The latest installment in the popular Mass Effect series is upon us, and the highly cinematic style of the launch trailer makes it easy to forget that it is promoting a video game. And while this aesthetic has quickly become commonplace in the video game trailer world, in the case of Mass Effect: Andromeda the cinematic style of the trailer is more than a demarcation of the current trend in the medium, but a reflection of the in-game experience itself. Gamers familiar with the series know that Mass Effect games rely heavily on the use of cut scenes as a storytelling mechanism. However, unlike most games, these cut scenes vary dramatically because the trajectory of the narrative itself is contingent on the choices the player makes throughout the game. Just as the title of the series suggests, Mass Effect is about the stakes and consequences of said choices, and for those who are in the know, this theme is coded in the trailer music.
The trailer begins with the delicate sounds of strings, filling the void of outer space as the camera zooms out in quiet contemplation. Before long however, the orchestration fills out and the music shifts with earnest and intensity as the narration outlines a dire situation and the need for a leader. At :19, the music cuts and the strings hang in anticipation, interrupted by the sound of the protagonist cocking his gun, cuing Rag’n’BoneMan’s song Human. The all-too-familiar story of the inexperienced leader, reluctantly taking the helm rings true as the lyrics sing, “Maybe I’m foolish, maybe I’m blind, thinking I can see through this, see what’s behind, got no way to prove it, so maybe I’m blind…” The footage is synchronised in perfect time with the music, cutting from scene to scene on the downbeat.
The lyrics cut away and are replaced with the voice of the protagonist, accompanied by the prominent thumping of the drums as the keys and strings maintain the momentum of the harmonic progression of the song. When the lyrics enter again, it becomes imminently apparent why the trailer house chose this specific song to accompany the game’s launch trailer. Rag’n’Bone sings, “I’m only human after all, I’m only human after all, don’t put the blame on me, don’t put the blame on me.” The Mass Effect games are intergalactic stories about the struggle for power across species, with humankind caught in the middle. As such, it is up to the protagonist to make choices throughout the game that seal the fate of entire colonies and to navigate ethical dilemmas not dissimilar to those we grapple with in the real world. The song echoes the sympathetic plight of the player. The song later reiterates, “I’m only human I make mistakes, I’m only human that’s all it takes to put the blame on me, don’t put the blame on me.”
At the time of this writing, the launch trailer for Mass Effect: Andromeda has amassed over 2.6 million views on YouTube in two short weeks. The makers of Mass Effect recognize the importance of the franchise’s salient themes to their audience, as made evident by their prominence in Andromeda’s trailer music. For fans, immersion in this “choose your own adventure” series relies on the game’s ability to recreate an experience that is inherently human.
- Andrew Sproule