Dead Island's Trailer Was Amazing, Appalling And Enlightening

The reviews are in for Techland's open-world zombie RPG Dead Island. Reviewers are talking about immersion and HUDs, PC bugs and control issues, and whether it is possible to love a game for the cool moments it provides while accepting that it has significant flaws. But from review to review, there is one constant: that damned trailer.

Produced by Axis Animation and released back in February, the Lost-tinged trailer received rave reviews. G4 called it "The best trailer I have seen in my life. The best video game trailer. The best movie trailer. The best anything trailer." MSNBC ran a piece entitled "The Dead Island Trailer Will Make You Cry". The ad even won an award at Cannes -- not that Cannes, but an advertising festival held in the same location. Fahey was a bit more measured, calling it "The Most Heartbreaking Zombie Video Game Trailer You'll Ever See".

The trailer immediately sparked some debate: It was hard not to be roped in by the soft piano music and the slick intercutting, the final shot of the father holding his hand out to his doomed daughter. But there was a whiff of B.S. to the whole thing -- after all, this was an ad we were watching, and anyone who had been following the game's previews approached the ad with a fair amount of scepticism. As Wired's Jason Schreier put it in a February op-ed, "If Dead Island's experience and emotional impact are anything close to this trailer, it could be a great game. But perhaps we should wait until we actually see the game itself before we start drawing those links."

In March, Brian Crecente interviewed the brand manager for Techland, who confirmed, more or less, that the family wouldn't be in the game. And now that the game has been released, there is no longer any ambiguity: the game is nothing like the trailer.

Here's Gamespot:

It's played in a first-person perspective and has shooting, but it's not a first-person shooter. And whatever that slow-motion trailer would have you believe, it's not a stirring emotional experience.

Destructoid:

With its debut trailer, Techland set itself the impossible goal of living up to self-generated hype on a massive scale. The video, which showed a family beset by zombies while a hauntingly beautiful refrain played, led one to believe that Dead Island would be an emotional roller coaster that touched on the human side of undead apocalypse.

Eurogamer:

Remember the Dead Island teaser trailer? Of course you do. It "went viral" as marketing people with spreadsheets like to say. That means everybody saw it, posted it on Facebook, emailed it to their friends and said, "Hey, what's this Dead Island game all about?"

3DJuegos.com:

Tras concretamente tres años sin dar señales de vida, el juego volvió de entre los muertos con su memorable tráiler cinemático que logró con apenas tres minutos de formidable CGI dejar impactado a aficionados y no aficionados, y comenzar a crear todas las expectativas que hasta entonces no había conseguido erigir.

and Gamestar.de:

In einem nahen Zimmer finden wir ein totes Paar (das wir schon aus dem eindrucksvollen, rückwärts ablaufenden Trailer von Dead Island kennen). Die zwei können uns nichts mehr erzählen.

Clearly, the trailer made enough of an impression that everyone felt obliged to address it in their review, often at the very top. The question is: Why did this ad, in particular, resonate like it did?

Advertising is meant to inform, but also to persuade. All ads lie to us to some extent; they spruce up the reality of financing a car or buying toilet paper to make us feel excited about it, to capture the essence of the product and convince us to buy it. In theory, the Dead Island trailer was meant to stand apart from the game, to show us what happened on the day the zombies rose up. Even though the tone of the finished game would be totally different than the trailer, the two things provided different perspectives on a unified story.

I've knocked around for a few hours in Dead Island, and reconciling the trailer with the game is indeed a bit difficult. Despite the fact that you can find the corpses of the trailer family in the opening hotel level, I'm finding that the game's not-insubstantial charms lie in progression and exploration, not in my engagement with the story or characters. Though it should be said that Dead Island is a serious game; far more so than Dead Rising or even Left 4 Dead. Many of the sidequests are personal and fraught with loss and drama -- "Take my brother his insulin," "Find medicine for my dying wife," and while the execution is flat and the animations are stilted, the small stories are often quite powerful.

I don't generally care for CGI trailers; they are misleading at a fundamental level. The first half of the reveal trailer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a bunch of footage of renaissance-era scientists attaching wings to a man, who then flew into the sun like Icarus. Which stands as a perfectly fine metaphor for the finished game, but is a far cry from what the actual game entails. And while the closing moments with Adam Jensen do show a cinematic approximation of gameplay, they don't show the game itself in action.

Plenty of other game trailers bend the rules of reality a bit to show a stylised view of their product; the famous "Mad World" trailer for Gears of War has been copied and parodied countless times, and the "Believe" campaign for Halo 3 was goosebump-raising, but ultimately unrelated to the game itself.

