The past year was pivotal for games in a number of ways. Indie development continues to grow, opening up new experiences to a wider audience. Games have started to make us think, bringing out emotional gameplay that has never been seen before. Narrative styles are continuing to diversify, showing levels of depth and creativity that were not around in previous eras of games.
And yet, however great these and other improvements were in 2012, there is one thing that seemingly improves year after year — voice acting in video games.
Sure, there were examples of poorly executed VOs (I’m looking at you NeverDead, Kinect Star Wars, and Resident Evil 6), but there will always be games that do not fully illustrate the strides that the industry has made towards progress.
The outlook for the continued improvement of narratives in games and the voices to accompany them is promising. 2013 will assuredly perpetuate the positive trend with titles like: The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, BioShock Infinite, Metro: Last Light, and South Park: The Stick of Truth, not to mention a plethora of others. As great as it is to look ahead, let’s venture into what titles truly made 2012 another great year for voice acting in the games industry.
Without further ado, here are the 2012 winners:
BEST VOICE ACTING
1. Borderlands 2: This video is just a brief example as to why Borderlands 2 is the first game on this list. Each character plays their role as if it was going to be their last, being humorous and serious when the occasion calls for it. The VO work of the actors in Borderlands 2 is part of what makes it such a unique title that players can enjoy time and time again.
2. Mass Effect 3: Mass Effect 3…man. Besides the performances of both Mark Meer and Jennifer Hale, the sheer scope of the universe means that hundreds of characters are part of it. Each character that comes across Shepard on his/her path throughout the universe has some sort of interesting dialogue that lends itself to the atmosphere of the game and further expands the lore. Most everyone at Gameverse made sure to stop for every quest when playing through the game, myself included if for nothing other than to hear more dialogue.
3. Max Payne 3: I personally believe that this game did not grab the audience that it should have, but Max Payne 3 is one of the better games I have played this generation. The Houser brothers sure as hell know how to write a game, and Max Payne 3 is no exception. I felt bad for Max the entire time I was playing — he was an alcoholic with a decomposing lifestyle that was always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Max’s character (played by James McCaffrey) could have easily been on our “Best Individual Performances” list, and the others working around him performed equally well.
4. Sleeping Dogs: There are not many games that have immersed me as well as Sleeping Dogs. Part of it was surely the authenticity that United Front Games brought to their version of Hong Kong, but it was the way that the characters spoke to and of each other that truly makes me want to visit the actual city. The characters were varied and spoke an interesting blend of Cantonese and English, and the writing gave them an engaging conduit for their work.
5. The Walking Dead: Every character in The Walking Dead has some sort of impact on Lee, Clementine, or both and affect choices that the player has to make accordingly. Interactions with other people in The Walking Dead range from nerve-wracking to darkly comical, but each carries with it some form of governance by the player, making every discussion personal for whatever player is at the helm of Lee.
6. Assassin’s Creed III: Assassin’s Creed III’s many talented VO actors brought further authenticity to the Revolution-era atmosphere of the game. Historically accurate vernacular further propelled the believability for the player, not the very least of which was Connor’s impressive performance.
7. Far Cry 3: Vaas Montenegro is one of the main reasons that Fry Cry 3 is on this list, but the actors portraying Rook Island citizens and the other colorful characters within this interesting island realm kept the audio entertaining from start to finish. Even Jason Brody and his yuppie friends showcased character traits outside of what was expected from the game, leaving us impressed by the wide range of emotion in Far Cry 3.
8. Halo 4: The complementary cast was excellent as they always have been, but this time around the focus on Master Chief and Cortana were especially brilliant. Halo 4 is by far the best vocal showcase for each character, and the one-on-one interactions between the two have never been so engaging.
9. Spec Ops: The Line: Nolan North sounding like Nolan North is still a concept I can get behind after playing through Spec Ops: The Line. As he and his fellow soldiers progress further into the dilapidated ruins of Dubai, the dialogue between each of them becomes more and more chilling to listen to. The way that these characters break down is something that needs to be experienced, as the voice-overs and writing made for an alarming experience that will stick with players long after they finish the game.
10. Call of Duty: Black Ops II: Alright, more Nolan North! Call of Duty: Black Ops II may not have differentiated itself much from previous entries in terms of gameplay, but the vocals for the game were still top notch. Regardless of your opinions on the story, each character lends their part exactly as you would expect them too, something that is perfectly fine for a title of this nature.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES BY FEMALES
1. Clementine – Melissa Hutchison: Poor Clem. Stuck in a world surrounded by the dead and a number of living who are far more deadly, Clementine and Lee Everett meet early on in the game and forge a relationship from then on. Lee acts as a protector and father-figure of sorts towards Clementine, where each interaction between the two has weight and meaning. Her wide range of emotions and realistic sense of character are what truly make Clementine an outstanding character that players invest in emotionally. Despite being 37 years old, Melissa Hutchison perfectly represents the fear of being a young child in an unsure world and makes Clementine the most lovable character of 2012, if not one of the more memorable of the last decade.
2. Commander Shepard – Jennifer Hale: Not to take anything away from Mark Meer, but Jennifer Hale’s performance of Commander Shepard holds a special kind of resonance in the Mass Effect universe. She carries each line with a sense of pertinence that aligns well with the gravity and weight of each of the games. Hale also carries Shepard’s other traits within her voice-work — leadership, determination, compassion — and it makes the Mass Effect experience positively immersive.
