The voice behind the game

Paarthurnax, the fire-breathing dragon from Skyrim, vocalized by Charles Martinet’s deep bass. (Tuzen/Flickr)

Voice actors can make or break a video game: a good performance enhances the immersion, increases characterization and adds to the tone of the scene. A bad performance can make a serious game unintentionally silly, such as the Jill Sandwich scene from “Resident Evil,” and throws off a player’s impression of a character. There have been hundreds of voice acting performances throughout the history of video games, from the voice synthesis of Evil Otto in “Bezerk,” to Mordin in “Mass Effect”. Here are some of the best.

1.     Paarthurnax (“Skyrim”)

Bethesda might not be the forerunner of original lines—the ‘Arrow to the knee’ meme has been done to death—but there are some moments in “Skyrim” that truly shine. One of them is when you first meet the leader of the Greybeards, Paarthurnax. If there’s a voice you could pair with massive, ancient, wisdom-spouting, fire-breathing dragon, it’s Charles Martinet’s deep bass. It’s a performance that perfectly fits the ancient master of the Thu’um. Who would have thought the voice actor for Mario could also be a dragon?

2.     Andrew Ryan (“Bioshock”)

All Andrew Ryan wanted was a totally capitalistic city isolated from foreign influence at the bottom of the sea. Is that too much to ask for? As evinced by the events of Irrational Game’s “Bioshock,” it was. Ryan, the planner and leader of the underwater city, Rapture, is first encountered through audio diaries and radio transmissions. When you finally meet him, Rapture is crumbling around him. Armin Shimerman gives an astounding performance as Ryan contemplates his death over a game of golf. In his icy, commanding tone, he reveals “Bioshock’s” big twist, and in his dying throes, chokes out his famous phrase, “A man chooses. A slave obeys.” It’s perfect fit for a cynical, paranoid, broken man.

3.     Cave Johnson (“Portal 2”)

Mad scientists come in many forms and flavors, though perhaps not as mad or as flavorful as J.K Simmons’ hammy performance as Cave Johnson, the founder and CEO of Aperture Science. While you only encounter Cave through various pre-recorded messages as you traverse the bowels of Aperture, they’re brimming with personality- and crazy. As time goes on, his moon-dust induced madness surfaces, and the performance becomes more forceful and desperate, reflecting Johnson’s mental state. The apex of Cave’s monologues is this solid advice, when life gives you lemons, burn life’s house down. With the lemons.

4.     GLaDOS (“Portal 1 & 2”)

Yeah- I’m double dipping here, but when you think of a snarky, testing-obsessed killer robot you immediately think of GLaDOS. Ellen McLain knocks this out of the park. GLaDOS’s seething hate for the player, Chell, is expertly layered under sarcasm, snark and passive-aggressive razor-sharp wit. Her cool, calm voice commands you throughout both games, commenting both on your testing skills and your weight throughout. It also helps that McLain is a trained opera singer, as she promises, in song, at the end of the first game that despite how you killed her, she is in fact “Still Alive.” 

Marlese Lessing is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu.