I mentioned last week about voice actors and the lack of recognition they receive for the outstanding job they do… I can’t quite remember when it was because I’ve slept a fair bit since then, maybe midweek sometime?
Anyway, just check it out and get up to speed.
Now, let me shovel a heap of contradictory irony down your throats. If you read my post, I spoke very briefly about film stars and other celebrities picking up major roles in video games. Due to them being more ‘popular’ and mainstream, these celebs usually end up stealing the limelight from voice actors who perhaps deserve it much more. I’m looking at you Conor McGregor, for you’re laughable role in Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
Of course, there are some awful performances in video game voice acting by people you would perhaps expect more of. When I saw Conor McGregor in the game’s trailer, I feared the worst. Clearly, he’s never going to set the world alight, and his inclusion in the game was certainly more of a marketing ploy than anything else. Thankfully, he doesn’t have any lines and keeps his lovable Irish accent to himself. The developer’s must has told him “You’ll do nuttin’… other than provided your likeness and some motion capture“, which I can deal with. Ha-ha, I couldn’t resist there. Let’s not forget Lewis Hamilton’s little cameo, what on Earth is going on with these?
Some of the other bad ones include the likes of Matthew Perry’s role in Fallout: New Vegas. Ahh Benny, what a flat, boring and rushed performance that was. We expected sarcastic Chandler Bing, but got absolute trash from a guy who clearly had somewhere else to be instead.
It pains me to bring this one up as well, but it is notoriously bad. In fact, it could be the worst video game performance ever. It’s Peter Dinklage in Destiny. As Game of Thrones’ Tyrion Lannister, Dinklage is funny, empathetic, and complex. As Destiny’s Ghost he’s detached, boring, and, to put it technically, just plain awful. So bad that it was patched out of the game entirely, although you could argue that because of his filming schedule he was unable to provide additional voiceover content for DLC. Either way, instead of listening to Dinklage’s dull tones, players now have the luscious vocals of legendary voice actor Nolan North to guide them through the game.
Despite all of this, there are still plenty of occasions where big-name actors have done incredible jobs in video games. So I’m going to do another list. This list isn’t dedicated to just Hollywood stars that have applied their skills to games, it’s just that the list will certainly include a couple of them, so I just felt the need to justify their inclusion before I started, especially as it kind of contradicts what I’ve previously said about traditional voice actors not getting the recognition they deserve.
Lets have some honourable mentions before we get started:
SETH GREEN – Joker (Mass Effect Trilogy)
WES JOHNSON – Sheogorath (The Elder Scrolls series)
SAMUEL L JACKSON – Officer Tenpenny (GTA: San Andreas)
STEPHEN MERCHANT – Wheatley (Portal 2)
ASHLEY JOHNSON – Ellie (The Last Of Us)
ELIJAH WOOD – Spyro The Dragon (The Legend Of Spyro)
DAVE FENNOY – Lee Everett (The Walking Dead)
AARON STATON – Cole Phelps (L.A. Noire)
MARTIN SHEEN – The Illusive Man (Mass Effect 2 & 3)
KRISTEN BELL – Lucy Stillman (Assassin’s Creed)
CHARLES DANCE – Emhyr var Emreis (The Witcher 3)
MICHAEL IRONSIDE – Sam Fisher (Splinter Cell)
ROB WIETHOFF – John Marston (Red Dead Redemption)
Writing up this list has been really difficult, but at the same time it’s been a lot of fun. How some of the honourable mentions didn’t make it onto this list I’ll never know; I suppose if I wrote this out on another day things would be different. It was really tight in some decisions, but here it is.
Here’s my all-time top-10 list of memorable voice over performances:
10) JENNIFER LEE TAYLOR – Cortana (Halo)
Despite Halo 4 being the worst in the series – I’m not even going to say it’s in my opinion, it’s blatantly obvious – it did a wonderful job of building upon the relationship between Master Chief and the sexiest artificial intelligence going. Cortona has been a prominent part of the Halo series since the beginning, but Jennifer Lee Taylor’s stellar performance in Halo 4 was top-drawer, her acting talent aided in making the slow-winding descent of an AI into madness feel believable and above all empathetic. Sardonic, helpful and somewhat comical, Cortana was the relief we needed when battles became overbearing. Jen Taylor’s voice over for Cortana was easy to fall in love with. Taylor’s performance in Halo 4 only made us more occupied with finding Doctor Catherine Halsey, and hoping she could save our helpful heroine before it was too late. It was a sombre end for such an iconic character, but at least she went out with a bang.