I think the real reason for the trailer's impact was that it promised us something that, as it turned out, we wanted very badly.

But still, the Dead Island trailer stands apart. In part, it's because Dead Island was a mystery -- everyone knows what Halo 3 is going to be all about, so their ad agency is able to take more liberties with the campaign. And what little we did know about Dead Island was that back in 2007, the game had, in fact, been about a family struggling to survive on a zombie-infested island. It was much easier to believe that the trailer was something of an approximation of the final product.

Even when first I watched that trailer, my bullshit detector was going off like crazy, and as the months wore on, preview after preview of the game made it quite clear that the final experience would be significantly different from the trailer. And yet still we talked about it, in previews and then in reviews; and here I am now, talking about it still. So again I ask: why?

The trailer was well-made and engaging; it channeled a hugely popular TV series (Lost) and it showed a little girl getting brutally murdered as her mother looked on. But I think the real reason for the trailer's impact was that it promised us something that, as it turned out, we wanted very badly.

We may not have known it at the time, but I think we want a zombie game that is tragic and sad, action-packed and tense, full of loss and emotional catharsis. We want a game to make us tear up, to show us impossible loss, to make come to terms with the actual risks and small but human costs of a deadly viral outbreak. Brilliantly, manipulatively, the Dead Island trailer promised us that, and our desire to see our wish fulfilled outweighed our scepticism. It was fun to believe that maybe, just maybe, this game would be different from the others.

And of course, now that the final game is out, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that as much as we might want the game promised in by that trailer, we're not getting it. Yet, anyway. Upon rewatching the trailer, I was mostly unmoved… until that little postscript, home-camera footage of the happy family, a daughter running around on the beach, a father corralling his family for a posed photo. Dang. That is the sort of thing I very much want to see in a video game.

I'm reminded of the famous scene in the season one finale of Mad Men in which protagonist Don Draper is pitching an ad campaign for the new Kodak "Carousel" slide projector. "Technology is a glittering lure," Draper says. "But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged beyond flash, when they have a sentimental bond with the product."

The jury's out on Dead Island the game (Crecente will have his full review up this week). But whether its trailer was a misstep or a brilliant piece of persuasion, it did something very important: it opened our eyes to something that we very much desire. By the time the trailer launched, Dead Island itself was most likely too far into development to be significantly changed. But even after the game's launch, the trailer's impact remains, as does the latent desire it illuminated. While Techland may not have made the game that their ad promised, perhaps another developer will.


Comments

    industry should get together and ban the following:

    CGI Cutscences and CGI trailers, and while they are at it trailers at consist only of 90% titles should be banned as well.

    One thing is that CGI cut scenes are way out of place in the game, take deus ex for example the graphical difference is immersion breaking. And the CGI trailers give false advertising because the graphics wont be that good nor will the gameplay be either. So only having real gameplay should be the only option.

      ... I think you missed the point.

      CGI Cutscene's are fine if they allow them to do something the engine doesn't

      the problem with the ones in Deus EX are the fact that they are a terrible resolution which means the video's themselves look crap(most likely so they can fit on the 360 copy)

      And that the Video's in question, are generally only used for mission primary talking where control is taken from the player.

      If they showed some super complex fight scene between jensen and the 2nd Boss that can't be done in the ingame engine by all means

    The wonderful thing is that zombie game we all want to play does exist, albeit with much simpler graphics.

    http://projectzomboid.com/ is doing the whole minecraft deal of buy now and play the very buggy alpha. It's early days but what has been made is very promising. Especially the ballad of Kate and Baldspot.

    "I don’t generally care for CGI trailers; they are misleading at a fundamental level."

    This is true, but it's only misleading - I think - if developers don't point out that the trailer is stylised and not representative of the actual game.

    It's fantastic to see a CGI trailer that shows a plot or characters doing things, as long as it's obvious that it's not actual gameplay.

    My problem with this trailer is that it is so detached from the actual game. Much more so than even the "Believe" release. At least the Halo and Gears trailers had guys with guns so you knew it was really a shooter.

    This CGI advertisement actually makes the game look bad, because it has more depth in it's 60 second running time than the entirety of the Dead Island campaign. It makes it look so bad by comparison, I can't bring myself to buy it, despite the good reviews, because it's fallen so short on the one metric that it initially distinguished itself.

      The trailer clearly shows the father hacking at zombies with an axe and the mother holding a kitchen knife. The game is about brutal hand to hand/weapon based combat more so than firearms, so your "it has guns in it in the halo trailer" point is invalid.

