The best acting performances in a video game help take a game’s story to another level or sometimes can make it an awful experience. Stories in games are starting to rival movies with their acting and cinematics. Many actors are crossing over due to performance capture, having them act out the scenes in real life while being motion-captured. Video games have recently had big-time actors like Norman Reedus, Christopher Judge, Josh Duhamel, Ashley Johnson, and Kiefer Sutherland taking leading roles. Some performances are unforgettable. Let’s look over some of the best performances in video games.
Armin Shimerman – Andrew Ryan (Bioshock)
“A man chooses, a slave obeys.”
This is one of the many stellar quotes from Andrew Ryan of Bioshock, and it still gives me chills. Armin Shimerman gives a flawless performance. The performance has depth and range. Andrew Ryan gives inspiring speeches about mankind and what they can do. Then, it slowly becomes cold and calculating. This should be one of the performances that is studied as a gold standard. Bioshock is incredibly written, but that would mean nothing without solid voice acting. His voice reminds me of Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind. Even if it isn’t your type of game, you should listen to Shimerman’s portrayal of Andrew Ryan. Just look up Andrew Ryan’s opening monologue, and you will be blown away.
Troy Baker – Joel Miller (The Last of Us)
“You have no idea what loss is.”
Gaming’s favorite gruff dad really left a lasting impression. Seeing Joel’s loss initially made me wonder if he could ever find happiness. It made me wonder why he was out surviving with that void in his chest for so long. The answer shows itself in Ellie. You watch Joel’s walls slowly crumble the further his adventure with Ellie continues. These performances are extra potent because Naughty Dog used performance capture, where actors’ motion capture while acting out the scenes. Look up the performance capture video online and be blown away. The cast showed powerful performances. Joel is loving deep down, but as shown in the game, he is also a survivor. His mindset is, ‘it is them or us.’ While his walls come down, he also becomes more violent and brutal. This game brought tears to my eyes multiple times. It is an Oscar-worthy performance in a different medium than movies.
Ashley Johnson – Ellie Williams (The Last of Us)
“Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone…except for you.”
It would be criminal to only mention Troy Baker’s performance without Ashley Johnson’s. If Joel or Ellie had a mediocre performance, The Last of Us wouldn’t have flown as high as it has. Johnson’s performance as Ellie had me ready to get rid of anyone in our way to protect her. Ellie is a little rough around the edges, but she uses those to grind down Joel’s walls. She is afraid to be alone, and you can tell by her desperation in both games. Joel’s role is the gruff man, common in male gaming characters. Ellie was way more difficult to get just right. A teenage girl in a game usually draws criticism from gamers during this era of gaming, but Ellie broke that mold of annoying teenage sidekicks. Johnson’s performance and Baker’s made this game series so special. They not only did it once but twice. Your heart is stone if you don’t love your video game daughter after the first game.
Christopher Judge – Kratos (God of War)
“Mind your tongue, boy! Until our journey is complete, one of us must remain focused! Do not mistake my silence for lack of grief.”
I never disliked Kratos, but as I grew older, I realized that Kratos was a product of his time. He was cool and edgy. I could tell he would fade away because that style of writing was losing popularity, not to mention that he had killed everyone. I never thought we would see Kratos again, but he came back, albeit different. He was mature and wise, and he found love again. Judge flipped the script for Kratos by being silent, strong, and wise but also caring. The rage was still there, but Kratos was hesitant to use it.
No one could have predicted that we would see Kratos be vulnerable and loving to a child. Judge not only delivered a mind-blowing performance, but his voice was also so pleasing to the ear. Performance capture brought out the best in Christopher Judge and his co-star, Sunny Suljic. Judge credits his acting in the game to real-life situations he had gone through as a father. It is a genuine and raw performance that feels so real. Judge delivers lines like an inspirational general from the days of old. This must-see performance will stick with you long after the credits fade.
David Hayter – Snake/Big Boss (Metal Gear Solid)
“It’s easy to forget what sin is in the middle of a battlefield.”
Metal Gear Solid was the first game I played where I thought, ‘This is like a movie.’ It had a lot of voice acting, which was rare at the time. David Hayter’s gruff, distinct voice made you feel like you were playing the coolest action hero. Hayter nails his performance in every game in the series. Whether you need one-liners or a 30-minute speech, Hayter has you covered. It also helps that Hideo Kojima’s writing backs him up. Kojima and Hayter are why I don’t mind long, drawn-out cutscenes in video games.
