If you’ve paid any attention to the title of this column, you’re well aware that video games are dumb. While this has always been intended in as an informal verb, it’s also true in literal interpretation. Unlike its media brethren in Television, Music, and Movies, the game industry’s upcoming releases go purposefully unannounced despite years in development. Rumors are denied, hopes are dashed, and developers go silent in an effort to create an orgasmic internet-breaking surprise reveal
And who could blame them? Over the past 20 years, pre-rendered trailers and earlier gameplay footage are often the way many in the public first witness a new title. But the development of any video game is an ever evolving endeavor. Designs, gameplay mechanics, and even the quality of graphics are frequently altered or, in some cases, completely removed from the final product. If that wasn't frustrating enough, some publishers go the extra mile and (allegedly) knowingly deceive their audience to drum up pre-order sales. Either way, these are lies. DAMN lies. And we’re just plain sick of them. Here are the Top 7 Damn Lies!
7. The Bouncer (Squaresoft, 2001)<
In the late 1990’s, Squaresoft skyrocketed from a popular Japanese developer to a globally known powerhouse. 1998’s Final Fantasy 7 drastically altered the console war in favor of the Sony PlayStation thanks in large part to it’s stunning pre-rendered cutscenes. Square had finally made RPGs into the industry’s most dominant genre through a string of commercial and critical smash hits. With the announcement of the PlayStation 2, the anticipation of Square’s first entry into the next generation set many a message board ablaze with rumor and speculation. But no one expected The Bouncer.
Originally announced in 1999, The Bouncer shocked audiences with its state-of-the-art graphics and beat-em-up gameplay, an unexpected deviation from Square’s turn based RPG linage. Three heroes would fight together, smashing enemies through their environments with realtime damage. But when it launched in the winter of 2000, critics immediately noticed the missing features. Gone were the destructible tables and pillars, replaced by static locations and motionless objects. Worse yet, multiplayer was limited to the game’s Versus Mode, keeping the story mode a solo experience. From “Killer App” to bargain bin, The Bouncer’s deceptive trailers turned Square’s 128-bit charge into an awkward stumble.
6. Gears of War (Epic Games, 2006)
Let’s get this out of the way, the original Gears of War was a fantastic game. Blending Kill Switch’s signature cover-based shooting with the Unreal Engine’s jaw dropping graphics revolutionized game design and firmly set the standard of HD visuals. It was a watershed moment for the interactive medium, leaving many to ask, when will this console generation have its first Gears of War moment? But let’s face it, its trailer was a damn lie.
Introspective and bleak, Gears of War’s television campaign depicted Marcus Fenix aimlessly wandering the desolate ruins of a Seraian city. Gary Jules’ haunting rendition of Mad World ominously accompanies Marcus’ hopeless encounter with a giant Corpser before a final lunge alludes to the hero’s death. In reality, Gears was a bombastic, bro fueled, backslapping celebration of blood and bullets. Marcus would fearlessly charge towards foes, splitting them in half with his chainsaw gun while swearing. Regardless of the tonal differences, Gears of War launched the franchise as a Xbox 360 mainstay with an Xbox One remaster releasing later this August.
5. Dead Island (Techland. 2011)
Few events are as disturbing or depressing as the death of a child. Ignoring taboos, the debut trailer for 2011’s Dead Island recounts the events that lead to the massacre of a family. The opening shot slowly zooms out from the lifeless eyes of a recently deceased girl before reversed footage shows her final moments of life. Juxtaposed with chronological video, the terrified youth runs from a hoard of zombies towards her mother and father’s hotel room. Unbenounced to her parents, she’s already experiencing the first stages of transformation. But it’s already too late, as they fight off the undead creatures, the girl pounces on her father and bites his jugular and is indirectly hurled through a 5th story window. The final scene shows the happy family posing for a vacation photo, unaware of the horror soon to follow.
If it sounds morose, that’s because it is. But the beautiful piano music and superb cinematography lead to tens of millions of YouTube views and pre-release buzz. However, the final product drastically differed from the CG trailer that preceded it. The opening of Dead Island is a first person recounting of a liquor fueled hip hop concert while Sam B’s “Who Do You Voodoo, Bitch?” plays loudly in the background. In the end, Dead Island was more about murdering zombies with creative violence than examining their previous lives. Recognizing the popularity of their marketing campaign, Techland included a small room alluding to the events of its CG debut. Dead Island still managed to sell over 5 million copies even if it’s critical praise couldn’t match the success of its own trailer.
4. Watch Dogs (Ubisoft, 2014)
During 2012’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, the prolific publisher and developer Ubisoft became the talk of the show with their reveal of Watch Dogs. Within the first few seconds of the debut trailer, it was obvious the game wasn’t intended for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but rather the yet to be seen upcoming console generation. Aiden Pearce casually walked through the streets of Chicago while freely accessing citizen’s personal information via his smartphone. With the tap of his screen, Pearce destroyed a news camera, listened into private calls, and caused a pile up by changing traffic lights. But the real highlight were the game’s ambitious lighting and particle engine, creating lifelike shadows and explosions. This not only raised expectations of Ubisoft’s first foray into the 8th console generation, but also the hardware of the yet to be announced consoles.