        OK, this is a valid point. The problem is that the locus of the clip is completely absent from the game. The hacking was not the focus of that trailer. It was the father reaching for the little girl. It was intentionally misleading.

        In the Halo and Gears clips, the locus is still combat, albeit stylistically. The Gears clip ends with him firing into the enemy, though its implied hauntingly.

        Speaking of which - if they ended Gears 3 with that clip, I would kiss Cliffy B on the mouth.

    I think it's being a bit harsh to criticise a trailer that was probably ordered before the shift from a family surviving to a group escaping.

    While misleading, it should be considered many of the quests are small but powerful.

    While the main characters are generally unexplored, a long-discussed quandry in video games, this is a game about people surviving a zombie apocalypse.

    So misleading? Perhaps, but it does reveal the desire for an emotionally crushing game. The trick in the current environment is doing this without too many scripted events.

    I'm so happy, fly kick to the head, and then have at their limbs. I CAN CUT THEIR LIMBS OFF! Oh boy, I am happy.

    I loved that original trailer but when it was released the though was ever present 'will the game be anything like this....' as I have been burned by this so many times in the past. Haven't we all?

    I'm currently playing Dead Island now and loving its lootastic zombie killing ways but it definately has a vibe that is in stark contrast to the original marketing trailer.

    People forget that *that* trailer was only the first of several and was followed by the devs saying "the final game won't be like this" shortly after its release. Each and every subsequent trailer got closer and closer to actual gameplay "feeling", right up to the release trailer which looks much more like a trailer for an action flick than the first - much closer to actual gameplay.

    Game trailers, like movie trailers, would be stupid if they just gave you a truly authentic feel for the game/movie. Why bother playing/watching if you already know all the salient points? The trailer introduces the world, conflict, characters, visuals - some intriguiing aspect of the experience that makes you want to see more. The announcement trailer did this by showing everything going horribly wrong and making it personal. The player is obviously not represented in the trailer, nor do we expect to interact with these characters. But we are made to care: and as has been said, the side quests bring up a similar feeling.

    Hopefully this will be the start of a trend towards zombie games that are more desperate and tense.

    My hope is that everyone's positive response to the trailer is useful to someone at some point who is trying to get investment to produce a game in a similar vein.

    I think the trailer could have been done without the 'family home video' cheese factor postscript. I was really impressed up until that point. "home-camera footage of the happy family, a daughter running around on the beach, a father corralling his family for a posed photo." Come on, just read that description of it. If video games must feel the need to imitate movies and television, why choose from the bottom of the pile?

      Watch this;

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suRDUFpsHus

      That's why they had the home footage at the end.

    Here's the thing i don't get: a trailer for a movie contains footage from the movie it's advertising, albeit cut in a completely different manner, sometimes leading to you thinking you are watching a completely different movie once it actually comes out, BUT it is footage FROM the movie.

    Having a cgi trailer that contains the most tenuous of links to the final game (some weapons and zombies), really doesn't do anything for anybody except waste time! seriously they could have spent the time the used developing the stupid trailer and made the game better, then shown parts of the game's cutscenes or gameplay footage. to advertise it.

    I didn't really like the trailer and i failed to see what the fuss was about, it was about as subtle and emotional as an episode of home and away, using cliche devices (slo-mo, reverse, music that contradicts the actions etc) to try to stir up some buzz about a game no one knew much about.

    At the end of the day you can't advertise that you're making a ferrari and a year later bring out a toyota, it just isn't the same.

    One of my major disappointments I have is due to the fact I can't kill zombie children. That's the real shame in all this.

    I wonder why...

      I'll tell you why, because there is no fun or entertainment to be had killing children, zombie or otherwise. It's not a censorship issue if that's what you were eluding to.

      A quote from your website..

      "Do you hate children?
      No. Children mean nothing to me. The lives and deaths of humans, in general, are of no concern to me."

      Although you are entitled to an opinion, I'm sure I won't be the only one who's opinion is that you are an A grade fuckwit.

        As part of the immersion they should be there unless this is a world where people are magically born as adults or somesuch why not have children? Sure his question about children on his website is ridiculous but the point he brings up is still a good one regardless of motivation.

    im liking this game so far BUT it does have annoying bugs which i have just accepted. the UI needed so work and could have been alot better overall a pretty good game though. i probs needed another 2 months of ironing to create an amazing game. The story so far isnt that bad and side quests dont feel annoying to do like in fallout 3 though i do wish they had allowed you to cancel quests that you decide you no longer want to do.

    I never expected the game to deliver what the trailer showcased - how could it do that and deliver a game that's worth playing as a game? I just don't think it's possible.

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