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‘Give us something BIG!': 10 of the best live-action video game trailers

The video game industry has always had strong ties to the world of movies, something highlighted by the growing trend of using live-action trailers to help market games.

While such trailers are not new to the industry, the budgets attached to them are growing ever greater, to the point where some wouldn’t look out of place on a Hollywood showreel.

Michael Boniface, the European managing director of APB Reloaded developer Reloaded Productions, spoke to GamesBeat about the trend toward live-action. “The problem with gameplay footage is that it can be more difficult to convey concepts that live-action can do more easily,” said Boniface, “plus there’s still more interest and pickup from live-action. Like it or not.”

Veteran actor James Cosmo (Highlander, Game of Thrones) stars in the trailer for the game Darksiders II, and he sees the two industries growing ever closer. “The video gaming business is now bigger than the film industry. Big movies and big games are merging and becoming something really fascinating,” Mason said. He feels that, thanks to the anarchic nature of YouTube and the Internet, young filmmakers are able to get their work seen more easily and have the chance to blur the worlds of movies and games in a creative way.

Whatever your take on them, these big-budget efforts look set to stay, so it’s just as well that some publishers are doing them right, as you can see from these 10 cinematic gems.


Metro: Last Light

The trailer for upcoming shooter Metro: Last Light (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) focuses on the emotional and human impact of the world as we know it coming to an end. Filmed in freezing temperatures in Ukraine, with Mark Patton (Prometheus) as the director of photography, it looks every bit as epic as seasoned commercials director Jim Weedon intended.

The brief given to creative agency Ichi was to fire the collective imagination of first-person shooter fans and reintroduce Metro as a must-play title. The exact words from the THQ marketing team were, “Give us something BIG!”

With 4 million YouTube views during its first four days of release, this film ably demonstrates the impact that live-action trailers can have on the market.


Sleeping Dogs

Square Enix stepped in to buy the half-finished True Crime: Hong Kong when Activision decided to scrap it. Reborn as open-world crime game Sleeping Dogs (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), the marketing team enlisted Goldtooth Creative to help create some buzz with this explosive trailer.

Director Paul Furmiger talks in glowing terms about the creative possibilities offered by such live-action game trailers: “When we started creating trailers for gaming companies we were surprised by how much creative license they gave us. It was a bit like the Wild West. Even for this project, the game’s marketing team should really be commended on taking a chance and allowing us to create a live-action trailer for a video game.”


Darksiders II

James Cosmo stars as the manic priest in THQ’s trailer for the action-adventure game Darksiders II (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U), along with acting as a narrator in the game. He described the production process as “almost as if we were shooting an great big epic movie, but we only shot for two days. The production quality was on a par with anything you’d see on a big feature movie.”

“Trailers are really exciting things,” Cosmo said, “because you only have a certain amount of time to put over an awful lot of information and an awful lot of feeling, so it’s got to have terrific impact.”


Hawken

Gameplay footage of Hawken, an upcoming free-to-play mech shooter from Adhesive Games,  has already impressed with its atmospheric visuals and explosive energy. This live-action trailer — the first in a series of shorts directed by Gears of War art director Jerry O’Flaherty — takes things up another notch, adding a human element to the drama.

O’Flaherty is looking to put names and faces to the mech pilots in Hawken: “Through these characters I wanted to begin to speak to the fiction behind the game, to introduce people to a mythology that is just as interesting and intriguing as [my] first view of Hawken.”


APB Reloaded

When you relaunch a game that was previously a complete disaster, you’d better do it with a bang. GamersFirst certainly accomplished that with this live-action trailer for the free-to-play massively multiplayer online game APB Reloaded. Using YouTube stars Tobuscus, Katers17, SeaNanners, and SMPfilms as featured extras in the production is also an inventive way of helping spread word about the game.

Boniface told GamesBeat: “The live action with SFX was designed to show the game’s incredible customization in a way which was accessible to a more mainstream viewer, without relying on a bewildering array of different character models.”

Halo 4

Microsoft’s Halo first-person sci-fi shooter franchise has a rich history of using cinematic trailers, including the “We are ODST” short directed by Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) and the museum commercial for Halo 3. This Halo 4 trailer is a further tease for fans that had hoped to see a Halo movie. Neill Blomkamp (District 9) had been set to direct a full-length feature until Universal and Fox pulled the plug on the project back in 2005.

Halo 4’s November 6 release will also be preceded by a series of five 15-minute live-action episodes, titled “Forward Unto Dawn.” “Because it’s a world that people always want to see more of, Halo lends itself to live-action execution,” according to executive producer Kiki Wolfkill.


The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

This live-action trailer from Bethesda featured heavily during the promotion of the open-world RPG The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. It certainly didn’t hurt the game’s sales, which Bethesda estimated were in the region of $650 million during the first month of release.


Prey 2

The teaser trailer for first-person shooter Prey 2 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) is shot with a handheld camera vibe strongly reminiscent of the movie Cloverfield . Game director Chris Rhinehart explains that the trailer was intended to connect the two games in the series, with Prey 2 protagonist Killian spotted aboard the plane that was seen crashing into the alien mothership during the original Prey.

Whether we will see much more of the game, beyond this trailer, is open to debate. Rumors of its cancellation surfaced earlier this year, and Bethesda has since confirmed that Prey 2 will no longer launch in 2012, as originally intended. This has been attributed to the fact that, “game development has not progressed satisfactorily this past year, and the game does not currently meet our quality standards.”


Heroes and Generals

Heroes and Generals is a cross-platform free-to-play game from Reto-Moto that combines first-person shooter and strategic elements. Currently in a closed-beta testing stage, the development team enlisted some hardcore fans to help shoot this “Come Out to Play” trailer, which combines live-action and gameplay footage in a fun way.

“We wish to create a living and breathing game universe, where we deliver the setting and the scene, but the real ‘star’ is the community, who helps us tweak the experience into the game that they want to play,” said Jacob Andersen, the game director at Reto-Moto. “I believe that the ‘Come Out to Play’ trailer shows the scope of Heroes & Generals – and it’s just perfect that we have actual community members participating as actors in it!”


Ghost Recon: Future Soldier

Not content with simply putting out a live-action trailer for third-person tactical shooter Ghost Recon Future Soldier (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360), Ubisoft also commissioned a 24-minute short film, directed by the Oscar-winning team of Herve de Crecy and Francois Alaux.

The brief, according to De Crecy, “was basically to give life to four characters, members of an elite Special Forces squad, and heroes of the game. There are also many links between the film and the game, and notably in the technologies used, and there exists a multiplayer level in the game taking place in the factory where we actually shot the film.”

If you watch carefully, the film features a hidden code which can be used to unlock a special weapon in the game.

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