The best PC game trailers ever

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Buh! Buh! baa-dddaaah!

The game trailer is a sly creature. It wants to entertain you, to excite you, to embolden you with curiousity. But it also wants to sell you a bunch of code wrapped up in some 3D shapes. Some trailers turn out to be more artful than the game they’re hawking, others plant sneaky emotions in your head with music. However, some are better than others. Here are the best conflagrations of light and noise in PC gaming.

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Dead Island

The reveal trailer for Techland’s 2011 zombie shooter was arguably too good. The sombre slow-motion destruction of a family on holiday, delivered mostly in reverse, made some folks think Dead Island might be a sorrowful and serious take on the flesh-biting menace that has long become contemptuous through familiarity. It turns out the game was a decent Borderlands-ish sidequester. The urban follow-up, Dying Light, turned out better.

84 Comments

  1. Oakreef says:

    I love the trailer for Long Live the Queen

    link to youtube.com

    It not only gets across the game pretty well it also presents a meta narrative of a player playing the game and adjusting their playstyle as the princess keeps dying.

    First they try to play her as a dainty kind princess stereotype. No investment in marshal ability or fighting skills. She does everything to make the people love her and whoops she gets assassinated.

    Second playthrough: The player now knows the game is out to get them and readjusts to an overly paranoid position. Everything is about just not dying. She neglects actually running anything though and gets killed due to a civil war breaking out.

    Third playthrough: Player thinks they have it figured out now. This is a game about diplomacy and guiding the character to making good decisions. They’re doing amazingly and everything is working great. And then the Elodie ends up eating some poisoned fucking chocolate and dropping dead because you didn’t invest in enough manners.

    Fourth playthrough: The player is fucking done. They just got killed by chocolate and they are lashing out at the game itself now. They invest everything into military and try to just rule with an iron fist and kill everyone else before they kill her. The player tries to use magic to turn things in their favour even more and Elodie blows herself the fuck up.

    At this point the player probably uninstalls the game.

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  2. Zorgulon says:

    Another entry for Valve – the trailer/intro video for Left 4 Dead. I remember the excitement when it released and the way it perfectly set up the game, the characters, and the first campaign.

    And of course the game was none too shabby either.

  3. Herzog says:

    That Fallout 3 trailer made me order a new PC in an instant a decade ago.

    • Rituro says:

      Oh my, yes, same here. Specifically, it was the extended Vault-Tec commercial trailer set to “Dear Hearts & Happy People”, but the effect was identical — “I NEED A NEW PC TO PLAY THIS GAME AND I NEED IT NOW.” Zero regrets.

  4. Anaxim says:

    The lack of even a nod to Overstike, even if it didn’t actually happen as Overstrike, makes me a little sad. That trailer was widely appreciated as freaking amazing.

    • LuNatic says:

      Overstrike is still my favourite game trailer. And I still can’t believe they took all that personality, threw it aside and turned the game into a generic ‘edgy’ manshoot.

  5. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    The 1998 Planescape Torment trailer from the Fallout CD-ROM is my favorite videogame trailer of all time. It’s full of animations and music that never came close to making it into the game, and shows nothing resembling the final gameplay… but it’s so ominous, evocative and alien that it sticks with me after all these years.

  6. Stellar Duck says:

    A lot or most of those games ended up being disliked by me.

    Witcher 2, TF2, EVE and GTA4 (aka the best of the GTA games) were great. The rest I didn’t like.

    I suppose there is a reason I rarely if ever watch trailers these days.

  7. Sentence Enhancer says:

    I like the list. Though it seems the games with the best trailers aren’t the best games. When I do think of games with the best trailer Dead Island has continued to be number one with TW3 and TW2 tied for second other than that nothing else really comes to mind when it comes to really gripping trailers.

  8. MiniMatt says:

    Playing a lot of Factorio lately, a tendency to attempt to crowbar it into every thread, but its trailer is really, really good. Accurate representation of gameplay, tells a story, is funny, captures the Rube Goldberg-esque chaos of a perfectly optimised mess of robotic arms, trains, bots, and biters.

    • Cvnk says:

      Agreed. Excellent and informative trailer that uses actual gameplay. I like how it escalates.

      Also it reminds me of the Simpsons opening sequence, between the cadence of the music and the way the action transitions by following different objects. I bet that was an inspiration.

  9. sinbad says:

    Really enjoyed the trailers for Mass Effect 1, 2 & 3

  10. Stirbelwurm says:

    I really liked the trailer for Leviathan Warships from Paradox, because it’s so different from the usual trailer, also puns, which I’m told is a big thing here at RPS ;)

  11. Dances to Podcasts says:

    No Blizzard at all?

