If you’ve been playing games at all in the past 2 years chances are you’ve run across the man, the myth, the legend, Nolan North. The established voice actor of numerous TV shows & games (Justice League & Dark Void) really stepped into the limelight with 2007’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Since then it seems that word has spread about Mr. North’s voice acting chops and his use has increased like a horde of Zombies after a boomer has just been to town.
Here is where the issue begins. The more Mr. North is used for characters other than Drake the harder it becomes to feel lost in the other game’s story. It’s not so much a problem of North’s voice (I’m sure he’s loving the extra money as voice acting isn’t the highest paid profession) but its a problem with the people directing the game. It mainly comes down to him being told not to alter his speaking voice. I don’t think its an issue of him not being able to do a different voice either, as you can see here. I believe that they hire him, tell him to jump in the booth and say “Be Drake throughout all the recordings”. This leaves the final product feeling uninspired and actually ends up having the opposite effect of what they are trying to do. Nolan is pegged as the everyman; a sort of slateless protagonist that everyone can identify with which succeeds where it also fails.
But the problem is that all the characters he voices have the same exact voice. So no matter who the protagonist is your mind instantly ask “Why is Nathan Drake wearing a jetpack (Dark Void) or in a metroid esc suit of armor (Shadow Complex)” His inclusion gives the exact opposite desired effect. Again, I don’t think it’s an issue with Nolan himself as he’s shown he has a wide assortment of voices in his range; its just the studios utter lack of creativity or direction they give him when he steps in the booth. The one exception to this I believe was Halo 3: ODST where I didn’t know it was him until the credits rolled and I looked at the voice talent.
I think Nolan is to be commended though, he breathed life into an aspect of gaming many had felt never really mattered in the long run. Which really is a testament to just how great the staff at Naughty Dog is. All of the cast for Uncharted did much to push the medium into focusing more on the talent they hire to deliver the lines in these multi-million dollar projects. The Industry seems to be in a weird adjustment period, trying to gather talented voice actors to breath life into conversations their character engage in during their games. In the past the gaming industry relied on established actors of films and TV shows to lend what they assumed would be Oscar worthy performances to their products. Sadly, most of the time this ended up not being the case as the celebrity talent they would hire would phone in their performance to cash a quick paycheck. I’m glad to see that companies have steered away from the celebrity trend for the most part but there is tons of voice talent that is going underutilized in the gaming space.
Nolan appears to be a trend that probably isn’t going to be leaving anytime soon. We’re going to be hearing a lot more of Mr North, hopefully, we won’t all notice when we do.