Celebrity Voice Acting Performances in Games You Don’t Remember

Posted in Kulturecade by - October 02, 2017
Celebrity Voice Acting Performances in Games You Don’t Remember

Voice acting in games is a topic that I’ve recently started thinking a lot about, both referring to the people like Nolan North, David Hayter, and Jennifer Hale who work pretty much exclusively in voiceover work, as well as the more recent trend of more mainstream actors and actresses getting paid the big bucks to provide their voice (and usually their likeness) to star in and help sell a game. Although the idea of mainstream talent being involved in a game is as old as the CD-ROM and compression technology that would allow it, it’s only in the past few years that the often movie-level production quality of games has begun to allow AAA-level titles (and even some not as prestigious games as well) to flex their budgets in the casting department as much as they often do on advertising and other things that don’t necessarily affect the quality of the game.

While I’ve certainly had an appreciation for voice actors since I’ve had the ability to understand how any kind of animated production is made and recognize them for their work — Tom Kenny, Billy West, and Jim Cummings spring to mind on the same level as North, as well as folks like John DiMaggio who consistently show up in both mediums — what’s really fascinated me as of late is the presence of the people who mainstream media might consider as “stepping below their ranks” when they appear in a video game. Think Jennifer Lawrence’s face on the tentative cover of Detroit: Become Human and the tandem of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in Beyond: Two Souls. But talking about games like that isn’t as fun or interesting — they wanted a big name for their interactive drama so they could make it seem more like a movie and they got it.

Sometimes it helps the game out and sometimes the actor just phones it in for the paycheck (looking at you, Peter Dinklage). Others of course treat the game role with as much dignity as they would anything else or even take them on as passion projects, leading to some really interesting little nuggets of gaming trivia that we can’t shake from our brains when we spot the game on the shelf at a store or during a cutscene when we’ve actually popped the thing in our system to give it a go. Here are a few examples of those video game voice acting roles that you may not have known about because they aren’t as high-profile as, say, the entire voice cast of every Grand Theft Auto game.

Jean Reno in Onimusha 3: Demon Siege

Starting off with one that has always blown my mind not just because of the pairing of Capcom and the star of Leon: The Professional, but one that I feel like is never mentioned by anybody ever, even though Onimusha 3: Demon Siege features not only Jean Reno’s voice talent, but his likeness as well, plastered right on the front of the game for all to see. Of course, to be fair, just about everything regarding Capcom’s non-Devil-May-Cry hack-n-slash series has been somewhat unfairly forgotten, but it’s still perhaps one of the most out-of-place looking roles I’ve seen yet in a video game.

The third installment in the feudal-Japan-inspired action series finds main character Samanosuke again at war with the demon army of the formidable general Nobunaga, only this time having been displaced and transported to modern day Paris, where he has switched places with Reno’s character, French police officer Jacques Blanc (Jack White, his name is literally Jack White). Reno’s performance isn’t anything to write home about, though it’s entirely possible this is on purpose, so as to fit in with Capcom’s usually more laughable brand of voice work. Either way, he plays a cool character which allows for somewhat of a breath of fresh air with the series, creating both a new story direction and a new Parisian setting to separate the entry from the rest of the series. The five Onimusha titles would actually make for an excellent HD anthology, come to think of it, but it’s entirely possible that Jean Reno’s role is a factor in why Capcom seem so intent on leaving it behind, even though the game itself wouldn’t be hurt by his replacement.

Michael Madsen in all of Quentin Tarantino’s favorite games

Although he shares a video game resume fairly similar in volume to some other folks on this list, Michael Madsen is the only actor I’ve seen who seemed, at one point, unable to tell the difference between a film script and a video game script when one passed in front of him. Whether or not it was a simple matter of being typecast, Michael Madsen not only took a surprising amount of video game roles in the mid-2000s, but until his role in Dishonored a few years ago, took only roles that you probably would have expected him to, including such games as Driv3r (an unsettling mess of a game that is worth reading into on its own), the PS2/Xbox reboot of NARC (which also stars Mickey Rourke), and the first Yakuza game, all in addition to arguably his most well-known video game role in Grand Theft Auto III.

