Thursday, January 10, 2013

Best of 2012 - Performance.

Not console performance or frame rate, but individual performances by actors bent on bringing our beloved gaming characters to life. As in years past, 2012 has a small but endearing crop of work to examine, from the biggest triple-As to the humblest of indie works.


as Death -- Darksiders II

Michael Wincott as Death may be the most inspired casting of the year.  Wincott's uniquely gravelly tone combined with Death's (heh) deadpan humor and grim confidence make for an endearing, bigger-than-life performance that matches Liam O'Brein's work as War in the original Darksiders, though the narrative doesn't hit the same highs.

as Captain Martin Walker -- Spec Ops: The Line

The ubiquitous North is a perennial favorite in the best voice work category, but this year - in addition to laying down his classic casual adventurer in Uncharted: Golden Abyss - North turned the archetype he helped create in Uncharted on its head with his performance in Spec Ops: The Line, playing a devolving professional who slowly loses his mind in the face of the atrocities Drake would have shrugged off with a sarcastic quip.

as Asura -- Asura's Wrath

When you need rumbling, soaring gravitas, Liam O'Brein's got you covered.  He spins pure cheese into grand, operatic gold - even wringing relateable resonance out of a constantly-pissed-off rage-powered fist-god.

Bless him.

honorable mentions

as Lee Everett -- The Walking Dead

Dave Fennoy is an old hand at this, with a credit list to rival Nolan North and Jennifer Hale (this year, for example, he also played funk-obsessed zombie boss Josey in Lollipop Chainsaw and Commander Kellogg in the 2-part season finale of Archer), so we can hardly call Lee his breakout performance, but with Lee, Fennoy has crafted a wonderful entry point to the world of The Walking Dead, and a hand to hold as we are guided through the five episodes of Telltale's crowning glory.

By the end of the series, Lee feels like a legend in the making.  A friend, a brother, a father - and our hero - due largely to Fennoy's accessible, grounded, vulnerable performance.

as Commander Shepard -- Mass Effect 3

Like the character of Lee Everett, Jennifer Hale's performance in the Mass Effect series is one that requires a light touch, and allows a great deal of inference on the part of the viewer - after all, both characters can have very different reactions to the same event, if the player chooses, and both reactions need to feel authentic and natural for the character, despite veering off in opposite directions.

Like Fennoy, Hale delivers an even but potent performance as Shepard, grounding the character in a rock-hard resolve and using that as a jumping-off point to deliver a Paragon line with the same comfortable honesty as a Renegade.  It's a magnum opus of a performance as the character careens through space and time, waging a thankless future war against immortal supermachines while trying to score some tender sci-fi nookie on the side with a reptilian space cowboy or hot alien babe.

And in the end, is that not what man has dreamt of since first he looked up at the stars?

Kif, I'm asking you a question.

as Max Payne -- Max Payne 3

McCaffrey nails the weird, romantic idealism that lies at the heart of severe addiction and depression in his return to the decade-old vision of a world-weary last action hero.  Max remains a pure, glorious action hero for the gamer community - our El Mariachi, our John McClane - who begins his story in a suit and ends it in a destroyed tank top that was, we're sure, once white, while allowing it all to come from a kernel of relateable truth.

A lovely performance.

as Vaas -- Far Cry 3

The Rook Islands are awash with psychopathic pirates and slavers galore, but none that approached the gleeful, thoughtful, enthusiastic and disturbingly endearing Vaas, brought to life with such energy by Michael Mando.  In a game where nearly all the characters - including your own - are quickly forgettable, Mando's tour de force performance as Vaas was quickly recognized as one of the year's standouts.

He invests Vaas with a deep and initially imperceptible wound which, we come to understand, informs the entire character.  Lots of games have murderous nutcases, but with Vaas - damaged, funny, confident, deranged Vaas - we really feel the why of it.  His performance grants insight into story points that are never fleshed out and never explained - a narrative that would have been far more lacking, were it not for his presence.

* * *

Initially, I had decided Mando's performance was the second-most-impressive of the year.  It really elevates Far Cry 3, but as I was working on the write-up for the next game, I realized the actor below actually pulled off something far more impressive than Mando.  And, so...

* * *


in Lollipop Chainsaw

Lollipop Chainsaw's narrative - a triple-threat of easily-digestible sexist stereotypes on the surface, winking cinemaphile references and in-jokes beneath over a core of incredibly subversive, pro-equality themes that turn all the casual sexism we inhale on a daily basis on its head - would have been lost, without Tara Strong.

James Gunn's (Slither, Super, Movie 43) script required an actor who could play the character and allow it to effectively resonate on all three levels, and Tara Strong achieves it with a remarkably brave, nuanced performance as Juliet.  Where a lesser actor could have looked at an artist's rendering of the character and served up a shallow, two-dimensional sex symbol, Strong clearly understood where Gunn was going - and knocks it out of the park.

Strong's Starling effectively plays all three levels of Gunn's script by grounding the character at that core - an honest exploration of an all-American girl who represents an idealized perfection - and explores the neurotically cheerful, unironic insanity that would drive such a creature, while never losing an opportunity to spin it for a laugh.


best performance of 2012

in The Walking Dead

Thirty-seven year old Hutchinson played nine-year-old Clementine in Telltale Games' first blockbuster critical and commercial success, and I don't feel you can separate the two points.  If Fennoy's Lee is our door into the world, Hutchinson's Clem is the anchor that keeps us there, and keeps us coming back.

Clem is our motivation.  She is our heart.  She's the only thing we worried about through all five episodes - keeping that precious girl safe, and keeping her trust sacred.  After a trip out into the wild splattered with pieces of good friends and zombie skulls, she is our first stop upon returning to camp.

Is Clem okay?  How's Clem doing?  Who the fuck took her hat?

I don't believe The Walking Dead would have enjoyed nearly as much success as it has, were it not for her performance.  In concert with Fennoy and a very strong supporting cast, Hutchinson's performance raises the quality of the entire game - seizing upon the cochles of the player's heart, refusing to let go.

Made me cry like a nine-year-old girl, is what she did.

No actor in 2012 had a greater impact on their game - taking it from pretty-good to an instant classic - than Melissa Hutchinson did, as Clementine in The Walking Dead.


  1. I wish voice actors got more recognition. They can make or break a character, yet their name is always buried deep in the credits. Thank you for this list.

  2. i stated reading this article thinking "he didn't give it to Mando?!" then i kept going down the list going "yep, yes, ok, fine. . .damn! he's right."

    i just cant stay mad at you, do you have any idea how frustrating that is? ;)

  3. Heh I kinda' surprised myself with that one, too.

  4. also i don't know if hulu's region locked where you are but fennoy's also the ad announcer for them. so his "previously. . .on the walking dead" just gave me so much squee.