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The Video Game Commercials Of 2011

Video game commercials are sometimes the most exciting part of watching TV. They are a brief reminder during the breaks of terrible shows that there is another far more interesting and engaging type of entertainment only a few remote clicks away. They’re also handy reminders that the games you are looking forward to are nearing release.

Some are great 30 second sizzle reels effective at hyping your favorite games, while others can be ambiguous head-scratching short films that represent very little of what make your favorite games exciting.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

Zelda is one of those franchises that don’t need a whole lot of explanation or background. It’s pretty clear what the commercial is for once you see the iconic sword and shield falling to the ground. People seem pretty calm about the odd hail falling from the sky, and some even pick up the weapons and start flailing them around, despite a ruined ceiling. I’m glad they opted to show someone actually playing the game too, as opposed to just showing gameplay. It lets people know what kind of physical activity they’re in for.


 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I like Skyrim, but I don’t like this commercial. Anytime gameplay footage isn't shown, I feel like there has been a disservice to the game. You don’t see commercials for films that don’t show footage from the movie, why should games be any different? If you’re familiar with Elder Scrolls, maybe this commercial gets you excited, but you probably were already, so there was really no need to make a commercial for you. The people who aren’t familiar with Elder Scrolls may think this looks interesting, but are they aware that this is actually a video game, and not a mediocre medieval fantasy film? Of course, the game has already sold 3.5 million copies so clearly, it really doesn’t matter what I think.



Portal 2
I don’t like that this commercial doesn’t show any gameplay from the actual game, but as a way to quickly establish what exactly Portal is, I think the commercial is effective. Watching the robots quickly discover how the portals work, and then showing them use them for traversal is outlined well. The music is also pretty amazing which certainly doesn’t hurt.



Super Mario 3D Land
Theses augmented reality Nintendo commercials always struck me as sort of odd, high concept short films designed to give you an idea of what it’s like to play a Nintendo game. I think, especially in the case of Super Mario 3D Land, it would have been better to just show 30 seconds of the game being played. Not even a montage of levels or anything, just 30 seconds of uninterrupted gameplay.



Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted smartly went for a montage, which is perfect. Show some of the game, show some of the performances, and ruin that one really amazing part of the game that takes place on the airplane. The less said about Drake’s involvement with Subway, the better.

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Battlefield 3
It’s a bold move to try and mix footage of your game with actual real world (albeit staged) military combat, but in this case I think it worked pretty well. No one is getting confused about what is real and what is gameplay, but they are close enough to make you take notice. It did a good job emphasizing one of the easiest selling points of the game: its graphics.



Forza Motorsport 4
I’ve never been a fan of hyper realistic racing games, but something about this commercial makes me want to jump in my very real car and drive to the store to pick up Forza 4, so that I can simulate driving in a car from the comfort of my couch. I think it’s the Kanye West soundtrack and the words at the bottom of the screen proclaiming “Actual Gameplay Footage.” It says to the watcher, seriously dude, this is what the game looks like. Why are you still sitting there?



Gran Turismo 5
There wasn’t much that could be done to relieve the sting of Gran Turismo’s long term delays, but seeing Kevin Butler commit grand theft auto is a pretty good consolation prize. I don’t know if it made anyone who hadn’t already decided to buy the game before they were done with Gran Turismo 4 run out and get it, but it certainly provided a good laugh.



Assassin’s Creed: Revelations
I don’t quite know what Adrian Peterson, BJ Penn, and Derrick Rose have to do with Assassin’s Creed, but I like the idea of personalizing everyone’s assassinating experiences. We also get a healthy dose of gameplay, and a quick reminder that Ezio is better than everyone at killing people.



Killzone 3

I’m a sucker for these Kevin Butler ads. I appreciate the running theme that has been established. If you see Butler on screen, you know you are seeing an ad for a PlayStation game, and they are usually genuinely funny. They have begun to wind down in their overall humor, but this one stands as one of my favorites. I think it’s the way he answers the phone and knocks over the snacks. It gets me every time.



Crysis 2
Crysis 2 should be a pretty easy game to advertise for, simply because of how gorgeous the game is. The commercial succeeds in that regard, showing off some of the best the game has to offer, but I always found the music to be inappropriate for the action. And the fact that the lyrics are about a disaster and the “bridges are falling,” lyric lines up with an actual bridge falling just cheapens the whole thing.