09) LIAM NEESON – James/Dad (Fallout 3)
Throughout my childhood, Qui-Gon Jinn always reminded me of my father. So much so that I’ve since said that if there was ever a film about my Dad’s life, I’d want Liam Neeson to play him. So when my rather odd fantasy became half-true in Fallout 3, I could weirdly relate to my new father figure. It wasn’t just me who enjoyed Neeson’s performance as he earned critical acclaim for it. The creators of the game were hoping that he would take the role from as early as the development stages, writing the character with his voice in mind. Executive producer Todd Howard was happy with the decision, noting that Neeson “provides a dramatic tone for the entire game”.
Although James’s ‘screen-time’ is relatively short, Neeson is incredibly memorable. But seriously, he’s a Jedi, he’s trained Batman, he munched on White Witch of Narnia’s face, he’s king of the Greek Gods AND he raised The Lone Wanderer. Why on Earth would you choose to kidnap his daughter in the Taken films? Just bad luck I suppose.
08) KEVIN SPACEY – Jonathan Irons (Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare)
Out of every Hollywood actor on this list, it would be fair to argue that Kevin Spacey is the biggest, especially in such a prominent role. Despite my growing hatred for this run of games (in my opinion, their downfall started with Call Of Duty: Black Ops), Jonathan Irons is one of the best villains in the series. Spacey voiced and provided performance capture for the role. Irons functions as both a supporting character to the player and later, as the primary antagonist. In a game known more for it’s multiplayer experience, the storyline particularly shone for me and this was no doubt wholly down to Spacey’s performance. The game features the voice of Troy Baker too, a guy I have a sneaky suspicion will pop up somewhere else on this list… maybe more than once.
07) ELLEN PAGE – Jodie Holmes (Beyond: Two Souls)
Well known for her roles in films such as Juno, Inception and X-Men, Ellen Page also provided the voice acting, motion capture, and likeness for Jodie Holmes in Beyond: Two Souls. The game itself is less of a game, and more of an interactive movie. It may be on rails with little freedom, but Ellen Page coupled with William Defoe is certainly a force to be reckoned with. Page plays a character who is a broken and confused young lady who struggles to understand her supernatural powers. The story is all over the place, told in non-linear fragments, skipping from end to beginning to middle and back again. But a strong emotional core is maintained throughout thanks to Page’s moving performance.
06) NOLAN NORTH – Nathan Drake (Uncharted series)
Right, I have a confession – I’m not the world’s biggest Uncharted fan. However, I can appreciate a good performance when I see one, and Nolan North’s character has a distinctly light-hearted persona that I enjoyed. Nathan Drake at times is incredibly relatable, particularly in the way that he tackles the situations he lands himself into. He complains, but completes them regardless, much like the rest of us in our mundane lives. He reminded me very much of Indiana Jones, but I suppose this is a game that’s taken a lot from that set of movies. Despite the Uncharted series not being my favourite, I loved North’s portrayal of Drake, he’s witty, light-humoured and very believable. Nathan Drake is a protagonist that’s full of charisma with a wonderfully written script. Even 9 years on from his debut, Drake is the very embodiment of all of cinema’s classic adventurers and that’s a huge credit to Nolan North and the game’s writers.
05) STEVEN OGG – Trevor Phillips (Grand Theft Auto: V)
There have been some memorable characters through Grand Theft Auto’s history, but few more so than Trevor. He suits GTA perfectly in that he actually embodies the sociopathic tendencies that gamers are so often drawn to commit during their play-throughs. He’s insane. He’s a lunatic. He’s disgusting. He’s barbaric. He even killed one of the series’ best loved characters, and yet, we still love him. Why? Well, it’s largely down to Steven Ogg’s performance. Was it a role made for Ogg, or was Ogg made for the role? I’d be tempted to say the latter. Since the game’s release in 2013, Ogg has gone on to perform bigger roles in Hollywood. Most notably appearing in TV shows Westworld, Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead.
