Damn This Halo Trailer Was Good

Game trailers tend to be forgettable things. Explosive diversions paving the way for a marketing campaign that hits you, tries to sell you something then fades into nothingness as the next hype train takes its place. ODST's live-action clip, though, lingers long after the game has disappeared off the charts.

I watched this the other day when YouTube did its thing and recommended it to me, based on a mysterious algorithm that I'm going to assume was "this guy really needs to watch this again".

I'm glad I did, because it struck me that despite being almost seven years old -- an eternity in the fast-paced world of modern video games -- it is still easily the best example of a live-action, AAA video game trailer.

It does so many things that most trailers only try (and fail miserably) to achieve. There's a sense of tone and place that burrows deep under your skin, leaving you with the weird sensation that this trailer is more ODST than the game itself managed.

It also looks incredible. OK, so some of the CG stuff has aged a little, but the cold, dirty and real live-action footage not only looks fresh, but looks professional. We were long teased a Halo movie from directors who have big Hollywood experience, but if a Halo movie is ever actually made, it can learn a lot more from this clip's colour and lighting than it can from watching gameplay footage of a giant space soldier smash a fat purple alien in the face with a pistol.

The officers in the trailer were played by actual Hungarian military instructors

My favourite part, though, is the little twist of switching languages. We're so conditioned to seeing future soldiers speaking with American and British accents in our sci-fi media that it's initially shocking to see them speaking something... else. Something we (well, most Kotaku readers, hi Europe!) don't understand, and aren't even afforded the decency of being given subtitles for (though you can read a translation here if you want to lose some of the magic).

Every actor in the clip is speaking (and screaming) in Hungarian. It's a genius touch, because with Uralic roots Hungarian is one of the few languages in the Western world to not have derived, like everything from English to German to Spanish, from Indo-European dialects.

What this means is that we have no idea what those men are shouting about, because not a single word of it sounds even remotely familiar to us. Even the accent, given the lack of other Hungarian media in the wider global consciousness, is unfamiliar.

The song -- which is not Hungarian, but in Welsh, another tough language to casually decipher -- is also suitably "foreign" to most ears (and while we're on it, what a hell of a song it is).

This all results in a clip that despite focusing entirely on events surrounding "us" in a war starring space monsters still feels alien. Like it really does come from the future.

For all that's great about the clip, though, there's a touch of hurt watching this in 2016. Back in 2009, if you looked past the craziness of Maser Chief's personal story, the Halo series itself knew what it was about. It was the tale of a future human race with our backs to the wall, with even our best and bravest seemingly not enough to stop an alien alliance from wiping us out of existence.

That was the whole point of Master Chief. He was the superman here to save us where mere mortals were trying, failing and dying. There was a sense of inevitable bleakness to Halo's tale, from Reach's unfolding tragedy to the classic opening sequence of Combat Evolved, where despite your own best efforts most of your comrades around you spend the opening hours of the game dying.

This trailer, with its illustration of an ODSTs grim circle of life, nailed that feeling. And sadly, I think its a narrative anchor that Microsoft's recent Halo games have lost sight of, which might explain why despite some solid play sequences I haven't enjoyed the last two games in the series anywhere near as much as Bungie's efforts.

Ah well. Times change, as do video games, and even if I can never again dig a Halo game like I did ODST or Reach, we'll always have this trailer.


Comments

    Halo 3 had the best adverts, ... Never saw this one before nice to see it continued the tradition. Still think I prefer the Neil Blomkamp (?sp) trilogy for halo3. A real taste of what the Halo film could have been under him and Jackson/WETA. Oh well at least we got District 9 from the ashes...

      they still have the Warthog and some of the props at the Weta Workshop in Wellington if you get the chance to go.

    The Halo trailer were, most of the time, really incredible and came from a studio with a unique creative drive. The war museum trailer for Halo 3, the Spartan kids from Reach, they're beautiful and the music is incredible. It's unfortunate that in trying to free themselves from their corporate chains of Microsoft, Bungie became even bigger lapdogs to Activision. Nowadays their most peific senior employees have all moved on and their trailers are plastered with pre-order bonuses. I miss Classic Bungie.

    It just goes to show how much potential and evocative greatness Bungie had with Halo. It disappoints me that Halo still hasn't become more than it was.
    It could easilly have been films, TV shows (forward unto dawn is a good example) spawning the next mainstream sci-fi "Classic".
    The best part of Halo was always its rich tone and interesting setting.

    Now they're not even innovative or evocative games, mired in tropes and following industry trends :(

    Back in 2009, if you looked past the craziness of Maser Chief’s personal story, the Halo series itself knew what it was about. It was the tale of a future human race with our backs to the wall, with even our best and bravest seemingly not enough to stop an alien alliance from wiping us out of existence.
    That was the whole point of Master Chief. He was the superman here to save us where mere mortals were trying, failing and dying. There was a sense of inevitable bleakness to Halo’s tale, from Reach’s unfolding tragedy to the classic opening sequence of Combat Evolved, where despite your own best efforts most of your comrades around you spend the opening hours of the game dying.
    This trailer, with its illustration of an ODSTs grim circle of life, nailed that feeling. And sadly, I think its a narrative anchor that Microsoft’s recent Halo games have lost sight of, which might explain why despite some solid play sequences I haven’t enjoyed the last two games in the series anywhere near as much as Bungie’s efforts.

    This, for me, neatly summarizes the essence of Halo.

    I found the launch and "Remember Reach" trailers from Halo Reach to be equally amazing and timeless.

    Trailer wise, I can't go past the extended version of Deliver Hope (Halo: Reach).

    Hits me right in the feels the sacrifice made to save the many. I always wanted to make a Spartan suit in the image of Thom-A293 over Master Chief if I ever cosplay.

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