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Saints Row: The Third

Saint’s Row: The Third is ridiculous, and despite having a cheerleader punching cars with gigantic fists, I still feel like the commercial didn’t quite go far enough. It spends most of its time highlighting character creation, which is neat, but ultimately a very small part of the game. I love the quick joke at the end with Professor Genki, though. It’s weird and easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.



Dead Space 2
For my money, which in full disclosure I did willingly offer to EA when I purchased this game, this is the worst campaign for a video game in years. There are so many problems with this commercial, but I think the biggest is that the audience for Dead Space 2, gamers over the age of 18, do not give a single passing thought toward what their mothers think of their video games. They are well beyond the age of teenage rebellion. Also, Dead Space 2 is about terrifying encounters with monsters in outer space. The violence certainly plays a large role in that scare factor, but it’s not the main incentive to play the game. These commercials seem intent on convincing you that the violence is so offensive, that you simply must play it.



Infamous 2
This is definitely one of the weakest Butler commercials. I think it’s because the man writing the letter (or sending in the video message, I’m not entirely sure how these things work) isn’t a believable person. UltraGuy is a lame joke in itself, and when the biggest punchline is, “Cole is more of an underwear on the inside sort of hero,” it makes you wish that maybe they should have just shown 30 solid seconds of gameplay.



Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds
It would have been nice to see a little bit more gameplay here, but it's understandable considering the game. Any combat shown beyond the simple fighting would have just looked like a chaotic explosion of color and lights to the average consumer. Better to highlight some of the characters instead.



Bulletstorm

This is a confident commercial. It goes right for the throat of competing shooters, proclaiming its originality above all else. It certainly makes you take notice. It also shows actual footage from the game, which is always appreciated.

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Rage
Rage is a pretty game, and this basically shows off that aspect of the game. It's all in-game footage, which is appreciated, and it has a soundtrack that definitely appeals to the target audience. There's not much else to say really. It's a totally fine commercial.



L.A. Noire
L.A. Noire had a few commercials floating around the airwaves, and they were all good. It was really the swelling brass instruments at the beginning that set everything in motion. They basically used a trumpet to say, “hey! Look at this commercial!” and it worked. And then you see the weird, but also impressive digitally scanned faces, you’re already on your way to the store to pick up the game.



The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
Celebrity endorsements usually fall flat, but in the case of Ocarina of Time 3D with Robin Williams, it all seems genuine. It’s not Beyonce giggling at a DS, or Lisa Kudrow using the DS to cook a meal, it’s Robin Williams letting his inner nerd flag fly by sharing that he loved the Zelda series so much that he named his daughter after the titular character. Also that beard is phenomenal.



F.E.A.R. 3 (F3AR)
This is one of the more forgettable gaming commercials of 2011, but I do remember seeing it a lot for some reason. For a game called Fear (or as I liked to call it, fuh-three-are), it doesn't look very scary. It has some angry looking guys. Maybe the game should have been called "Angry."



Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The main draw of this commercial is the music. It’s haunting and memorable, and complements a man screaming while getting bionic arms surgically attached to his torso well. There isn’t any gameplay to be seen, but it offers a pretty good idea of what the game might be about.



Dead Island

Dead Island was one of the new IPs that premiered this year, and it did incredibly well setting itself up for what will undoubtedly be a whole slew of sequels. This is actually an extended version of the commercial commonly seen on TV, and I think this coupled with the emotional full CGI short film that premiered earlier this year have a huge hand in making the game successful. Also, it has zombies, and people seem to like zombies.



Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
I’m not quite sure who this commercial is for, but I am sure that it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The Modern Warfare 3 commercial could have just been 30 seconds of white text on a black screen that read, “Hey television consumer! Don’t forget about that new Call of Duty game!” and it still would have made over $750,000,000. The question still begs though, who is this for? Would a new Call of Duty consumer (if such a person exists) realize this is for a video game? Do old Call of Duty consumers really care about Jonah Hill’s mastery of the online multiplayer? I much prefer last year’s Black Ops commercials which added celebrities in a subtle sort of way, and emphasized how empowering it is to play against other people.

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