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Top 10 Game Trailers of All Time: Raising the Bar (2024 Review)

Top 10 Game Trailers of All Time: Raising the Bar (2024 Review)


Writing about game trailers is a pleasure for me. The hype and excitement they sparked in me as a kid is one of the main reasons I’m in this weirdly fun industry. Once the purview of commercials and advertisements, game trailers for video games have transformed over the years into full-fledged, cinematic experiences capable of evoking emotions, inspiring imaginations, and stoking the fires of anticipation in players everywhere. These tiny works of art are not only the distillations of gameplay but crafted stories or hits of nostalgia, sometimes elevating the games they represent.

The art of crafting these game trailers is a meticulous blend of storytelling, visual effects, and an intimate understanding of the games they represent. For those eager to dive deeper into the creative process behind these captivating previews, our post “How to Create Memorable Game Trailers” offers invaluable insights.

Now, let’s dive into 10 game trailers that didn’t just create hype, they redefined it. I’d personally recommend going through this list one by one: read the analysis for each trailer, watch it, and then go for the next one.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - A Grimm Fairy Tale

CD Projekt Red’s “A Night to Remember” cinematic for The Witcher 3 is a tiny masterpiece of dark fantasy. The piece, showing Geralt of Rivia facing off against a Bruxa (a type of vampire), is as bloody as it is beautiful. The entire game trailer is steeped in lore, from Geralt’s silver sword to the deconstructed perspective on monsters serving as cannon fodder late-game.

The reveal trailer above has locked down just the right mood for plunging into Andrzej Sapkowski’s whimsical Witcherverse, encapsulating the violence, nudity and violence, glorious nudity and violent glory, the turgid iron-grey skies, and all the mature themes and morally difficult choices and the foggy boundaries between monsters and men. The ideal introduction to The Witcher’s dark and uncompromising world.

Dead Island - Symphony Of Sorrow

Read those tissues, this one’s a tear-jerker! The reveal game trailer for Dead Island is a ballet of family tragedy slowly unfolding in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. Under a melancholy piano melody, the trailer plays out in reverse, starting with a grim aftermath and working its way back to the gut-wrenching moments that ended in it. Such contrasts gave the game trailer an emotional depth we rarely see among E3 trailers, with the soft music played against the pure, visceral horror.

A narrative-driven, emotionally resonant survival horror was promised by this cinematic masterpiece; The game itself was more of a straight action and cooperative fun affair, sure, but this trailer remains a masterclass in nonlinear storytelling and tonal contrast in-game advertising

Halo 3 - Believe in Master Chief

Game trailers such as “Believe” for Halo 3 set a new standard in-game marketing. That centerpiece was an exquisitely made diorama of a crucial moment in combat animated in a mockumentary fashion. This approach played into the shared nostalgia and hero myths that players had surrounded Master Chief with over the years.

Presenting the events of the game as history in the making, the campaign turned Halo into more than a mere video game. That gamble worked out, with the debut of Halo 3 being one of the most significant entertainment events in history at that point, across all of the media, not just the gaming world.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - A World of Adventure

Breath of the Wild Reveal Trailer: A Goodbye to Exploration It opens on a wide, wide view stopping only at the horizon, a declaration that this Zelda would break the lineage of linearly built games. Much like the game, the trailer lurches along at a slow, ponderous pace until finally building to its hectic, explosive climax.

What’s exciting about the game trailer is seeing how it visually represents the gameplay mechanics. None of this is spoken about, we just see Link’s paraglider, the physics-based puzzle solving, and the changes in weather. A lesson in “show your work, don’t tell”; is that the joy of playing is finding out for yourself.

Mass Effect 2 - Ready for Suicide Mission?

Mass Effect 2’s launch trailer is a rollercoaster of a cinematic that signals the game’s move from space opera to gritty sci-fi thriller. Accompanied by the aforementioned “Heart of Courage,” the video is a mix of intense action, lingering threats, and the game’s darker storyline.

