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It’s no coincidence that many of the best performances this year came from games that are also fighting for Game of the Year awards all across the web. In short: If you’re trying to make a compelling narrative experience, make sure you have some good voice actors and actresses to bring your characters to life. While bad acting by itself isn’t enough to ruin a game, it can destroy the stories that developers work so hard to build.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the best and worst performances (along with some minor spoilers) that 2013 had to offer.
The best of the year
Drippy (from Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch)
Drippy (Steffan Rhodri) catches you off guard the moment you first meet him. I expected a high-pitched, nasally voice — something that would fit his diminutive frame. Instead, the Lord High Lord of the Fairies blurted out a torrent of words covered in a thick and abrasive Welsh accent. It takes some time getting used to (I had to turn on subtitles just to keep up), but you don’t have to know what all his “muns” and “tidys” mean to appreciate the offbeat humor he brings to this colorful role-playing game (read our review here).
The Narrator (from The Stanley Parable)
On the grand spectrum of video game narrators, with Portal’s psychopathic GlaDOS on one end and the verbal hugs from Stephen Fry in LittleBigPlanet on the other, The Stanley Parable’s narrator sits somewhere in the middle. British actor Kevan Brighting lures you in with his friendly tone. But that changes as soon as you attempt to deviate from his carefully prepared script (which the game encourages you to do). He’ll break the fourth wall to scold you, push you in what he thinks is the right direction, wonder aloud why you keep touching everything, and more. And he’ll leave you laughing along the way.
Joel and Ellie (from The Last of Us)
Even without its zombie-like Clickers, The Last of Us is a terrifying examination of what happens to humanity in a postapocalyptic world. Shouldering much of that emotional burden are its two main characters, Joel (Troy Baker) and Ellie (Ashley Johnson), who through the course of the story learn that they need each other to survive.
In this video, you get a sense of the spine-tingling chemistry that Troy and Ashley share as their characters butt heads for the nth time.
Trevor (from Grand Theft Auto V)
One major change Grand Theft Auto V made from past entries in the open-world crime series is introducing not one but three main characters: Michael (Ned Luke), Franklin (Shawn Fonteno), and Trevor (Steven Ogg). While all three were excellent, making their dysfunctional trio seem almost lovable at times, Trevor is the clear stand-out. Ogg’s explosive character has the uncanny ability to make you laugh and crawl under your skin at the same time.
You can see both sides of Trevor in this scene with Patricia, the wife of an infamous drug lord that he abducted, held hostage, and ultimately fell in love with.
Elizabeth (from BioShock Infinite)
BioShock Infinite has a wealth of talented actors to choose from — including Troy Baker’s Booker and the Lutece Twins (Jennifer Hale and Oliver Vaquer) — but the heart of its dark tale, and its one constant amid a series of plot twists, is Elizabeth. Actress Courtnee Draper gives an incredibly nuanced performance as Elizabeth, changing and evolving throughout the story. The Elizabeth seen here with her child-like innocence no longer exists in the latter stages, when she’s struggling with the implications of her powers.
You actually care about her well-being, and the quest to break her out of the floating city of Columbia becomes much more personal because of it.
Keith David (from Saints Row IV)
Few celebrities get to play themselves in a video game, much less in a game about a gang that has somehow taken over the White House and now must defend the Earth from an alien invasion. But that’s exactly what actor Keith David signed up for in Saints Row IV. As GamesBeat contributor Gavin Greene points out, “The man’s baritone lends the perfect amount of clout to a ridiculous game.”
Jodie (from Beyond: Two Souls)
Putting in A-list actors in your game doesn’t always guarantee success (as the next page shows), but for developer Quantic Dreams, Beyond: Two Souls is better because of their inclusion. Ellen Page makes Jodie Holmes, a character who can interact with the spiritual world through an entity known as Aiden, feel relatable. It’s a feat made more impressive when you consider that she’s portraying the character at dramatically different stages in her life.
The worst of the year
Daryl Dixon (from The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct)
Daryl Dixon is one of the most popular characters on AMC’s zombie drama, The Walking Dead, so it was a natural fit to see him star in the game based on the show. Unfortunately, actor Norman Reedus didn’t seem all that enthusiastic about the project: It sounds like he’s just rushing through his lines. But he can take comfort in knowing that the voice acting was the least of Survival Instinct’s problems.
Bishop (from Aliens: Colonial Marines)
Aliens: Colonial Marines ends with Bishop uttering three simple words in the most robotic way possible: “We got everything.” You can almost hear actor Lance Henriksen slapping himself in the head out of disgust, boredom, or both. It sounds like he just gave up.
In a way, I don’t blame him. Henriksen’s return to one of his most iconic roles proved much less than triumphant with Colonial Marine’s shoddy shooting mechanics and a dull story that only complicates the mythos established in the films.
Mika (from Killer is Dead)
Mika (Stephanie Sheh) is what happens when you attempt to cram several anime tropes into one character. Her exaggerated naiveté and squeaky voice make you want to slice your ears off. One of the most captivating mysteries in Killer is Dead is why Mondo Zappa, its katana-wielding hero, continues to keep his annoying assistant around.
Ghat, Rimat, and almost every villager (from Zeno Clash II)
I’ve never played the Zeno Clash games, so I won’t even pretend to know what’s going in the video, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the acting is pretty horrible. In just one minute, you’ll hear the generic, gritty voice of the main character, Ghat (Eric Gusky), the emotionless performance of his sister, Rimat (Elyse Poppers), and a cast of secondary characters that sound so bad it makes you wonder how they got their jobs at all.
Joel McHale (from this year’s VGX awards show)
OK, the Spike TV’s VGX awards show isn’t a game, but we’re counting it anyways. A few weeks ago, many gamers brandished their pitch forks and lit their torches when they saw comedian Joel McHale co-hosting the VGX. I like McHale’s work on shows like Community, and I believe his fellow cohost and game journalist, Geoff Keighley, when he said that McHale is actually an enthusiastic gamer. But the man’s brand of humor just didn’t mesh at all with the program. Some of his jokes sounded like they were just making fun of the audience for watching the show in the first place.
He (or maybe VGX’s writing staff) even scraped together tired stereotypes about reclusive basement-dwelling nerds and adult diapers to make his point. Yuck.
Anything we missed?
This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the good and bad performances in gaming this year. What were your favorite moments and why? Let us know in the comments!