Today’s topic was brought on by two things parked at opposite ends of the quality spectrum. The first was a pretty decent Gamespot interview with Aaron Staton, who plays L.A. Noire‘s lead character Cole Phelps. When I say ‘plays’, anyone who’s had even the slightest brush with the hype machine for the game knows what I mean: less voice acting, more just…acting. Gawp at the video if you haven’t seen it yet.
The second was this Youtube video, a brilliantly lip-synched celebration of the most tremendously cringe-inducing voice acting in gaming history. If you listen to nothing else, skip to 4:46 for a day-making chuckle. It’s magnificently awful.
So if you haven’t guessed, today is about people talking in games. Specifically, my favourite people who talk in games. Today I’m not too interested in script (though it helps) and not at all in how awesome a character is, but simply how well the actor behind them conveys that character to us. For what its worth, these are my picks…
Ellen McLain as GLaDOS in Portal 2 – Fun fact: Ellen McLain is the only person whose talents graced every game in The Orange Box: she’s the voice of the Combine Overwatch in Half Life 2 and its Episodes, the dastardly announcer in Team Fortress 2 and, most memorably of all, the passive-aggressive AI GlaDOS in Portal. There’s a reason fans love this character and McLain’s cold, monotone, but strangely emotional delivery is a huge part of that. In the recent Portal 2 she excelled herself, taking the character to bizarrely empathic new heights for a computer program. Given the quality of the acting from the rest of the game’s cast, it says quite something that McLain overshadowed them all.
Armin Shimerman as Andrew Ryan in Bioshock – For my money, Ryan is the best villain in recent gaming history. He’s an astounding visionary, a civilisation-founding pioneer, the greatest electrical engineer of his generation – and the tyrannical overlord of an underwater city in the grips of civil war. The clipped, enunciated authority that Shimerman gives this extremist politician is equal parts compelling and terrifying, presenting a chilling combination of intelligence and malice that many villains aspire to, but few have, and even fewer with such assurance as this. I was wondering recently which title I would show someone who dismissed games as mindless toys, and Bioshock was my answer, because of the strength of that opening speech – but it’s really something that has to be played for itself, not observed on Youtube. So here’s different clip of Ryan, on the topic of Altruism: many thanks to the user who posted this obscure clip.
Stephen Russell as Garrett in the Thief series – When Thief 4 was announced a couple of years ago, two of the immediate demands on its fledgling forum was A) that Garrett be the protagonist and B) that Stephen Russell voice him. That cynical, world-weary drawl earned the actor a legion of loyal fans and made Garrett one of the iconic characters of his era, a mantle which I hope he will pick up once more in the next game, his first new outing since 2004’s Deadly Shadows. In a game world dripping with arcane atmosphere and featuring technical audio that matches and outstrips many of today’s games, the voice work needed to special, but Russell, even with that bored, laconic style, dominates all else.
Mark Hamill as the Joker in Batman: Arkham Asylum – Incredible voice acting, but established on the TV animated series, so no dice, Mr. Hamill.
Keeley Hawes as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider Legend, Anniversary and Underworld & Guardian of Light – Dealing with a legendary character is no easy feat, but when Crystal Dynamics overhauled the series in Legend they found the voice that should have been Lara’s all along.
Yuri Lowenthal as the Prince of Persia in The Sands of Time and The Two Thrones – A character I’m permanently attached to thanks to the naïve yet courageous heroism conveyed by Lowenthal. I still haven’t played The Forgotten Sands yet, and the voice over is one of the main reasons I want to.