The genius of this trailer is that it’s kind of sneaky, in the way it’s introducing these massive gameplay changes. We get glimpses of the heightened cover-based shooting, the new squad mechanics, and the streamlined conversation system. A game trailer that promises more than just a sequel, but a transformation.

Gears of War - A Truly Mad World

The game trailer has much in common with the underappreciated Gears of War 3 campaign: it’s an eerie inversion of the bombastic chest-thumping machismo so central to the series, much like Last of Us brings frailty and fear to third-person shooters. Against an era of testosterone-laden epic-speed trials, this one turns down a showed-own exhibition showing the emotional sides of war.

Contrast is used so intelligently in the trailer. The slow, mournful music in the foreground with the sudden, brutal violence in the background creates a dissonance that sums up the game in a heartbeat: an endless war where everything is pointless and slow is losing. It was a risky decision for a game that was mostly about chainsaw bayonets, but it worked, turning Gears of War from ‘just another shooter’ into a franchise that had a surprising amount of lore.

Last of Us Part II - The Circle of Violence

The announcement trailer for The Last of Us Part II by Naughty Dog – owned by Sony Interactive Entertainment – is an exercise in masterful suspense building. It begins gently, with a feigned sense of peacefulness, Ellie sits picking a guitar in an abandoned house. Drawing out the camera tension until it goes off with a boom of viciousness.

It’s impressive how the game trailer reflects the themes of the game without doing much to spoil them. The way the camera lingers on Ellie’s hands – softly playing a guitar and then tightening in fury – explains everything about how she transformed at such a tender age from one to the other. Promising a story that will break its players apart on an emotional level just as the game punishes them on a physical one.

Final Fantasy VII Remake - The Nostalgist Hit Syndrome

Final Fantasy VII Remake, had a twofold challenge in front of it when it came out last November and had to deliver to the die-hard original fans while also making sure to, as much as possible, cater to any newcomers. To be honest, it’s a rousing success: a nostalgia play that also introduces a visual upgrade- and that’s a great idea.

The game trailer is paced masterfully. Opening with a beautiful cityscape of Midgar, the gameplay then contrasts between the ATB system and actual gameplay similar to today. The climactic, Cloud-busting Buster Sword, meanwhile, is naked fan service. This is a trailer about how the game is the game you remember, but better than you remember it.

Grand Theft Auto IV - Liberty City Realism

This list wouldn’t be complete without a GTA title. Rockstar’s trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV is a tonal shift for the series. Gone are the neon-lit streets and over-the-top action. In their place is a gritty, desaturated Liberty City that feels lived-in and dangerous.

The trailer’s genius is in its use of protagonist Niko Bellic’s voice. His Eastern European accent and wry observations (“Life is complicated. I killed people, smuggled people, sold people.”) immediately establish him as a more complex character than previous GTA protagonists. It’s a promise of a darker, more mature narrative that the game delivers in spades.

God of War (2018) - The Old God, New Tricks

The 2018 God of War trailer had the monumental task of reintroducing Kratos, a character known for his rage and brutality, as a more nuanced, paternal figure. The game trailer does this with a single, unbroken shot that follows Kratos and his son Atreus on a hunt.

What’s remarkable is how it uses gameplay to tell a story. The combat, while still visceral, is more grounded. Kratos’ interactions with Atreus range from stern to tender. And when the camera pans up to reveal the Norse setting, it’s clear: this isn’t just a new game, it’s a reinvention of a franchise.

Enjoyed These Game Trailers?

These game trailers aren’t just advertisements; they’re short films that encapsulate the essence of their games. They use music, narrative structure, and visual language to set expectations, evoke emotions, and yes, generate hype. But more than that, game trailer services show how game marketing, when done right, can be an art form in itself.

The history of video games is filled with creative trailers that have moved hearts and minds, so we can’t put all the great ones in a short list such as this. But we would love to know your favorites! Did we miss a good one? Let us know in the comments below.

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