By definition, the goal of marketing a video game is to sell copies of that game. But some game makers are more honest than others about what the games will actually look and play like when you get your hands on them. That means when you see early trailers of games, you can’t always assume the finished product will look exactly like the promotional material.
Sometimes there are valid reasons for why a game looks different in a trailer than it does in real life. Plans change, and game development hurdles can pop up at any time, limiting the amount of resources a game maker can put into graphics or other things. So keep that in mind as you look at the differences between the promise and the reality of the games below.
1. Watch Dogs
When developer Ubisoft unveiled Watch Dogs at E3 2012, it looked like a truly revolutionary game that would let players roam the streets of Chicago and hack into anything digital. The city at your command, as it were. And the graphics? This was before the current crop of consoles was even announced, but it was clear the game was running on some top-tier hardware.
Cut to the game’s 2014 release, and it turned out to be a competent but fairly boring open-world game that wowed just about no one. Worse yet, the graphics seem to have gotten a serious downgrade over the two years of development, both on console and on PC. What gives? Who knows.
2. No Man’s Sky
There’s a reason No Man’s Sky was hyped through the roof before it came out: It looked incredible every time Sony showcased it. The gameplay demo above is from the game’s E3 2014 debut. It bears some resemblance to the finished game, but not in the ways that matter: the density of alien life, color variety of the planets, and the epic space battle the character flies through.
In the actual game, most planets are essentially monochromatic, and much more sparsely populated. When you use your ship to explore the surface of a planet, the rock formations are constantly fading in right in front of you. Wherever this early footage came from, it didn’t come from the game on the shelf now.
3. Rainbow Six Siege
Watch Dogs isn’t the only time Ubisoft has premiered a game at an E3 with high-end graphics only to have the shipped game come in looking significantly worse. It happened again at E3 2014, when Ubisoft debuted the first gameplay shown for Rainbow Six Siege. Watch the video above; it looks fantastic. Now check out what the game that was released looks like. It’s fine, but nowhere near as stunning as the debut video.
4. The Division
We’re definitely seeing a trend here with Ubisoft games looking significantly worse in their finished form than they do at their E3 showings. With The Division, it’s remarkable how much less detail, and how much less stuff is present in each scene. Also noticeable are the downgraded lighting effects and severely limited reflections visible in puddles and windows.
Game Informer published the first images of the original Borderlands in the September 2007 issue. At the time, it looked like a pretty standard military shooter, complete with realistic graphics. That look remained when the game was shown off at E3 2008, which you can see in the video above.
By the time the game was shown off again in 2009, it was obvious that a major graphical overhaul had taken place, giving the game into the cel-shaded look we know today. It turned out pretty well, all things considered, but the finished product looks almost nothing like what was first advertised.
6. Far Cry 4
I don’t know what kind of supercomputers Ubisoft runs its E3 demos on, but it’s a lot more powerful than the PCs anyone else seems to have. Once again, notice the difference between the lighting effects, fog effects, and general clarity you can see in the video above. The finished game of Far Cry 4 looks great. But not as great as the E3 demonstration.
7. Halo: Combat Evolved
Halo is synonymous with Microsoft now, so you might be wondering why it’s Steve Jobs who first introduced it to the world. It turns out developer Bungie used to make games for Mac. That’s when the company began working on the game that would become Halo: Combat Evolved. It was originally going to be a real-time strategy game, but when Microsoft swooped in and bought the company, hoping for a “killer app” to sell the original Xbox, Bungie switched direction.
Halo isn’t a great real-time strategy game because, as we all know, Halo didn’t end up being a real-time strategy game. It’s a first-person shooter, one that was key in paving the way for all the shooters we know and love today, thanks to its groundbreaking use of dual analog sticks. Still, if you were hoping for a strategy game from Halo in 2001, you had to wait a long time before getting something similar with Halo Wars in 2009.