3. Cortana – Jen Taylor: Not to discredit the acting of Mackenzie Mason that breathed life into the motions of Cortana, but Jen Taylor is what truly made the character into what she is. Having played the character for over 10 years now, Taylor’s performance is an even more involved continuation as the rogue AI behind the curtains of Master Chief’s actions.
4. Lilith/Patricia Tannis/Captain Scarlett – Colleen Clinkenbeard: Of all the Borderlands 2 characters that Clinkenbeard has played, Captain Scarlett from the first DLC pack Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty is by far our favorite. I think most players are fans of the deranged and borderline psychopathic Patricia Tannis, but Captain Scarlett is the sort of nefarious anti-villain that gives Borderlands its distinct personality. The fact that Clinkenbeard does each of these voices (in addition to one of the protagonists from the original game and her reprisal, Lilith) is no small feat on its own. But that they are all wildly funny and fit perfectly into the world of Pandora is a great touch.
5. Aveline de Grandpré – Amber Goldfarb: The game may not have performed up to technical — and likely sales — expectations, but Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation was still a unique entry for the Vita and within the Assassin’s Creed world. Amber Goldfarb’s portrayal of the multi-cultural Aveline de Grandpré was a natural addition to the worldly portrayals of the Assassin’s Creed games and characters. Her experience as a trilingual actress made Aveline’s dialogue rich and enjoyable to listen to and brought legitimacy to the voicing within the game.
BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES BY MALES
1. Vaas Montenegro – Michael Mando: Vaas Montenegro was easily the most vicious, complicated, and intriguing villain of 2012 and is one of the more interesting bad guys of the last decade, games or otherwise. Within the dangerous jungles of the Rook Islands, the protagonist’s encounters with Vaas are harrowing and compelling experiences that leave their mark on the player. Michael Mando was the actor portrayal, voice, and likeness of Vaas, and he turns his persona into an incredibly complex evil. The plot in Far Cry 3 may have fallen off a bit after the introduction of the game, but Mando’s constant ability to keep Vaas captivating made the playthrough more than worth it.
2. Handsome Jack – Dameon Clarke: I would venture to guess that you had no idea Dameon Clarke voiced Gohan and Cell from Dragon Ball Z at various points in his career. Yeah, we didn’t either. What we do know, however, is that he brought life to one of the most purely evil villains in recent memory. The writing for Jack was dastardly, sure, but Clarke truly embodied the chaos and madness that his character brought to the world of Pandora.
3. Connor Kenway (Ratonhnhaké:ton) – Noah Watts: Assassin’s Creed III may have had faults (many, many faults…), but many of the voice-overs were not among them. Noah Watts’ performance was a brilliant counterpoint to the many marred ambient performances, and gave a level of depth and development to Connor that hands-down exceeded the rest of the cast.
4. Wei Shen – Will Yun Lee: Wei Shen is not an ordinary police officer. Being installed deep into a branch of the Triads, he was forced to emulate their culture based on his own background. The traits of his character bring out the best in the actor assigned to play his part, Will Yun Lee. Lee’s portrayal of the unpredictable Shen fits perfectly for the character and stands well next to a lot of other expert performances.
5. Lee Everett – Dave Fennoy: Lee is a character full of conflict, strife, regret, and compassion. A convicted murderer turned guardian, Lee’s poise is a perfect complement to Clementine, the young girl that he aims to protect in a world ruled by the dead. Fennoy does a great job in each of the interactions he has with other characters, and gives Lee’s thoughts more weight when the character is alone. Considering how much of The Walking Dead is character and story driven, it is easy to recognize the wonderful voice acting that Fennoy provides.
FIFA 13 – Martin Tyler, Clive Tyldesley, Alan Smith, and Andy Townsend provided spectacular English-language commentary on play that felt dynamic and fluid, almost as if players were watching a live match. Commentators for other languages also did a superb job at lending realism to the sports simulator, but the presentation of FIFA 13 was truly one of its finer points.
WEIRDEST VOICE ACTING
Dust: An Elysian Tail – Dust is an awesome game (and you really should play it), but the voice acting and the writing are on two completely different levels. I’m a fan of some of the voice-work, but then HOLY HELL, FIDGET! A few of the other characters also have this odd high-pitched, someone-is-holding-a-gun-to-my-head desperation in their tones, although the characters do have an interesting place within the game and the voice-work is likely a reflection of that.
Madden NFL 13
WORST VOICE ACTING
NeverDead: It is difficult to have any good words for NeverDead as a product, whether you are discussing its gameplay, writing, or voice-work. It is a broken game at its core, but that does not excuse the awful VO performances. I can’t imagine the actors saw this as something other than a paycheck, because the writing itself is pretty damn bad. Repetitive, grunt-worthy one-liners and constant narration of things the player is currently experiencing make for an auditory experience best left ignored.
A lot of people put hard-worked hours into this game. A shame, really.
Nothing else. Maybe Postal III if you include the Steam release being in 2012, but that is a stretch.
We hope you enjoyed the results, and please feel free to chime in with your opinions below. We’ll be running this feature again next year, but in the meantime be sure to check out the games on this list!