    • Moraven says:

      Surprised also since half of these are cinematic trailers. Just put in Blizzard Cinematic Trailers as a spot.

      • Zorgulon says:

        I only have experience with the Overwatch ones (and I really like the game), but man are those trailers not great.

        They especially pale in comparison to, like, any of the TF2 ones. Even the one about the sandwich.

    • KeyboardSmash says:

      Absolutely, well for this one below.

      link to youtu.be

      I tried to get the script for it and ended up writing the whole thing down myself to read at times. Love it.

      • Cederic says:

        The distortion on the voiceover led me to closing the browser window in seconds. Don’t care how good the writing may have been, I’ll never hear it with that horrific sound.

  12. bills6693 says:

    For me, the best trailer ever was Mark of Chaos:

    link to youtube.com

    I just love the bravery and desperation of it. Probably links to me enjoying the source material, and enjoying the game a lot too, but even years later I still watch this one occasionally as I just think it is so good!

  13. Velthaertirden says:

    The first World of Warcraft cinematic trailer is one of the best imho

    • Premium User Badge

      Yyve says:

      Have to agree with the first World of Warcraft trailer, that was so epic back then and Blizzard have always impressed me with their cinematic trailers to be fair.

  14. PtFox says:

    Best game trailer ever particularly if your British link to youtu.be

  15. davebo says:

    GTAIV was an okay trailer but the Welcome to the Jungle one for GTA: San Andreas was amazing. It wasn’t even a generational shift for graphics at that time, they just had such a larger world with so much real-world L.A. inspiration, set to that song, it really ramped up my anticipation back in.. 2004?

  16. Pharaoh Nanjulian says:

    Err, the radio in Fallout 3 is emphatically not a transistor radio as the first thing we see is a valve. It’s a valve radio.

    And the trailer’s all right too.

  17. SparksV says:

    But what about the MOST PC trailer ever ? For Battleblock Theater !

  18. Waltorious says:

    No love for Graham’s favorite trailer, Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Or is it disqualified because Graham already gave it its own post?

    (link: link to rockpapershotgun.com)

    Also, that Fallout 3 trailer is basically just a remake of the opening cinematic from the original Fallout. Speaking of which, any chance we can get a post highlighting the best opening cinematics in games?

    • mitrovarr says:

      I liked it better in the original Fallout. The song is a little more subtle. “I don’t want to set the world on fire” is a bit too on the nose.

    • Premium User Badge

      Graham Smith says:

      Supreme Commander and Mirror’s Edge should also be on this list.

    • YogSo says:

      Another vote from me for the Deus Ex: Human Revolution trailer. I wached it literally dozens of times during years before I finally played the game early last year.

      Also, the launch trailer for the original Metro 2033 (not the Redux version) has the best use of ‘In the house – In a heartbeat’ outside of 28 Days Later itself:

  19. wldmr says:

    Saint’s Row The Third

    Come on!

    • Premium User Badge

      particlese says:

      That was the trailer which sold me on the game. Great and simple parody with a good punchline (sorry), plus it set my expectations for the game perfectly – the game itself didn’t let me down in the slightest after seeing that.

      Also: actual gameplay! :D

  20. Rinox says:

    How about another, more understated (and less cinematic) trailer for The Witcher 2?

    link to youtube.com

    Always wondered why there aren’t more games that use classical music. It’s in the public domain so cheap, and can be used to great effectiveness.

  21. Urthman says:

    This should be on the list:

  22. MacTheGeek says:

    I’m not ready to call it an all-time best trailer, but I think that a lot of the surprise popularity of They Are Billions comes from its trailer:

  23. 9of9 says:

    Man, many of these trailers have aged pretty badly. Or they’re the poignant emotional CGI ones – I’m not sure I can even tell what they’re doing in this list.

    First of all, this is how you do a trailer:
    link to youtu.be

    This is also a really good example:
    link to youtu.be

    And lastly by far one of my absolute faves:
    link to youtu.be

    Okay, so I’m a sucker for gameplay and a nice soundtrack, but… damn, not only are these guys gorgeous, but they show off what the games are about really well, which I think is the main property of a trailer. Unlike this lot, which… mostly, really, have nothing to do with the games they’re showing off, at all.

  24. DarKcyde says:

    Respectfully acknowledge all your trailers, and raise you Mechwarrior 2:

  25. Henke says:

    Good list, I hadn’t seen many of these.

    Here’s my favourites in a playlist: link to youtube.com

    To highlight just one: the Puzzle Agent trailer is like a kids cartoon directed by David Lynch.

  26. Kollega says:

    I nominate Bulletstorm’s “Last Call”. It’s my favourite sort of comedy: dark, absurdist, and referential. And it features some masterful miniatures work.

