Gaming hasn’t always had the sky-high production values it has enjoyed in the past five years. Visuals have improved immeasurably over time, but voice acting has always lagged considerably behind. Below we’ll investigate some of the worst offenders. Click on the game titles for examples, especially that god awful old woman from The Witcher.
Japanese ports used to suffer more than most, seemingly choosing from a small pool of average to bad actors. The most successful game with the worst voice acting I can think of would be the original Resident Evil, which really went the extra mile by seemingly hiring the undead to cut the dialogue. Resident Evil presents us with that profound combination of awful writing, delivered appallingly by people who speak as though they’ve never actually conversed with another human being.
Japanese export 3d open world pioneer Shenmue is also reknowned for having some of the worst dubbing in the history of screen-based entertainment. It’s undoubtedly funny, but also quite damaging.
Whatever story it was these games were trying to tell, it’s lost. Buried forever beneath wave after wave of comedy voices and unfortunate innuendo.
The trouble is it only takes a couple of poor voices to break immersion in an otherwise atmospheric game. Even the colossal classic Deus Ex suffers in some areas. JC Denton’s gravelly murmers are fine, but once you reach Paris brace yourself for some monotone political soliloquys delivered in mangled french accents.
All of these games are pretty dated now, but the problem persists to this day. Oblivion suffered from having hundreds of NPCs but apparently nowhere near enough actors to go around. Every Orcs sounds the same, and they sound awful. Even more recently The Witcher is sort-of-acceptable, but one in every five characters will sound as though they’ve just walked of the stage of a panto. Here Geralt laments the fact that he has no penis to a screeching potato who offers him “bread with lard” in sympathy. Note especially the strangled cry of despair at the end of the first line. (UPDATE: I’m informed Geralt is in fact perfectly well equipped, and spends most of the game rabbiting his way through NPCs, in which case “I have a mutation” is the WORST cover story I’ve ever heard.)
It’s a situation that’ll only improve in studios with enough money to hire excellent voice talent. Gaming’s meteoric rise means that studios are able to draw more and more star power which, theoretically, could lead to better performances. We get Liam Neeson in Fallout 3 and we can look forward to Jack Black in Tim Schafer’s upcoming heavy metal slasher Brutal Legend.
Let’s take a moment to credit superb vocal performances for the voice casts in the likes of Mass Effect and Grim Fandango. When it goes right and the acting and the writing come together, a character can truly come to life. HK-47 in Knights of the Old Republic is a brilliantly written character with perfectly delivered lines, and is completely memorable for it. If you have a character driven game and a sizeable budget, good actors are simply a must.
Ludo, eating bread with lard.