Friday, January 29, 2010

And you notice!

Since landing the role of Nathan Drake, hero of 2007's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, voice actor Nolan North has been on a roll, with notable appearances--usually the lead--in a string of high-profile video game releases, including Prince of Persia (2008), Shadow Complex, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Assassin's Creed II, and Dark Void. He has also been cast as the lead in the in-development Spec Ops: The Line. I personally have yet to play any of these titles, but many players have begun to cite their fatigue at his ubiquity. It is not just that he is starring in all of these games, but that he is apparently playing much the same roguish Nathan Fillion-esque character in most of these performances.

In 2007, the Indiana Jones-like Nathan Drake was applauded as a refreshing departure from the musclebound badasses that dominated action game covers. North's command of his everyman persona was considered a defining part of the character and game, such that it seemed inconceivable that there could ever be a Drake without North's voice. In a surprising twist, however, it seems now it is the voice that remains the same, while the character gets swapped out for knockoffs. Considering how closely identified North is with his breakthrough role as Drake, I would think that recycling that performance for a slew of unrelated derivative characters would dilute the identity of the voice and simultaneously weaken all of those characters.

Of course, that's not really North's problem. He can and does play other types of characters. A prolific voice actor even before Uncharted, he paid his dues in minor parts (he was Vossler in FFXII!), and his filmography lists many even very recent "additional voices" credits. Well-received though his performance as Drake may have been, I rather doubt it led to studios actively casting him for his name recognition. He's a good voice actor with a pretty good agent, I imagine, but video game acting is hardly the big time. I'm sure he still needs to audition for as many roles as he can get.

If there is a lack of creativity currently afflicting Western game character design, the problem is in the writing. As long as they are writing Nathan Drake into every game, shouldn't North take advantage of his innate suitability for the part to get as many jobs as he can before the paradigm crashes? Would it really be better for companies to deliberately cast different actors just to try and disguise the similarities? Casting North at least lends one authentic element to the imitation.

That said, there is one Nolan North casting that I must take issue with. Earlier this year, he was the new voice of Elliot Salem, one of the two main characters in Army of Two: The 40th Day. I haven't played beyond the demo of this game either, so I can't comment on North's performance, but this is definitely not a Nathan Drake-type role. The problem is that Elliot Salem already had a damn fine voice actor in the original Army of Two:

At any given time during my playthrough of Army of Two, I could not tell by looking at them which masked mercenary was which. So, for me, the character of Elliot Salem began and ended with Josh Ryan's voice. I honestly could not have made it through the game without his wantonly obnoxious yet sickeningly pitch-perfect delivery as the cocky and amoral soldier of fortune. I don't know why Ryan and the rest of the original cast did not return for the sequel, but this is all very depressing. And don't try to tell me that this stuff doesn't matter, because it totally does! For me, Josh Ryan is Elliot Salem, just as much as Nolan North is Nathan Drake.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

Yeah, at this point, I'd rather just play Army of Two over again, rather than play the sequel. It would be like having a boisterous puppy when you were a little kid, then one day it got run over by a truck, so your parents went and got you some listless but shiny-coated pup, and told you it was just as good as your deceased Wolfie. Better even!