their trailers can still kind of backfire.

While not quite the same divide between animation and game, I was immediately smitten with the presentation of indie adventure Death's Door in its 2021 debut… and then let down by the real thing. I'd happily watch many more voiceless cutscenes of this bird character set to noiry piano music, but the game itself is played almost entirely from a zoomed out isometric perspective. The art is still great, but was a disappointing mismatch for the perspective shown in the trailer. Gimme those bird close-ups!

Based on Lincoln's hands-on impressions of Battle Aces, I can definitely see myself getting into an RTS that doesn't demand the godlike micro skills of StarCraft. I'll probably check it out. But am I a little sad it's not launching alongside a short film about a hotshot mech pilot? Yeah.

Instead of forcing these small but incredibly talented animation studios to survive on one or two minute commissions, someone with good taste and deep pockets needs to be handing them $40 million checks and telling them to go hog wild. Texas-based Powerhouse Animation Studios is all the proof you need this is a brilliant idea. Once upon a time Powerhouse was doing animated trailers for the likes of The Banner Saga, and now they have five beautiful seasons of Netflix's Castlevania under their belt. More of that, please. 

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).