Feature

Star Power: 16 Celebrities And Their Video Game Counterparts

by Andrew Reiner on Apr 06, 2016 at 12:54 PM

Video games and Hollywood have a long and confusing history together. Dating back to 1976's arcade game based on the film Death Race 2000, the excitement and drama that unfolds in films has been placed into gamers' hands for decades. Even working with the most primitive of technology, game makers tried to capture the look and feel of motion pictures in the interactive medium. We may laugh at the Atari 2600 adaptation of E.T. The Extra Terrestrial today, but in 1982, the blob of green pixels that made up E.T.'s body was an artistic accomplishment. It actually looked like E.T. at a time when many characters were just one giant, rectangular mass of pixels.

As game technology advanced, so did Hollywood's involvement in the medium. The Nintendo Entertainment System brought clarity to the character designs, allowing players to see the little details, such as Mel Gibson's mullet in Lethal Weapon, and that technology eventually graduated to the point that an actor or actress' voice and likeness could be replicated digitally. Early on, likenesses were often used in conjunction with films, such as making a Terminator look just like an aging Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Riddick look just as menacing as Vin Diesel does on the silver screen. In other instances actors were brought in to play themselves, such as Snoop Dogg making a cameo in True Crime. Taking a cue from animated films, A-list talent was mostly used to bring a familiarity to fictional characters. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's Uriel Septim VII is popular mostly because he was voiced by the great Patrick Stewart. Septim looked nothing like Stewart, but everyone recognized his voice.

We're now seeing developers shy away from designing fictional characters with the hope that a recognizable actor or actress will be cast in the role. Quantum Break, Until Dawn, Beyond: Two Souls, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Halo 5: Guardians are the latest titles to bring actors and actresses to life in games. Although Beyond: Two Souls is created by famed game maker David Cage, his name didn't appear on the box. The selling point was instead Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, two of the main characters in Beyond. Their names were front and center on the box.

Yesterday's release of Quantum Break adds another layer to Hollywood's involvement in games. It begs the question: Rather than just playing a game, why not watch it as well? Quantum Break stitches gameplay with full-length TV episodes. While Quantum Break may go down in the history books as an experiment that is never attempted again, it is another piece of the trend of game creators wanting to use actor and actresses' likenesses instead of fictional beings. Here are 16 notable examples of talent getting the spotlight in games.

Ellen Page (Beyond: Two Souls)

Legal threats over a nude scene hang over an otherwise excellent performance from actress Ellen Page in Quantic Dreams’ Beyond: Two Souls. Page’s acting talents shined for most of Beyond’s emotionally charged sequences. Page’s take on Jodie Holmes was believable and periodically unexpected. With a script of over 2,000 pages, this was one of Page’s biggest acting challenges to date. Too bad the game (and her takeaway from it) didn’t turn out better.

Willem Dafoe (Beyond: Two Souls)

One of the most menacing actors of our time, Willem Dafoe brought an intensity to Beyond: Two Souls’ dramatic interactions. His character, Nathan Dawkins, often appeared onscreen alongside Ellen Page’s Jodie Holmes. The two had great chemistry, showing clearly that Hollywood talent can be used effectively in games.

Jean Reno (Onimusha 3: Demon Siege)

Set in Paris, Onimusha 3: Demon Siege enlisted the talents of one of the nation’s biggest action stars. Jean Reno played the role of Jacques, one of two playable characters in the game, who is tasked to defeat a demon army both in the past and present. Reno’s role in the game, and Capcom’s decision to deviate from Onimusha’s familiar character conventions, were applauded by critics when the game released in 2004.

Yusaku Matsuda (Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny)

Jean Reno wasn’t the first celebrity to battle Nobunaga Oda’s demon army in Onimusha. Capcom worked with the estate of late Japanese actor Yusaku Matsuda to bring his likeness into the game as a playable character. Matsuda, who played Jubei Yagyu, was featured on the game’s cover.

Nathan Fillion (Halo 3: ODST, Halo 5: Guardians)

Often seen hogging a Halo kiosk each year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Nathan Fillion is a huge Halo fan, so much so that he landed a role in the game, not just as a voice, but with his likeness perfectly intact. Fillion’s character, Edward Buck, is capable of dishing out the same dry wit the actor is known for. Fillion’s humor is better utilized in rival product Destiny.

Gackt (Final Fantasy: Crisis Core)

Gackt is a Japanese actor and rockstar who has become a fan favorite in Final Fantasy for two reasons: He is the voice and face of Genesis Rhapsodos (a character appearing in Crisis Core and Dirge of Cerebus), and also for his musical work on Dirge’s songs “Redemption” and “Longing.” Gackt also made waves by saying Squall’s character design was inspired by him, going as far to call Squall “Gackt #2.”