Trevor’s character is written superbly and has the perfect voice and likeness in Steven Ogg. From his sick humour, to the hilariously inappropriate character-swap sequences, you just cannot dislike this guy.
04) ELLEN MCLAIN – GlaDOS (Portal & Portal 2)
I was so very tempted to have Stephen Merchant on the list for his role as Wheatley in Portal 2, but when compared to Ellen McLain there was no way I could justify it. Not only to myself, but to Timlah over at GeekOut South West. GLaDOS already has a well-deserved spot on the podium of gaming’s most iconic villains, with her instantly identifiable robotic voice providing both laughs and scares, in perhaps the most quotable gaming series of all time. McLain’s Auto-Tune-esque delivery for GLaDOS made us laugh, angered us and surprised us. Little did we know that GLaDOS actually meant us ill will, and McLain did a great job of disguising that through laughable and witty dialogue. McLain gave life to a rather lifeless character in such a way that we only killed her because we were forced to.
03) MARK HAMILL – The Joker (Batman: Arkham Asylum & Arkham City)
DER! DERR! DER-DER-DER-DEERRR-DER!
Obviously, that was my take on the Star Wars theme. Yes, Luke Skywalker is on the list.
Rocksteady’s Arkham series easily ranks among the best adaptations of Batman ever made, in any medium I might add. No other superhero game has captured the feeling of being a vigilante quite like their sprawling action noir trilogy. The intense and intuitive combat system and intelligent stealth-based mechanics make the Arkham games some of the best the current generation of consoles has to offer. But the games would be nothing without a strong performance from the primary antagonist. The developers hit the jackpot, casting Mark Hamill as the Clown Prince of Crime, The Joker. Though Hamill voiced the character numerous times in animated features and television, Arkham Asylum was his first video game performance and he really delivered. To me, Hamill’s Joker is as iconic as Heath Ledger’s and Jack Nicholson’s. They’re great in their own ways and Hamill’s is more of a more cartoony, gleefully evil Joker than the darker movie versions, and this is a version that perfectly complements the mood of the games.
02) TROY BAKER – Joel (The Last Of Us)
The Last of Us is renowned for it’s moving narrative. With the remarkable performances of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson only further adding to this. Baker’s role as Joel cemented the tone, leading to themes of release and grief, and in doing so created one of the most memorable and gut-wrenching openings to a title in recent memory. From here, the game only got better and better, but those jaw-dropping opening scenes certainly set the level for the game and we quickly realised that the title we were on to something beautiful. Touching back on that opening scene, Baker’s phenomenal acting immediately informed its audience just how mature and emotionally challenging the title was going to be.
01) MICHAEL MANDO – Vaas Montenegro (Far Cry 3)
This guy was always going to be on this list but I immensely struggled with where to rank him. In the end, I went with my gut and I’ve placed him here, atop of the tree. Seriously though, whether you agree with me or not, who could forget Vaas as a character from Far Cry 3? Or indeed, his iconic monologue? The crazy way that Michael Mando divulges Einstein’s definition of insanity helped to propel the character to the height of popularity. As well as that, I’m fairly confident that the series owes most of its recent success to this character and the foundations he has laid. It’s just a shame that since then, despite Ubisoft’s best efforts, no enemy since has been quite as iconic. Troy Baker had a decent attempt when voicing Pagan Min in Far Cry 4, but for me, it just doesn’t trump Vaas – his delivery of every single line was just perfect. The real crime in all of this is that Vaas is killed off pretty early on in the game and replaced by an antagonist who’s pretty sterile in comparison.
Any one scene involving the character could shift from calm tranquility to unfettered anger in a moment, which truly emphasised just how much of a danger he could be. On top of this, Mando displays some truly remarkable range in the role, which just completely eclipses the other talents involved in the game’s production. To make things even better the actor portrayed the role in a live-action web series, showing that Vaas is a terrifying personality to witness not just behind the microphone, but in front of the camera as well.
Man, that was tough.
So that’s my list, what’s yours? Let me know what your favourite ever voice acting performance is!