Assembling video game trailers is tricky business. With the ever-increasing scope and complexity of games, it can be difficult to begin to communicate what a project is in the narrow confines of a sizzle reel. Some publishers stick confidently to what they have and wrap it in a flashy package to get audiences salivating. Others opt to construct elaborate “cinematic trailers” without actual game footage, establishing a tone and, at the very least, creating a tiny piece of art that’s an entertaining watch in its own right.
With the industry’s annual E3 conference now comfortably in the rearview, we dug through the dozens of trailers and demos released throughout the show and assembled a list of our 15 favorites. You’ll find games and trailers of all kinds here: promising glimpses of novel independent projects, reveals of the next big-budget juggernauts, and yes, even a few “cinematic trailers” that might not communicate much but are still damn fun to watch.
When FromSoftware, makers of Dark Souls, released the cryptic teaser for its next game late last year, it kicked off loads of speculation. Is it Bloodborne 2? Is it a new game in the studio’s dormant ninja-assassin series Tenchu? Maybe it’s just something new? Well, after seven months of silence, the teaser blossomed into the surprise announcement of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and it turns out the game is sort of a combination of all three of those theories. The first full trailer gives us a taste of the game’s world and look. Even in this brief glimpse, it’s clear that Sekiro is doing for Sengoku-era Japan what Bloodborne did for Victorian England, imbuing the period’s popular imagery with all manner of body horror and dark fantasy.
Sekiro wasn’t the only big game at this year’s E3 looking to Japanese history for inspiration. Sony had previously announced Ghost Of Tsushima, a new PlayStation 4 exclusive from the developers of Infamous and Sly Cooper, but this year’s show marked the first real reveal of this beautiful open-world samurai adventure. The game is seemingly still a long way off, and Sony’s behind-closed-doors demos were light on details beyond this footage, but what’s shown here is visually and conceptually exciting. Ghost is drawing a ton from the look and feel of samurai films, down to the sets (those burial mounds look awfully familiar), the cinematography (note the stylish shadow-heavy shot setting up the duel at the trailer’s finale), and the violence, which results in eruptions of blood. Sure, it’s derivative, but it’s not an aesthetic games pursue often—and certainly not with this level of fidelity and admiration.
Every year, E3 delivers at least one unexpected independent game that comes along and knocks your socks off with its debut trailer. For 2018, that may well have been Sable. Its developers call it a “coming-of-age tale of discovery through exploration across a strikingly rendered open world desert.” That sounds nice on its own, but that “strikingly rendered” bit really means “Moebius comic come to life,” and even in the game’s early state, it looks stunning. And bringing the mood together is an original song by Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner, who’ll be providing the entire soundtrack.
It took 10 years and one divisive (read: brilliant yet not what fans expected) reboot attempt, but Capcom is getting back to its beloved demon-hunting series. And from the looks of this hyper-kinetic reveal trailer, it’s doing so in Devil May Cry’s usual style: grim, mundane environments filled with hellish monsters ready to be sliced and diced by a cast of snarky heroes. The debut footage gives us a look at both slick cut scenes—filled with all the acrobatic action set pieces and goofy slow-motion shots you’d hope for—and a bit of actual in-game swordplay, which looks to pick up where Devil May Cry 4 left off. That includes sticking with young newcomer Nero, who first appeared in DMC4 and is now rocking a moddable robot arm that he can ride like a rocket-powered skateboard. Frankly, that’s enough to make this a killer trailer on its own, but the final tease of scruffy old Dante just puts it over the top.
Capcom’s other major announcement from this year’s show was the long-rumored remake of Resident Evil 2, set to be released a whole 17 years after the company’s acclaimed remake of the original game and 21 years after Resident Evil 2 first hit shelves. The game moves more like the over-the-shoulder stress-fest of Resident Evil 4 than the first-person Resident Evil 7, but even from the brief announcement trailer you can see how this hugely reimagined take on the best game in the series is benefiting from RE7’s grimy, oppressive atmosphere and in-your-face terror.
The trailer for Tunic was a soul-nourishing dollop of color and cuteness among the relentless violence and post-apocalyptic imagery of Microsoft’s Xbox showcase. Formerly known as Secret Legend, it recently got a much better, more distinct title that reflects its deep Legend Of Zelda roots. The clip gives a winning overview of what to expect when the game finally releases sometime in 2019: soft colors, beautiful lighting, a mysterious miniature-like world, atmospheric electronic music from the composer of the excellent Dustforce soundtrack, and, most importantly, an adorable adventuring fox.
Tucked between the four lengthy previews propping up Sony’s practically minimalist E3 showing was a curious little trailer announcing the next game from Remedy, the makers of Max Payne and Alan Wake. It was an attention-grabbing jolt of sci-fi horror, full of shifting Brutalist architecture, disturbing visions frozen in time (borrowing some of the best stylistic flourishes from the studio’s last game, Quantum Break), and psychic powers; there’s even a bit of cleverly deployed full-motion video in there, if you look closely enough. All of which is to say, Control looks like a game assembled from Remedy’s greatest hits and one worth keeping an eye on.
