An excellent voice actor can elevate a half-decent story to something genuinely affecting and involving. Each nod here is, innately, also a bit of honor for the writer of the game these actors headline, as even the best actor can't do much with a sub-par story (sorry, Beyond: Two Souls).
These are the best video game performances of 2013. Once again, let's slim it down a bit.
Tim Phillips as Dante in DmC : Devil May Cry offers a "restrained, casual performance" that allows far more insight into the character than we've ever seen before. Michael Beihn's gravelly, stereotypically-80s action hero is entirely in on Blood Dragon's joke, and a huge part of why the game just works, while Troy Baker's performance as Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite sees a cynical, jaded man moved to the ends of his sanity.
In Assassin's Creed IV : Black Flag, Olivia Morgan steals the show as Mary Read, a coolly intelligent, mysterious pirate. Her arc in IV is easily the most interesting story of the game, thanks largely to Morgan's grounded, stoic performance.
Finally, Troy Baker (because twice on one list isn't enough) steps into Mark Hamill's shoes as the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins and fills them quite ably. "Baker's performance is most interesting in the quiet moments, and here he makes layered choices you know Hamill never would have."
second runner up
|as Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V.|
Of Grand Theft Auto V's three leads, only Steven Ogg's Trevor Phillips really stays with you, long after the credits roll. An unrepentant, pure psychopath, Trevor is the rampaging GTA player's id given voice, and he had some very disturbing things to say that, wisely, come from a place of pain and vulnerability. Terrifying, hilarious and occasionally even touching, Steven Ogg's work here is excellent.
We never really understood what made Trevor go absolutely stark-raving mad, but we sensed it in his quarter-inch fuse and simultaneous sexual aggression and weird chivalry. Oh Trevor. Someone has hurt you, that much is clear. Who hurt you?
Who hurt you?
|as Ellie in The Last of Us.|
Naughty Dog insist The Last of Us is Ellie's story, not Joel's, and it's not hard to understand why as the girl goes from damsel to dynamite, slowly evolving into a half-capable survivor over the course of Summer and becoming a foll-blown hero by Fall. A huge part of the game's effectiveness is a result of its (miraculous) writing, and Ashley Johnson - long a peripheral star in the machinations of Hollywood - delivers the most spectacular performance of her twenty-year career as a girl half her age.
"Ashley Johnson's Ellie - a foul-mouthed fourteen-year-old who's only ever known the post-apocalypse world - is a surprisingly nuanced and elegant performance. She matches Baker's fire and vulnerability, makes Ellie her own, and - like the script, like the soundtrack, like Baker - wisely chooses subtlety where a lesser actor would have chosen ham."
-from the review-
It's a breakout role for what may well be a rising star of the vocal performance world, and one that stands toe-to-toe with what is easily the most accomplished performance of the year. Speaking of which...
"Well, it's no secret Troy Baker's got it goin' on. Following his delightful Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite, his performance as Joel highlights not just the actor's versatility, but showcases a level of controlled restraint and ability that's almost nonexistent in gaming performances. Joel has a gentle west-Texas accent, for example, and his voice is a good octave lower than Baker's normal pitch - but cracks never show in Baker's character work. Joel needed an actor of great range and a capacity to communicate character - strength and sadness and anger and love - with little more than a shrug and a drawl, and Baker absolutely steals the show."
-from the review-
The Last of Us's narrative is, unquestionably, the current high-water mark for gaming. "It is nothing less than a game-changer, raising the bar for an entire industry of game developers who fancy themselves storytellers," and its success or failure hinged on the ability of its cast to deliver performances with the same insight, maturity and intelligence as its script.
Joel is funny, wise, sensitive, cruel, and terribly wounded, and through Baker's work the layers are peeled back until we see the horrifyingly broken heart at its core, and the profound, romantic selfishness that drives his ultimate betrayal and sacrifice.
Baker's performance is a tour de force. After a half-dozen playthroughs, his work still moves me to tears in the game's opening minutes - an emotional atom bomb that saw thousands of players fleeing to Twitter at the flood of feels to simply exult "oh my God." Baker's ability to take a moment that could have been pure cheese and deliver it with such genuinely moving honesty is something few actors could have managed - and it's merely one scene in what is, without question, the best performance of 2013.