For most people who play games, the game is about the experience. All the aspects of a game coming together and providing a satisfying, entertaining experience. Sometimes this experience provides fun, or challenge, or beauty, or something thought-provoking.
Of course, games don't always offered unified experiences where every element works together perfectly. There are a number of things that can make or break a game, in-game narration and voice acting is one of those thing that when done well feels natural and cinematic. When voice acting is done poorly you spend less time thinking about the game and more time thinking about the fact that there are people behind the voices.
Let's take 2011's indie action-RPG Bastion. The game itself is fantastic, but when you talk to anyone who has played the game, the one thing they will certainly remember is the distinctive flinty western narrator that accompanies the protagonist and provides information about the colorful post-apocalyptic world. Also you could look to Petroglyph's Grey Goo. The underrated RTS does a lot of really neat things with faction design, and it's one of the only RTS games that actually had a campaign that held my attention as a story that developed. The game is great because the story creates scenarios that feel like they naturally follow each other in really connected ways. Additionally, the game features character design by Weta Workshop and some really talented voice work that sells the story. The talent hired for the game offers competent voice acting.
This is why I generally don't like big name actors signing on to do video game work: even if they're fine actors, most of them aren't practiced voice actors. It's a distinction that may not seem significant, but take a look at studios that have been attaching popular actors to their franchises and we see these games being marketed in very different ways than games the hire strong voice actors. I think this changes a bit when talking about voice actors who are rarely leading actors in their field, and I'm trying to figure out why. Maybe because they're often required to do more with less time on screen. That's a working theory I have, but when it comes to voice acting in games, companies that shell out money for top actors seem to get fewer returns than those that hire talent that doesn't have the same celebrity.
The best example of this might be from Freespace 2, which really is in contention for my favorite game of all time. I used to praise the story as the best reason to play the game, but as I've returned to the game over the years, I've noticed more things about the game. Specifically, how terrific the voice acting is. Robert Loggia provides a world-weariness to the game, and Ronnie Cox gives a disillusioned, Kurtz-esque performance to the game's antagonist, Bosch. Again, when I was a young adult playing games I didn't really think about the people behind the game, especially when they disappear into roles. It's a thing we comment on and laud in films, and it's a thing I've been paying more attention to in games.
What about you? What are some of your favorite voice-acted characters? Has voice acting, for good or bad, changed your perception of a game?