E3 is about hype and excitement as much as it is about marketing a product. Striking a balance between the two can sometimes be tricky and this E3, both sides of that spectrum were apparent.
Video game trailers! We love them because they oftentimes give us a peek into the games that we’re going to spend, 5, 10, 15, or maybe even 50 hours with in the coming months and years.
We love them because they sometimes tell stories, conceptualize an exciting idea, or sometimes because they end with a sequence of numbers that correlate to a date on a calendar that studios may or may not hit. Listen, I’m not necessarily going to sit here and tell you whether or not our fixation with marketing materials made to sell us on an end product is necessarily healthy or not. I’m not even going to bring up how oftentimes that marketing material is rarely representative of that final product. Lord knows I was looking forward to the first Watch Dogs, Anthem, and The Quiet Man upon the release of their debut trailers… The Quiet Man was definitely on me… Nonetheless the reality is that trailers are a staple of the video games industry, and E3 is the apex of them, so let’s talk about the trailers of E3 2019.
So what makes a good trailer from a bad trailer? Well, many of the complaints of E3 this go around had to do with the lack of gameplay. I see where those complaints are coming from – although, many great trailers *don’t* have gameplay. Look at that first Last of Us Trailer, or the original trailer for Death Stranding. One of the best trailers I’d ever seen was a cinematic trailer for Dead Island on the PS3. I love CG as much as anyone else, however the problem with this E3 is that many of the gameplay-less trailers were for games releasing next year. Marvel’s Avengers for example.
Personally I liked a lot of what was going on in this trailer. The character models didn’t bother me, I personally liked that the characters look different from their MCU counterparts. I liked a lot of what the story was setting up with Captain America seemingly dying on A-Day and the game taking place 5 years later. I liked a lot of the implications of this trailer, however for a game announced for spring 2019, that means that this is going to be the only E3 in which this game makes an appearance. Yet, not many people can tell me with clarity what type of game this is. There are rumblings that it’s going to be like Destiny, I’ve heard from others that it’s going to be like Monster Hunter, however if I were to watch the trailer without looking into it further, I would’ve thought this was another game like Marvel’s Spiderman. This lack of clarity for a game of this stature that is out so soon is frustrating, and I can say this similarly about Ubisoft’s Gods and Monsters.
Gods and Monsters is from the people behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It’s supposed to be a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WIld. An open-world, explorative adventure set in a stylized fantasy world based in Greek Mythology. I should be sold on this game based alone on how big of a fan I am of Breath of the Wild, however for a game that’s coming out in February 2020, I don’t know the first thing about how it actually plays. That’s not good. Messaging is key and communicating to us the tone of the game is fine but Gods and Monsters needed to rope me in, and this trailer didn’t do that.
On the flip side, one of my favorite trailers from this E3 is for a game called Deathloop from Arkane studios which was shown off during Bethesda’s conference. Arkane is known for Dishonored, an excellent first-person, assassination game with intricately designed levels. Deathloop is pitched to be the same. The game was announced without a date, however the trailer set up an interesting premise. Two assassins at odds with each other must kill the other in order to escape a repeating time loop. The trailer set up a stylish world, a mysterious yet fascinating plot, introduced us to the main characters, and most importantly it gave me a reason to care.
GhostWire Tokyo is another game which had a trailer that similarly sparked my interest. No date shown, however the premise of a world taking place after a “Thanos snap” situation in Tokyo left me intrigued and wanting to know more about the world and this game. Ikumi Nakamura also knocked it out of the park setting up what type of game this is going to be. It’s going to be spooky, and the trailer communicated this through its build up and payoff throughout.
Deathloop and Ghostwire Tokyo gave me reasons to care despite giving me no gameplay or release window. However for games seemingly far out from release, giving me trailers that are cinematically cool and thematically interesting is the right call. It being too early for gameplay is understandable, therefore sell me on an idea.
