For many gamers, it’s in the commercial before it’s in the game. Consoles and their headline franchises have competed on graphics and technology for years. But their advertising has been just as competitive. Rivalry and ad agency creativity has meant some of the biggest video games have made their marks on pop culture through TV campaigns as much as in-game campaigns.
Many commercials have stood the test of time, outliving the games and consoles they promoted. We’ve picked out the best of the bunch, designed to capture the attention of fans, old and new. Here are the ten commercials that had us running to the nearest console.
Star Wars Battlefront II – Rivalry (2017)
A coming-of-age tale backed by John William’s space score? This commercial lives up to the hype. It’s a beautifully structured TV spot that holds a mirror up to the long relationship many of us have with Star Wars while adding a twist on high school romance. The space saga’s attempts at self-awareness haven’t always been successful, but this works because it never breaks the concept. Despite the hint of a teasing romance between the pair as they grow up, they’re no Han and Leia. Their rivalry escalates until the characters, and us, are propelled into Battlefront. On the way, it’s the little details that make it, from the branding on the moving truck to the Imperial klaxon calling from the Death Star treehouse.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas – Welcome To The Jungle (2004)
Few games have translated their formula to commercials this well. GTA’s seventh installment makes it look simple: take the game action and put it on the screen with a perfectly chosen song until a “Rated M for Mature” sign-off. Guns n’ Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle was inspired by the band’s West Coast Hell Tour, making it the perfect accompaniment for GTA’s shift to a fictional San Francisco. You could also find the song on Radio X in the 90s-set game.
Gears Of War – Mad World (2006)
The first Gears of War was the fastest-selling game of 2006, and this spectacular commercial played a big part in that. It was a change of direction for fast-paced shooters. The graphics show Marcus Fenix trading one impossible situation for an even worse one, set against Michael Andrews and Gary Jules’ haunting cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World. You don’t miss the sound effects for a second. It doesn’t hurt that the song came from 2001’s Donnie Darko, an association that showed game commercials were reaching a new level of maturity.
Dead Space 2 – Your Mom Hates Dead Space 2 (2011)
What is going to make you want to play a game more than your mom’s disapproval? Dead Space 2 capitalized on the reputation of the original game for this string of horrified vox pops. You’re ready for the gameplay footage after they’ve filmed the startled moms at slanted angles and in close-ups, making them look like they are part of a horror movie.
Assassins Creeds Odyssey – My Life As An NPC (2018)
It wasn’t the first jokey look at collateral damage, but Assassins Creed took it to a new level. This campaign focused on frantic interviews with the non-player characters who have no choice but to put up with the players’ actions. Yes, you did this. It’s all the better that they’re not period characters⏤they all speak as if they’re in the 21st century. It was so successful that publisher Ubisoft handed the reins of their social media over to the virtual characters who never usually get a voice. As they said, tongue-in-cheek, “The best influencers to promote a video game live in it.” Spare a thought for the other guys⏤and hope the franchise never reaches the age of TikTok.
Halo 3 – Believe (2012)
It just takes one movement. This commercial remains an epic peak for first-person shooters. The shots of a grueling diorama are beautifully framed. The frozen moments draw a line between classical wargaming and the scale of Bungie’s swansong Halo game. The action builds through the pounding piano of Chopin’s Raindrop until a shaft of light catches the familiar green armor of Master Chief. It all comes down to a knowing punchline. Every Halo fan understands what happens after the grenade glows and the visor glints. Any potential player is intrigued.
God Of War: Ascension – From Ashes (2013)
Another trip to Ancient Greece, where a franchise known for its movie-like qualities took inspiration from blockbusters like Gladiator. This intense Super Bowl spot tugs on the heartstrings as it focuses on the emotional drive at the heart of the series. Kratos’s violent journey is all about his backstory, and even the third time around, seeing the God of War covered in the ashes of his grief and anger retains its power. Out of the game, the context of his loss is ambiguous, but the “impossible odds” of that final shot are not.
Call Of Duty: Black Ops – There’s A Soldier In All Of Us (2010)
This commercial doesn’t just play the everyman card. It shows us that we’re all everymen. It manages to be brutal as it cuts comedy into the action. The message is clear: we’re all in the same position on Call of Duty’s battlefield, and we’re not alone. It keeps that focus while cramming in celebrities and different playing styles. The franchise would keep this tagline and approach going, including a big concept Las Vegas trailer for 2013’s Ghosts. But this one wins for the neat way it pulls in the in-game graphics.
FIFA 21 – Long Live The Prince (2021)
In a list packed with action and graphics, FIFA 21’s campaign shows the other side of video game commercials. In association with the Kiyan Prince Foundation, it moves from heart-wrenching to inspirational. Promising soccer player Kiyan was 15-years-old when he was tragically killed breaking up a knife fight in London, England. Adding him into the game as a playable character⏤realizing his potential⏤is a powerful statement. But the story that this spot packs into just under two minutes is incredible. As the game gives him the chance to have a career he deserved, the commercial lets his dad explain what it means.
Sony – Long Live Play “Michael” (2011)
A lot of commercials drag us into the action, but this epic puts us on a pedestal. Who wouldn’t want to drop into this exclusive club, where characters from Sony’s massive roster of games celebrate…Michael? A well-realized commercial that emphasizes the player while building on the brand’s strength. Most of the fun is spotting the characters, but it’s also a harsh reminder that we all need to work on our poses when we’re gaming.