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Imagining beloved characters with different voices is difficult – even upsetting. The most iconic video game characters are often easy to recognize just by the sound of their voices, a feature that helps define many of the memorable ones. The distinctive voice of a classic character can become inseparable from that of their longtime voice actor, and sometimes the voice is so unique that it makes the character unforgettable. However, a character’s voice doesn’t stand out merely because it’s provided by a prolific voice actor, but because an actor’s performance in that particular role is exceptional. The following are our picks for the ones that stuck with us most.
Please note that this article contain spoilers, particularly in the first and last entries.
10. Atlas/Frank Fontaine (Karl Hanover/Greg Baldwin): Bioshock
Atlas’ voice is one of the first you hear in Rapture, and he wastes no time getting on your good side. It’s easy to form an attachment to the only sane, living thing you hear on a regular basis, and Karl Hanover’s endearing voice makes it that much easier. Hearing his very believable grief upon the “deaths” of his wife and son makes it difficult not to trust him completely. On the heels of the game’s most iconic scene comes the revelation that “Atlas” is merely a cover for infamous crime lord Frank Fontaine, voiced by Greg Baldwin. Having to listen to a once-trusted voice transform into that of the infamous crime lord is downright appalling, and the transition from Hanover to Baldwin is masterfully executed. Fontaine/Atlas earns his spot on this list because the majority of his performance is solely auditory.
9. Mario (Charles Martinet): Super Mario series
Back in his 8-bit days, Mario smashed goombas just fine without a voice. Now it’s impossible to imagine anything but an overdone Italian accent coming out of his mustachioed mouth. Mario’s Game Gallery was the first title to feature the plumber with a voice, and likewise is Charles Martinet’s first in-game performance in his most famous role. Martinet came up with the voice himself, and provides it for both the English and Japanese versions of the Mario games.
8. Nathan Drake (Nolan North): Uncharted series
Nolan North is one of the foremost voice actors in the video game industry. Given the scores of characters North voiced in the past, it’s especially amazing how distinctive his portrayal of Nathan Drake is. Like a modern-day Indiana Jones, Drake is always cracking wise regardless of the trouble he’s in. It doesn’t matter if he’s dodging bullets, getting hurt, trading barbs with Elena, or just being a weirdo. Let’s face it: Drake is a total goofball, and gamers love him for it. North’s snarky delivery of the dialogue is a huge part of what makes Drake the sarcastic guy that he is.
7. Solid Snake (David Hayter): Metal Gear series
Until recently, David Hayter has been the one and only voice of Solid Snake. Hayter adopts a deep, gruff voice for the role, a portrayal that’s considered to be a real classic in the history of video game voice acting. Long-time fans are still reeling from the casting of Keifer Sutherland as Snake for MGSV. Hearing Sutherland’s voice for Snake in released footage of the intro sequence is strange.
6. Sam Fisher (Michael Ironside): Splinter Cell series
Like Snake, Sam Fisher has – until recently – been voiced by only one man since the character’s inception. Fisher is a veteran operative, and Michael Ironside’s gravelly voice has always provided a sense of the enormous amount of experience Fisher has in the field – which is why the more youthful voice of Eric Johnson, Fisher’s new voice actor, is so jarring for longtime fans. Not to say that Eric Johnson isn’t doing a fine job in the role, but his Fisher feels like a different man. The increasing use of motion capture technology in development has allowed for a greater degree of realism in video games. In an effort to further enhance that realism, the same actor often performs both the motion capture and the voice of a character. Still, many fans would’ve preferred hearing no voice at all, rather than listening to a new performer.
[Next up: See which characters land a spot in our top five]
Email the author Katie Seville, or follow on Game Informer.