A good trailer for a video game accomplishes this goal by providing its viewer with a small taste of what you can expect out of the gameplay experience, a look at the environments, a brief introduction to the main characters, and hopefully a sense of what the story will involve. However, with how important game trailers can be for building anticipation, sometimes it’s better not to show the key elements of the game. Sometimes it’s best not to show the game at all. A well rendered conceptualization of the game can be a much better vessel for building buzz; as Dead Island has proved over the last couple of weeks.
There’s no doubt that Dead Island’s trailer is a great example of the power of a well-crafted illusions. As with most that watched it, I was blown away by what I was experiencing. It starts with a little girl, lying lifeless on a lawn. The trailer stylishly rewinds itself, revealing how she arrived at this horrific conclusion. She flies out a window. Attacks her daddy. Runs down a hall with a shit load of ghouls chasing her. With a one year daughter of my own, this kind of stuff invokes an emotional reaction in me that I’ve never experienced before her arrival. The best way to describe it is that my body is punching me in the stomach — through the use of chemicals and hormones, of course — to let me know that what I’m watching is something I should never allow happen to my own offspring. Basically, it’s giving me a small taste of what’s in store for me internally if I encountered such a situation.
Once the trailer was done emotionally ripping me apart, my anticipation level went through the roof. From what the trailer shows, Dead Island offers an emotional ride that we don’t often get the opportunity to experience in video games. We get really bad, humorous attempts at emotion, but doing drama well is not the game industry’s strong suit. So, I was excited, instantly sold on the game. Where can I preorder it? Is it coming to the 360? The PS3? This is going to be an amazing game. What kind of game is it…
And that’s when it hit me. The chemicals subsided. Logical thoughts returned. Where’s the gameplay?
The trailer didn’t provide one bit of useful information. It didn’t introduce us to the gameplay mechanics. We can’t be sure the graphics accurately reflect what the game provides. All we know is that it’s on a tropical island with a beach resort, and a family’s in for some trouble.
And then Techland backpedaled a bit.
The family that emotionally drew us into the trailer, the one we hoped to have a chance to change the fate of in the game? Yeah, they’re not actually in the game. Sorry for the confusion…
Someone at Techland got nervous. The trailer had done what it set out to accomplish. Create buzz. Build interest. But it worked too well. It built such strong interest in a product they didn’t have. It built such incredible buzz in a game they couldn’t deliver, weren’t expecting to deliver. Time for damage control.
There’s nothing wrong with a good ol’ zombie hack’em up, if that’s what Dead Island turns out to be — and that’s where it sounds like its heading. I’ve spent the last few months playing Dead Rising 2. I’m on my third play through and trust me, it’s not because it came bundled with a riveting storyline or emotional devastation. Nope. It’s just fun discovering new ways of dismembering our zombie brothering. And if Dead Island could offer a similarly enticing gaming experience, then I’m definitely on board. But the trailer wasn’t presenting that. The trailer was promising something different. Not better necessarily. Just something that I would like to experience. It’ll be interesting to see how Dead Island turns out. It’s just sad that it won’t fulfill its trailer’s potential.