12 Minutes is an Indie game which was shown during the Xbox Briefing. In this game, you’re stuck in a 12 minute time loop with a mystery to solve. [clip from the game]. Indie games are often given the short end of the stick during E3 press conferences, being relegated to montages, or shown without good context for what the game is or an interesting hook. The trailer for 12 Minutes however, knocked it out of the park with a harrowing and engaging premise, a display of some of the enrapturing performances of the voice acting in the game, and an eye catching art style that tells me all I need to know about why I should be paying attention to what 12 Minutes is doing.
Then there is RPG Time: The Legend of Wright, another game similarly shown off at the Xbox E3 Briefing. This trailer left me with mixed feelings as stylistically I was engaged the whole time. The notebook, paper craft style caught my eye along with the diversity of everything going on on screen. The bummer for me is that with everything going on, I couldn’t necessarily pick up how this would translate to a gameplay experience. What I saw was a lot of style, and not much else. And that’s not to say that this is what the final game is going to be, but where 12 Minutes left me with an understanding of what I’m getting into, RPG Time left me interested but at the same time confused.
These aren’t necessarily the best and worst trailers of E3 2019. Of course, we all know that the best trailer was Cyberpunk 2077, purely for the reveal of Keanu Reeves as a central character. These are just some examples of where I think some trailers did well, and some could stand to do better. Final Fantasy VII remake had one of the best showings this year because of the extended stage demo where they showed off the gameplay elements, a deep-dive into combat, voice acting, characters and more. It sold me on the game, and in an E3 that was relatively light, it got me excited. Jedi Fallen Order similarly got me excited for the same reasons along with Doom Eternal.
The reveal of No More Heroes had me hyped along with all of the Smash Bros news. In fact, most of what the Nintendo Direct had to offer had me brimming with excitement because of the pacing of what was shown and how they chose to show it, opting for quick trailers in a brisk pace with gameplay shown immediately after the Direct during the Nintendo Treehouse stream. I feel similarly about many of the games at the Kinda Funny Games Showcase such as Summer Catchers, a colorful rhythm and puzzle game along with Superliminal, a first person trippy perspective based game. Both of these games’ trailers got the job done by communicating clearly the elements of the games to be fascinated by.
The trailer that really knocked it out of the park however, and this’ll be the last one I talk about I promise, is the extended one for Watch Dogs Legion. Watch Dogs is a franchise that I find it difficult to be excited for. Both Watch Dogs 1 and 2 didn’t do it for me and I very much wanted to like both of those games. So when teased with the idea of a third Watch Dogs game, there could be nothing that I would anticipate less. That’s why my current excitement for the next Watch Dogs comes at a shock. At the core of Watch Dogs Legion is its system for recruiting characters and essentially being able to play as any NPC in order to fight against government or whatever you do in a Watch Dogs game. So that then begs the question, how do you market this in a way that doesn’t come off as gimmicky. Being able to play as any NPC doesn’t necessarily sound as cool as swinging webs as Spider-Man or being stuck in a time loop like every video game at E3 this year. Well, the way you communicate this mechanic is by showing me extended gameplay as an elderly woman. Not only is this hilarious and non-conventional, but this Watch Dogs gameplay demo showed off what makes this system innovative. Playing as Helen meant needing to approach situations differently. It meant different abilities, different physicalities, different roles, and endless possibilities. A mechanic that I honestly wouldn’t have cared about, marketed correctly in a trailer is now the sole reason I’m sold on a game that I had no interest in prior.
E3 is about hype and excitement as much as it is about marketing a product. Striking a balance between the two can sometimes be tricky and this E3, both sides of that spectrum were apparent. That doesn’t mean we didn’t get some trailers that really hit the mark despite those that missed it. Next E3 we’re probably going to get the PlayStation 5 Vs. the Xbox Two. So we’ll see how the hype plays out then. I just hope that next year, they give me a reason to care.