In other words, Michael Madsen was probably the least discriminatory actor in the era before video games became a popular acting gig for someone on his level, and he repeatedly took roles in them that were exactly the same roles he’d be getting offered for movies, based entirely on his notoriety from Tarantino flicks like Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs (he also reprised his role as Mr. Blonde for the PS2 game based on the film). As a result, though, he probably helps out most of these games in achieving the vibe they were going for of, well, a Quentin Tarantino movie, or at least a movie that Tarantino would have enjoyed and borrowed heavily from, just by being there, as well as bridging the gap of the massively successful Grand Theft Auto games and all the clones that came along with it, by allowing them to say that they got one of the actors from GTA to be in their own little carbon copy.

Terry Jones, Cheech Marin, and Harry Shearer in Blazing Dragons

I wasn’t particularly interested in including actors reprising their roles from licensed games on this list, even if it’s never actually been a given that that will happen with any given video game adaptation. Still, the majority of games licensed from movies and TV aren’t things you would “forget about” as long as you know they exist — you think of the game, think of who starred in the film, and boom, you know the voice actors, no big surprise. But Blazing Dragons, to me, is a special case, because it’s one of the few games I know where people might actually know of the game and not realize it’s based on a TV show of the same name. Blazing Dragons was a supposedly popular British cartoon that ran for two seasons in the late-’90s (though it was often heavily bowdlerized upon broadcast in the US), and starred the voice talent of a talented trio of actors: Terry Jones, Cheech Marin, and Harry Shearer, none of whom you would typically expect to see attached to a video game.

The Blazing Dragons video game, released on Sega Saturn and original PlayStation in 1996, is a point-and-click adventure game that benefits greatly from the very funny British humor in the writing and the quality voice performances of the main trio, as well as the solid animation that meshes well with the adventure genre. Although it isn’t as if Blazing Dragons is a hall-of-fame quality adventure title on par with classics like Broken Sword or King’s Quest, it’s one of the only times I think I’ll ever recommend a game based solely on the merits of its voice acting, without which it would come off as somewhat toothless, regardless of the quality of the writing.

Lance Henriksen, Gary Oldman, and Ron Perlman Were Starring in Games Before It Was Cool

I easily could have lumped Michael Madsen in with this entry, but his particular roles were so specific that I of course had to leave him his own. Madsen, though, is still one of a handful of big name actors who have added heavily to their resumes in recent years with roles in some of the biggest titles of the past decade, including a major role in the Call of Duty franchise for each of them. But the amazing thing about Henriksen, Oldman, and Perlman is that each of them has shown a great sense of versatility and openness to different projects over their careers, and each of them has been making their mark on the gaming industry for a long time now.Starting with Oldman, his memorable role as  in the Treyarch Call of Duty titles may still stand as the franchise’s most memorable performance.

Yet,just a few years earlier he was voicing a cartoonish dragon named Ignitus in the Legend of Spyro trilogy. He’s actually been starring in games for about 20 years now, as he played a Sgt. Jack Barnes in the early Medal of Honor title, Allied Assault, and a pair of characters in the first True Crime title, Streets of LA (more on that game later).

Ron Perlman, however, as an accomplished voice-actor as well as live-action performer in recent years, has been working with games for even longer, such as on the Fallout franchise, which he has been narrating since the original game in 1997. Along the way, he has also reprised many of his most notable roles as comic book characters such as Abomination in Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Batman in Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, as well as a few other original roles including the 2008 Turok reboot, Halo 3, and True Crime: Streets of LA (still not done with this game). Finally, we have Lance Henriksen, who not only proudly reprises his role as Bishop from the Alien franchise whenever he is needed, but has had a long and healthy voice acting career otherwise, including roles in the Alien-inspired horror-shooter RLH (Run Like Hell) and Red Faction II, before becoming more recognized for his work with the Mass Effect franchise starting in 2007.