But as more trailers were periodically released, observers began to notice a significant downgrade from Watch Dogs’ original visuals. When it was released in spring of 2014, many users were shocked to discover a brightly lit city, often negating the use of advanced dynamic lighting from streetlamps and explosions. Ubisoft assured fans the difference was non existent and that they were playing the game exactly as intended. But when PC users found and applied unused graphical code via a user created mod, the alterations were obvious. Ubisoft cited the difficulty of developing on multiple platforms as their rationale for disabling the features, after all, the title did in fact come to the PS3 and 360. Since then, Ubisoft has downgraded the graphics on a number of titles after their initial trailer, leaving many video game fans to become increasingly skeptical of the developer.
3. Killzone 2 (Guerrilla Games, 2009)
Perhaps the most infamous example of marketing trickery, the dazzling 2005 trailer for Killzone 2 left many optimistic viewers to believe the CG trailer was actual gameplay. Sony Computer Entertainment of America’s Vice President Jack Tretton did little to calm expectations by claiming the video was indeed the real game in action. Technically minded skeptics disagreed, pointing out the hardware limitations of the PlayStation 3 simply could not produce such a complex undertaking. Reacting to doubts, SCEE’s Phil Harrison attempted to readjust Trenton's statements by explaining none of the Killzone 2 footage was realtime but “Virtually everything used in-game assets; some things were rendered.”
Killzone 2 would release until 5 years after its E3 debut, but during that time more realistic portrayals of the game surfaced. The results were surprisingly good, displaying some of the best graphics of the seventh video game generation though clearly lacking the detail of its E3 trailer. Still, there’s simply no denying the nearly two year long mixed messaging from Sony’s top brass to countless media outlets and cosumers. In many ways, the controversy still overshadow the fantastic game that is Killzone 2.
2. Aliens: Colonial Marines (“Gearbox Studios” 2013)
Game over, indeed. Originally announced in 2006, Aliens: Colonial Marines was meant to be a sort of reboot for the Aliens franchise. Ignoring the events of Alien 3, Colonial Marines would return to the look and feel of the much celebrated 1986 film. Publisher SEGA and developer Gearbox might have expected a short development cycle, but when a series of layoffs affected studio’s staff in 2008, the game’s future became uncertain. In 2012, Gearbox finally unveiled their upcoming title with a lengthy E3 gameplay demo, receiving industry praise from its atmospheric dynamic lighting and physics. Would Alien fans at last receive the game they’ve always dreamed of?
No. No they wouldn’t. The lavishly detailed demo was in fact built from the ground up by Gearbox exclusively for the E3 press, with none of its code used in the final project. The retail release featured a plethora of bugs, idiotic AI, poorly scripted sequences, and none of the impressive graphical effects from the year old demo. In fact, the majority of the game’s later development had been outsourced to two other developers, one of which filed for bankruptcy shortly after Colonial Marines release. At the time of this writing, it’s still unclear whether SEGA was aware of the additional developers while funding the supposed Gearbox project. Universally panned by critics, Colonial Marines still managed to sell relatively well based off of it’s E3 hype. Despite the complete hatred of his product and a settled lawsuit with purchasers, Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford still claims Colonial Marines is a great game. He’s the only one.
1. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Konami, 2001)
Not all marketing lies are bad and in the case of Metal Gear Solid 2, they can even be used to surprise their audience. After the massive success of Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation, Solid Snake joined the ranks of Mario and Lara Croft as a video game icon. Konami immediately greenlit the production of a sequel with series creator Hideo Kojima once again directing the project. A E3 2000 trailer intensified the anticipation, displaying significantly improved visuals thanks to the added processing power of the PlayStation 2. After 3 long years, fans would finally regain control over the elusive Solid Snake.
What happened next is often regarded as one of the biggest surprises of any high profile release. 45 minutes into the game story, player’s were introduced to the game’s true protagonist, Raiden. Unlike Snake, Raiden was open about his feelings and apprehensions, often engaging in long conversation with his girlfriend, Rosemary. Yes, Raiden’s mission was to stop a terrorist organization, but the overall tone of this metal gear was far more lucid than it’s predecessors. Fans were furious, citing the pre release trailers displaying Snake in locations and boss fights that could only be experienced with Raiden. Before long it became obvious this was Kojima’s intent all along. Fans may have been lured in with the machismo of Solid Snake, but they’d actually receive a thinly veiled message on the dangers of media, government deception, and the nature of reality itself. It was a lie. And a damn good one.
Is this list honest? Or have we bended the truth? Let us know your picks of video game marketing dishonesty in the comments below!