Snake’s words and performance are potent. Snake is a killer, but he is also more. He cares for the world. Snake desires peace, and he lets people use him as a tool to try and reach his goal. Hayter breathes life into Snake, making him more than just an action hero; he gives him depth. I really hope that Hayter gets another Metal Gear Game that will be a real swansong from Kojima.
Doug Cockle – Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher Series)
“Beware of an old man in a profession where individuals typically have short lives.”
Geralt is a character that poses a challenge when portraying him accurately. He may come across as a coarse and disgruntled individual, but there lies a greater depth within Geralt. Doug Cockle flawlessly embodies this role, leaving no room for anyone else who could have done it justice. Geralt is a rugged and rough monster hunter, yet as the game progresses, his complexity becomes evident.
Despite being portrayed as lacking emotions, he displays sass, anger, and love. Remarkably, Cockle manages to convey all of this through his voice. This performance is exceptional, as it brought to life one of my most cherished characters, a feat no one else could have achieved. While I know that Geralt received an ideal conclusion, a part of me longs to witness his eventual return.
Jennifer Hale – Commander Shepard (Mass Effect Series)
“However insignificant we may be, we will fight! We will sacrifice! And we will find a way! That’s what humans do!”
I initially missed this performance by playing the male version of Shepard. I started seeing online conversations about how good Jennifer Hale’s voice acting was for Commander Shepard. Replaying the Mass Effect trilogy as FemShep showed that Hale elevated this role to the next level.
Mark Meer gave an excellent performance, but Hale flexed her experience by delivering a performance that was a step up. The paragon voice options are the real highlight. Hale tends to put more raw emotions into her lines, even the simple ones. FemShep’s big motivational speech moments always land.
Renegade voice lines also have their moments. If you want to feel like a complex anti-hero, Hale’s voice is perfect for the cold reads of the Renegade choices. Hale holds the record for the most female video game voices, so it is no surprise that she provides so much versatility behind the microphone.
Roger Clark – Arthur Morgan (Red Dead Redemption 2)
“Lack of something to feel important about is almost the greatest tragedy a man may have.”
Red Dead Redemption had one of the best characters in John Marston. People always seemed to love his performance. Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced, and the gaming community wasn’t sure if the new character would measure up. The sequel was a prequel with a young John Marston being one of your companions. Roger Clark gave such a strong performance as Arthur Morgan that he is now the new benchmark in the franchise. Arthur was a loyal hand who usually did as Dutch told him.
He was Dutch’s right-hand man and someone that the camp looked up to. Arthur seemed like a simple, violent, but kind man. Clark’s performance gave him so much depth. Clark’s performance will make you laugh, feel tough, and also cry. Arthur always knew what his way of life would lead to, but you still rooted for him because you knew he was a good man deep down. When the credits roll, you will sit in silence. You will think about how real Arthur felt and then wonder if any game can measure up to the masterpiece you just played. Roger Clark solidified his place on any best voice acting performance list by bringing Arthur Morgan to life.
Yuri Lowenthal – Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Marvel’s Spider-Man)
“Turn? I worshiped you! Your mind. Your conscience, wanting to help others. The way you never gave up!”
That line exemplifies Parker conversing with his mentor and father figure, Otto Octavius, during a heated altercation. Though skeptics may dismiss the inclusion of comic book-related content on a list of this nature, Yuri Lowenthal’s portrayal of Spider-man proves remarkably versatile. This rendition of the iconic character was not executed half-heartedly; instead, Lowenthal delivers an unparalleled embodiment of Spider-Man.
He captures the essence of how one would envision Spider-Man’s voice and adeptly handles scenes infused with genuine emotions through his commendable voice-acting skills. The concluding portion of the game effectively showcases why Yuri Lowenthal is the definitive Spider-Man. For fans of this Spider-Man, experiencing this game is imperative. Lowenthal’s transcendent performance breathes life into both Peter Parker and Spider-man.
Lenval Brown – Narrator (Disco Elysium Director’s Cut)
“The funk soul brother at the back of his head has gone dark. Forever.”
Lenval Brown’s initial portrayal showcased his remarkable acting skills as he effortlessly delivered a staggering 350,000 words of dialogue. This accomplishment is awe-inspiring, considering his lack of prior acting experience. Brown’s resonant, calming voice as the narrator for an extensive role-playing game filled with huge amounts of text.
One can liken Brown to the embodiment of an internal voice, effectively conveying the game’s intricate emotions, sentiments, and actions. If you enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3 and wouldn’t mind less action, I’d say check out this game. Let Lenval Brown’s smooth, deep voice enter your ears. Brown’s narration should be the go-to performance to study for inspiration for other voice actors.