Hayden Panettiere (Until Dawn)

Best known as the invincible cheerleader from the TV show Heroes, Hayden Panettiere also proved to be a hard target to kill for Until Dawn’s serial killer. Panettiere played Samantha, a character who proved to be equally as likable as she was resourceful. Panettiere ran with the role, making the horror and suspense around her seem believable.

Rami Malek (Until Dawn)

Sony lucked out with Rami Malek joining Until Dawn’s cast. Prior to the game’s release, Malek was an up-and-coming actor, getting secondary roles in films like Night at the Museum, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, and Old Boy. His biggest success was a TV show called The War at Home. Thanks to Malek’s new show, Mr. Robot, he’s now a household name. Until Dawn released right as Mr. Robot was becoming a hit show. In the game, Malek plays the role of the unhinged brother, who is desperately trying to find some joy in his life. He plays a similar role in Mr. Robot.

Coming Up Next: Veronica Mars and a Jedi...

Kristen Bell (Assassin’s Creed)

The star of Frozen and Veronica Mars was the voice of reason for one of the deadliest assassins the world has ever known. Process that for a minute. Kristen Bell is one of the biggest stars to appear in any game, and to this day Lucy Stillman is one of the most interesting characters in Assassin’s Creed’s lore. Lucy sadly never got the spotlight she deserved. Ubisoft instead decided to kill the character in one of the most confusing ways possible. The series’ future story arc, which Ubi still clings to, has gone down hill since Bell left the series.

Aaron Staton (L.A. Noire)

Mad Men’s Aaron Staton was tasked with bringing life to one of video games’ mostly deeply layered and flawed characters, L.A. Noire’s Cole Phelps. A former U.S. Marine lieutenant in World War II and current Los Angeles police officer, Phelps must solve a number of homicides across the city while coming to terms with his own demons. Staton has proven he can play period-piece characters well, and delivered an outstanding performance as the conflicted Phelps.

Kevin Spacey (Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare)

It still seems surreal that Kevin Spacey took on the role of a video game bad guy, but he clearly had a blast doing it. He slid right into the role of private military contractor Jonathan Irons, delivering a role dripping with methodical sliminess. House of Cards’ Frank Underwood has a lot in common with Irons, only one is trying to lead the free world’s government, and the other is trying to destroy it.

Shawn Ashmore (Quantum Break)

Who says Iceman can’t have his own film? Shawn Ashmore, who played the frozen crusader in the X-Men films, stars as Jack Joyce in Quantum Break. Tasked to act in both live-action and game sequences, Ashmore is a constant in the game. Ashmore does a nice job of giving this character the scope and complexity to be interesting for such long periods of time. His banter with other characters flows naturally, and Ashmore does a great job ratcheting up the tension in the action sequences.

Aidan Gillen (Quantum Break)

Game of Thrones fans may have a hard time not seeing Petyr Baelish whenever Aidan Gillen flashes a sinister smile in Quantum Break, but the famed actor makes for a great nemesis, channeling a dark aura to go along with a tech-savvy intelligence. Gillen is just a convincing as Ashmore, and is a nicely developed character with layers to dig through.

Bruce Willis (Apocalypse)

Activision originally approached Bruce Willis to be a sidekick character in Apocalypse. Those discussions eventually gave way to Willis being the star of the game, a character named Trey Kincaid. Willis' involvement in the project decreased as development went on, but his voice and likeness are everywhere in the game, even if the plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. Willis’ character model was later used for the early creation phases of the wildly successful Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series.

Jet Li (Rise to Honor)

Jet Li was heavily involved in the creation of Rise to Honor, going so far as to do all of his own motion-capture work. Sony also brought in martial arts choreographer Corey Yuen to work with Li on the action sequences. The game played like a movie, and even included selectable chapters just like you’d find in a DVD. Although Li plays a new character named Kit Yun, references to his other films are littered throughout the game, making it a fun tour of Li’s career as much as it is a decent little action game.

Samuel Witwer (Star Wars: The Force Unleashed)

LucasFilm may have erased Starkiller from Star Wars' lore, but for two games, actor Samuel Witwer (from Battlestar Galactica and Smallville fame) was more powerful than Darth Vader. His voice and likeness were used effectively in the game to portray a just Jedi or corrupt Sith. The player had somewhat of a say in what path Starkiller went down. Starkiller was a fun character, but it's probably best that he's nothing but a dream now.