  27. Premium User Badge

    lurkalisk says:

    It may only be a teaser, but I’m surprised there’s no talk of the Wolfenstein: TNO announcement trailer.

  28. LuNatic says:

    I don’t understand why that Dead Island trailer is so popular. It doesn’t explain anything about the nature of the game – it could be rpg, rts, fps, even a puzzle game from that short clip (Zombies don’t count as explanation. Zombies are so ubiquitous as to be meaningless at this point), and frankly, it’s kinda boring.

  29. ColonelFailure says:

    Dawn of War 3 wins. I’m not a massive WH40k nut (I dabble) but this is just splendidly po-faced, and the music is excellent.

  30. Sire says:

    The Assassin’s Creed games have consistently done very good trailers, with very good (and unusual) music selections. The first one is still my favorite, probably only because of the music.

  31. Alien426 says:

    What about the Age Of Conan: The Secrets Of Dragon’s Spine trailer?
    Approaches the epic-ness of The Elder Scrolls 5 both visually and in music. (Though since it’s a MMORPG you know it does look even less like the trailer).

    And Zombi(U)?
    Yes, it’s a dirty thief that steals from Dead Island AND Halo 3, but still …

    I still love the Forma.8 teaser. Just gameplay.

  32. Gurrah says:

    While there are many trailers that made me want to buy games over the years the Saint’s Row Pre-Order trailer I still can’t forget to this day, even though I didn’t particularly enjoy the game:

  33. OneGigPig says:

    Been visiting the site for years and never felt the need to make an account and comment but… I feel its my duty to “Big Up” the Stanley Parable trailer
    link to youtu.be

  34. Creeping Death says:

    Not a single mention in the article or comments of the Strafe trailer?

  35. Darth Gangrel says:

    I really liked this one for Dark Age of Camelot Catacombs, even though I’m completely uninterested in MMO’s: link to youtube.com

    I like lots of game trailers, because they use good music or simply are cinematic enough that it’s watching a short movie.

  36. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    I wager this’ll be an unpopular one, but amongst all the poor and non-existent marketing of Lawbreakers, its 2017 CG trailer there remains one of my favorite trailers. All the non-rap bits of the music capture the fun I have actually playing the game pretty well (the feeling of it; not the game’s built-in music, which I happen to not enjoy), and the action is mostly representative – with of course some artistic license – of what you can actually do in the game. No apple eating, though. :(

    But my favorite trailer not brought up in the article or other comments would probably be Tomb Raider Underworld‘s wonderful backwards teaser trailer. Only marginally representative of the game, I just find the backward section really neat to watch, and it introduced me to Mozart’s Requiem. (Queue Bernstein’s take on the Lacrimosa movement for the slowest, juiciest version of this trailer music imaginable.)

    It’s possible I just like trailers for their music, with the shiny bits taking a back seat…

  37. and its man says:

    So only big ‘cinematic’ productions, most of them with Hollywoodian, action-packed, flashy trailers qualify for “best ever”?
    That’s sad. There’s a shitload of different games that were brilliantly video-advertised using a shitload of other narrative structures and formal choices.

    Cheers to Urthman for mentioning the excellent trailer of Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy.

  38. Axyl says:

    It was a bad “trailer” as it was 100% Live Action and showed basically zero gameplay, but Call of Duty “Vet and the Noob” trailer is a damn good game *advert*

    I love this one dearly, even though I couldn’t care less about CoD if I was paid to do so. (I’m a life long AC/DC fan, so that might explain it) :D

  39. EvilMonkeyPL says:

    I’m shocked at the absence of live-action CKII trailers.

  40. Masked Dave says:

    Aww man, now I really want to go back to Rapture.

  41. Akakabuto says:

    My ultimate favorites
    Robot roller derby disco dodgeball
    [youtube link to youtube.com

    Magicka 2
    [youtube link to youtube.com

    Videoball
    [youtube link to youtube.com

    Epic advertisement lines
    “Think of your television as a dinner table, and Videoball is what’s for dinner.”

    “Want a new costume for you videoball hero? Put a hat on, buddy. I mean put a real hat on your real head. Boom, you just made DLC.”

  42. icemann says:

    Its funny how this site tends to forget anything pre 2000’s.

    Some games with excellent trailers / intros:

    * Fallout
    * Full Throttle
    * Mechwarrior 2
    * Red Alert
    * Starcraft
    * Warcraft 2

  43. chewiie says:

    This one was really good, even if it looks like soviet propaganda: link to youtube.com

  44. tikey says:

    I’m distraught by the fact that no one mentioned the best trailer ever:
    link to youtube.com

    also
    link to youtube.com

    and this one is actually a good one:

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