Takaya Kuroda – Kazuma Kiryu (Yakuza/Like a Dragon Series)
“Life is like a trampoline. The lower you fall, the higher you go.”
Where do I even begin? Most of these games do not have English dubs, so you are stuck with the native language. Takaya Kuroda will make you happy to look past that. Yakuza has a strange tone. The main story is always dark and serious, while the side missions are usually bonkers. Kiryu has a deep, smooth, buttery voice that sounds pleasing to the ears. Kiryu could be angry, yelling, soft, or doing simple one-word lines because the situation is confusing.
You often hear him say ‘huh’ and ‘oh’—even those land. Takaya Kuroda gives off a deep voice with action-star quality. Kiryu has become a loved figure in the gaming community, whether being a therapist for a relationship or taking the fall for a crime he didn’t commit, Takaya Kuroda gives you the coldest, coolest guy in the room. With two more games around the corner, feel free to hop in and experience a performance that will make you think, ‘Wow, he is so cool.’
Daisuke Tsuji – Jin Sakai (Ghost of Tsushima)
“Desperation brings out the demons in the best of men.”
Daisuke Tsuji gave a stellar performance as Jin Sakai. Jin has been haunted by his father’s death, which occurred when he was a child. Daisuke Tsuji was really able to bring out a lot of emotion and anger. The range of his performance makes the game hard to forget. Jin was raised to be an honorable lord. That all changed when the Mongols invaded his home. He knows the honorable samurai code cannot defeat the Mongols, who will do anything to kill. He becomes a ghost to destroy the Mongols. He struggles with honor and his father’s death, which brings out a lot of rage, sadness, and regret. Daisuke Tsuji makes you feel the need to get your revenge against the Mongols. Some of the best parts were hearing him speak the haikus you make. His voice with the soundtrack was so tranquil. Daisuke Tsuji made Jin and the game one of my favorites. It was like watching a classic samurai movie and should be experienced.
Ben Starr – Clive Rosfield (Final Fantasy XVI)
“The only fantasy here is yours, and we shall be its final witness.”
Clive is a lost soul torturing himself, but deep down, he wants to change the world and make it a better place. At first, you think it will be an annoying character portrayal. Ben Starr’s performance and the writing made Clive one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters. Starr gave a vulnerable but strong performance. Starr has a soothing voice on the deeper end. I think he shines in the emotional scenes, specifically when he loses himself in rage and becomes Ifrit. The end of the prologue has Starr giving a performance that gave me chills. He channels a deep despair and turns it into rage. It is one of the best voice-acted sequences of the last decade. Throughout the journey you take with Clive, Starr continues to impress. Starr’s voice acting is probably some of the best the series has seen, and it will be hard to top.
Elle McLain – GLaDOS (Portal)
“Here Come The Test Results: You Are A Horrible Person. We Weren’t Even Testing For That.”
GLaDOS always made sure that you felt inferior, and she was super condescending.
GLaDOS is such an interesting character. Her performance carries the game. She is one of the few speaking roles besides the turrets. Ellen McLain gave the character a really strong, dark, comedic edge. All compliments from GLaDOS are backhanded. GLaDOS is supposed to be the villain, but she spends the whole game trying to convince you that you are the monster. The closer you get to the end of the game, the more GLaDOS seems to be malfunctioning and becoming unhinged. You also get to see a cold voice that is chilling from GLaDOS at the end of the game. The atmosphere and GLaDOS make you feel like the only human left. That is fine because the performance put on by Elle McLain is sublime.
Charles Martinet – Mario, Luigi, Wario, and Waluigi (Super Mario Bros)
There’s only one way to end our list of best performances in a video game. A voice of your childhood comes from Martinet. He retired recently, which hurts, but his voice lives on in our heads with every “WAHAAA!” or “Mama Mia!” we hear. Anytime you heard Martinet’s voice, you knew you were about to have a lot of fun. Two performances that stand out are Luigi in Luigi’s Mansion. He found a way to give our favorite plumber’s brother some depth. The other is Mario Teaches Typing.
You have probably seen the video of Mario’s 3D head talking. This was Martinet’s first time voicing the Italian plumber. He speaks in longer sentences than normal, and seeing him nail the character from the jump is exciting. After three decades of voicing Mario, I feel like we should all thank Charles Martinet for his services. He brought joy to so many people’s lives—a living legend.