There were two kinds of presentations at Bethesda’s E3 showing: deep first looks at previously shown games and glorified JPEGs revealing the logos of surprise announcements. The unveiling of Doom Eternal, the sequel to 2016’s fantastic Doom reboot, falls in the latter camp, but at least it had more substance than the static tone piece Bethesda dropped for The Elder Scrolls VI. And by substance, we mean a burning, viscera-covered vision of hell on Earth set to Mick Gordon’s nerve-fraying industrial score. Does it give us a taste of the actual game? Unfortunately not. Was it metal as hell? Oh god, yes.
Let’s be honest: If this trailer had been nothing but its long middle section, where Ellie is sneaking around viciously murdering people, then it probably wouldn’t warrant a spot on this list. It’s gruesome footage from a purposefully gruesome game and shows off just how good at depicting human slaughter and misery Naughty Dog has become, which is both deeply disturbing and right in line with what the developer is likely looking to achieve with this “story about hate.” Whether or not all that brutality is justified will come down to the context of the final product, but in the context of E3, it just melts into all the other sneak-around-and-stab-guys games. What makes this trailer work is the scene bookending all that violence: a moment of joy and true emotional vulnerability for a young woman who’s clearly recovering from all the horror she’s faced and been forced to commit. And yes, it’s heartening to see a game of this profile open one of these elaborate E3 showcases with a same-sex kiss, a kiss that was animated with so much attention to the tiny humanizing details that matter and not disgustingly sexualized.
If you want to see what the new Super Smash Bros. for Switch plays like, Nintendo has you covered with hours of demos from throughout E3. If you want to watch a shocking short film in which a dinosaur space-pirate thing murders Mario and Mega Man, then this trailer marking the long-awaited arrival of Metroid villain Ridley in Smash Bros. is the video for you. Plus it gets bonus points for that brilliant moment of Samus steeling herself and turning to confront what she already knows is behind her. Those few seconds of silent confidence do a better job of displaying her character than the entirety of Metroid Other M.
It’s hard to find a trailer that wouldn’t be made more hypnotic and intense by dropping Massive Attack’s “Angel” over the top of it, but 4A Games’ latest look at the third entry in its Russian post-apocalypse story brings the goods to match its soundtrack. As the first game in the series built for modern systems, Metro Exodus is looking even more crushingly atmospheric than ever—more rusted, more crudely rebuilt, more hauntingly desolate (until it suddenly isn’t and the bullets come raining down, of course). And the trailer itself is cut perfectly to the song, anchored to the shouted sermon of some mad preacher as the music and violence builds to a climax.
A trailer for the sequel to Ori And The Blind Forest, with its lush cartoon visuals and heart-tugging soundtrack, didn’t need to do much to be exciting. But this first substantial look at Will Of The Wisps goes way above and beyond. It lashes at the emotional jugular out of the gate, then darkens the tone with a monstrous smoke wolf and unleashes a series of eye-popping scenes that rival anything the original had to offer.
When people look back at E3 2018 they’ll likely remember it for two things: how Fortnite was freakin’ everywhere and how the event served as the coming-out party for CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077. The Polish studio’s follow-up to The Witcher 3 was easily the most buzzed-about game of the show, with everyone who saw its private demo coming away stunned. For now, those who weren’t at the show and able to get into one of those meetings will have to settle for watching its debut trailer, which doesn’t give a look at how it’ll play (it’s a first-person game, in case you haven’t heard) but does provide a tantalizing glimpse of the game’s bustling sci-fi world, one wrapped in neon and divided by class.
CD Projekt’s Cyberpunk takes the genre to its biggest, flashiest possible incarnation. Neo Cab lies on the other end of the spectrum, a promising narrative-focused game about one of the last human taxi drivers in a future where technology has made them obsolete. On its own, that premise is interesting enough to hang a small game on, but Neo Cab then folds that into the larger mystery of your missing friend and the city-dominating tech corporation that may have something to do with her disappearance. The idea of watching a neo-noir caper unfolding from this perspective—only able to talk to riders and look at your phone—is a fascinating one, and even in the narrow space of a trailer, the story’s rising stakes and the pulsing synthwave score are enough to ratchet up the tension.
Year in and year out, Ubisoft can be counted on for putting together some great cinematic trailers that might not provide much information about the actual game in question, but can be impressive little movies all on their own. It had some stiff competition from another video starring the space pirates of Beyond Good And Evil 2, but Ubi’s best trailer of the show was devoted to the regular old sea pirates of Skull And Bones. It’s an effective mood piece, setting the stakes for all the anti-imperial looting players will be perpetrating and scoring the swashbuckling and slow-motion grog chugging with some perfectly percussive music.