Dead Island 2 and the Greatest CG Trailers in Gaming History

With Dead Island 2 just around the corner, its marketing push is in full swing. There’s more than a little chance you’ve been seeing they’re blood-fueled gameplay trailers plastered all over your favorite websites and before your videos. I have too.

But, and this is maybe one of the only times I’ll ever be poised to say this, I kinda wish I was seeing the CG (or cinematic) trailer and not the gameplay trailer.

Because, God, those Dead Island CG trailers are good aren’t they? And it’s curious, in retrospect, that we love Techlands CG trailers where we bemoan it when used by other developers for other franchises. So what’s the difference?

I believe the answer is two-fold;

1. You Don’t Have to Love These Games to Love These Trailers

The most obvious answer first is that when Techland created trailers for their Zombie-filled-melee-horror fests, they created trailers that anyone can watch without any understanding of what the franchise is and they’re still extremely engaging.

In the first, now legendary, Dead Island cinematic trailer, we’re introduced to a little girl in the first few seconds of the trailer, and we’re crying for her by the end.

The trailer isn’t relying on a background knowledge of the franchise to create a compelling trailer; it relies on immediately identifiable circumstances, relatively simple characters, and the cinematic elements of its structure, editing, and score.

Now, it should be noted that in the case of the first Dead Island all of this was rendered moot when the actual game really didn’t match up in any way to its cinematic trailer, but it’s still incredible on its own merit.

It’s also a lesson Techland will have learned by its follow-up, but we’ll get there.

In contrast to that Dead Island trailer, take the cinematic trailer for Rocksteadys Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

First of all, I know. Easy target, low blow; as if this game didn’t have enough criticism thrown at its marketing just in the last few months alone

Regardless, I ask you answer this honestly; if you didn’t know who the Suicide Squad was would you even finish watching this trailer? Would you make it past the first thirty seconds? Did you, just now?

I think the obvious answer, with the first two minutes of the trailer being centered around a largely vapid conversation between the colorful troupe of anti-heroes, is no.

And that’s not totally fair. The question is divorced from our reality; which is that we do know who the Suicide Squad is. Obviously, it would be re-done if we were introducing these characters for the first time.

But in that case isn’t the trailer also divorced from reality? If we already know who the Suicide Squad is, do we really need to spend two minutes introducing them and their dynamic? What are we getting out of this interaction beyond the first ten seconds of it?

Which feeds into my next point.

2. They Understand What a Cinematic Trailer is Capable of

Techland seems to understand not just how to create a trailer that anyone can watch, but also knows how a cinematic trailer can sell a video game.

Remember, this isn’t a trailer for a movie where the shots in the trailer will make their way to the big screen. This is a trailer selling a completely different type of product; shifting from a visual medium to an interactive one.

The perfect example of a recent cinematic trailer which failed to tell us anything tangible about the game? I give you; Star Wars Eclipse.

As a potential player of Quantum Dreams’ next entry in the long-standing space opera I ask you, what did you learn about the game from this trailer?

Um,” I hear you fumbling, “It’s a Star Wars game with… Star Wars stuff?

Wow. Compelling stuff.

It’s not that that’s really everything that’s in the trailer, but once again, none of this is confirmed to be in the final game. A cinematic trailer can’t give any specific details; until I see that awesome weird drumming alien guy appear on my screen with the flick of an analog stick, I have to assume he might not be in the game.

And that wouldn’t have to be such a big deal if it didn’t feel like that’s what I was getting sold on.

The most important parts of this trailer, on every level of direction and marketing, seem to be selling us on the specifics of this game.

Some Droid in a smoking field, a politician alien, sludge man; these seem to be shown as the reasons you’re meant to buy the game, but we still don’t know if any of that will make it into the thing you’re eventually going to spend $70 on.

It demonstrates a flawed understanding of what a cinematic trailer is and what it’s capable of. Compare this to my favorite of the Techland cinematic trailers (and my favorite cinematic trailer for any video game, ever) Dying Light.

This trailer is only showing you the tone of the game, and concepts that will make it into the final game.

It’s not showing any specific locations but is painting a picture of a world dense with half-finished construction sites, overlapping favelas, and dilapidated nests of underground hordes.

It’s not confirming any specific gameplay elements, but it is planting the idea of a parkour based game with speed focused combat and zombies that are overwhelming in large numbers.

It shows a masterful understanding of what a cinematic trailer is capable of; pitching the idea of a game as opposed to showing it in any amount of detail. And it’s an understanding that Techland seems to demonstrate again, and again, and again.

Dead Island 2 is out this coming Friday, April 21st. And no matter what happens next, it always gave us this.