What’s really amazing to me about all three of these guys is none of them were necessarily memorable or noteworthy — it’s tough to realize without playing it or reading into it a lot that these guys are even involved, and yet once you realize it, it becomes a defining aspect of that particular game, rather than something you remember about it, like it would be in the case of the Mass Effect or Call of Duty games.

Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, and Peter Stormare in Until Dawn

Another case of characters not only bearing an actor’s voice, but their likeness as well, Until Dawn might actually be cutting it a bit close as far as performances you “don’t remember,” because each actor, including these three fairly well-known performers, is actually an integral part of Until Dawn’s identity, in the sense that they hired real actors and used their likenesses because the game is supposed to feel like an interactive movie. But unlike Beyond: Two Souls and its A-List lead pairing, the trio of Hayden Panettiere (Heroes), Rami Malek (Mr. Robot), and Peter Stormare (Fargo), the latter of which stars in perhaps the most immersive and enthralling scenes in the whole game, are just enough outside of the realm of public consciousness that none of them were, at the time, popular or memorable enough to define the game, and therefore weren’t used as selling points or take up too much of the narrative focus.

With Rami Malek in particular becoming more and more recognizable, particularly for his upcoming portrayal of Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, the public awareness of his part in this game may increase and garner the cast of this game as a whole more attention. Until that happens though, whether with Malek, Panettiere, or another cast member, the nature of the casting in Until Dawn is still  a huge boon in its ability to meet its goals as a legitimate interactive horror flick, and benefits the game greatly, even if you know the actors or not.

The Star-Studded Casts of True Crime: Streets of LA and Gun

And finally, one of the weirdest pairs of games I think I’ve come across as far as their presentation. In many ways, Gun and True Crime: Streets of LA are twin precursors to Activision’s later success and obsession with booking high-level talent for its voice performances. The first of the two, True Crime: Streets of LA is perhaps the most prolific GTA-clone of its era, beginning perhaps most importantly with the high-bankroll voice cast that Activision intended on using to rival the landmark franchise.

Whereas Grand Theft Auto III had backed up its legendary gameplay and story with the likes of Joe Pantoliano, Frank Vincent, and Michael Rapaport, to name a few, True Crime: Streets of LA intended to rival it with Michael Madsen, Ron Perlman, Gary Oldman, Christopher Walken, Michelle Rodriguez, and even Snoop Dogg (playing himself because of course he is). If this had been a film, I can’t help but imagine it would be either a cult classic or at the very least, a near-infamous bomb. In any case, no one would forget the cast — as a matter of fact, the cast would probably define it — except that True Crime: Streets of LA and its sequel, True Crime: New York City, despite good sales, are remembered today as incredibly average GTA clones, defined not by their cast, but by their status as also-rans.

And yet, Activision went for broke well, not exactly broke, considering their current status as a “richer than god” publisher again in 2005 with the Wild West action-adventure-shooter known only as Gun. Again, Gun’s cast would turn heads on just about any film pitch, boasting the likes of Thomas Jane, Brad Dourif, Tom Skerritt, Kris Kristofferson, and, of course, our old friends, Ron Perlman and Lance Henriksen. Developed by Activision’s A-team, Neversoft, and able to take advantage of the new Xbox 360’s hardware with a next-gen version, Gun is actually a pretty great game when looked at in a vacuum. Unfortunately, most people probably take one look at it and decide that they’d rather be playing Red Dead. Rockstar Games strikes again and ruins everybody’s hindsight opinion of a pretty good game with an impressive voice cast. But because of that, people hardly remember Gun as anything but “the western game that’s not Red Dead or Call of Juarez,” and probably never realizes that it boasts a stacked, award-winning cast that has only gotten better and more recognizable since its release.

This post was written by

He is the senior editor at Kulture Shocked. A Nebraska boy born and raised, where he spends most of his time as a writer. When not tearing up Xbox Live, he spends most of his time divided between Magic: The Gathering and his fiancee.

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