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As video games have grown in ambition, detail, and budget, so stars of screens both small and silver have become increasingly interested and involved. Sometimes they've contributed their voices alone; at others, the whole package, be that through on-camera appearances or full-body motion capture and facial scans. But for all the Hollywood castings that have worked in gaming's favour, there's always a bunch that have been rotten to the core. And with Tom Cruise hotly rumoured to star in Bethesda's Starfield, now's a good time to take a little look at five of those less-successful performances.
Here's one A-lister who never disappoints - Jeff Goldblum, with some video game impressions
By the mid-1990s, plenty of full-motion video (FMV) games had featured familiar faces. Digital Pictures' Double Switch and Night Trap starred Corey Haim and Dana Plato, stars of American television and movies, respectively. Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, while not an FMV game exactly, had extensive cutscenes with Mark Hammill, Malcolm McDowell and John Rhys-Davies cast in leading roles. But Take-Two Interactive's serial killer sleuth 'em up Ripper was something else: a catastrophic collision of point-and-click gameplay and an A-list star who was riding pretty high but didn't appear to want the gaming gig, at all.
Christopher Walken was long-established on stage and screen by the '90s, but 1994's Pulp Fiction helped introduce the Oscar-winner to whole new audiences - those who'd not yet seen The Deer Hunter or Heaven's Gate, and perhaps only knew him from his electrifying turn as Max Shreck in Batman Returns. A big deal, then, in a cast that also found space and budget for Karen Allen, Paul Giamatti, and John Rhys-Davies (I guess he didn't mind games, then). But as the fedora-topped and cigar-chewing Detective Vince Magnotta, Walken is a wreck. Ripper, as a game, was met with a modestly warm reception - but Walken's performance in it has gone down in history as one of the medium's worst.
In a 2019 piece on Wired, Walken's demands on an unsuspecting team are laid bare: he demanded a car from New York to Connecticut, with no warning. He's also said to read all of his lines directly from a teleprompter, leading the game's writer, FJ Lennon, to comment: "I don't think Walken even knew what we were making." Apparently, at the time, Walken wasn't familiar at all with how to use a computer, let alone play (or make) a game for one. Some may find the star's performance suitably, I suppose, Walken-esque. But I know I can't see and hear footage of the game and not cringe as he delivers lines about blood "spladda", and how "this guy, he's un-f***ing-believeable." Please, enjoy.
Film stars didn't come much bigger, and more bankable, than (the newly-added-to-CoD) Bruce Willis in the 1990s. While he'd had his hiccups, with movies like Mercury Rising and The Jackal, the final decade of the 20th century saw the former Moonlighting star rack up an impressive array of blockbusters, from 12 Monkeys and two Die Hard sequels to Armageddon, The Fifth Element, and The Sixth Sense. His name on a bill so often meant dollar signs.
Neversoft's Apocalypse, published by Activision, looked to benefit from the star power of Willis by casting him - well, his voice and likeness - as protagonist Trey Kincaid. But he wasn't cast with the action game's leading role in mind - that was to be another character, a player-controlled mercenary, with Willis-as-Trey working as an AI buddy. As a result, his lines in the final game are fairly limited, as Trey's contributions were never meant to be as meaningful as they became, once development shifted to putting the Willis avatar under the player's control.
"Hey, I'm not getting paid enough to do this crap," Trey announces, early in the game - but for once, I'm not sure the "crap" in question, playing out on screen, is entirely of the actor's making. His vocal contributions are largely restricted to one-liners, drowned out by a mix that puts explosions (and System of a Down) front and centre of the speakers. So it's less that Willis is bad here, more that the team at Neversoft shifted the context of his involvement, leading to a deeply average end product.
Ubisoft's stylish shooter XIII is mostly remembered for its striking art style, with its cel-shaded visuals as great-looking today as they were on release. (Shame about that bland-A-F 2020 remake, huh.) The game attracted some big names for its voice cast, too, with Eve as Major Jones and Batman's own Adam West as General Carrington. And as the hero of the game, the amnesia-struck XIII/Jason Fly, none other than The X-Files star David Duchovny.
And, yeah, that didn't really work, at all. The X-Files had ended its original run in 2002, but the man known to millions as Fox Mulder was much in demand for other roles. He'd made a decent dent in Hollywood, showing up in a headline capacity in romantic comedy Return To Me in 2000 and both Zoolander and Evolution the following year. Full Frontal in 2002 represented a dip in form but, generally, Duchovny was a reliable addition to any ensemble. With the exception of XIII.
While West and Eve do their very best with the material in front of them, bringing vocal animation to match the on-screen scenes, Duchovny is painfully flat in comparison. "I feel like I've spent three months inside a tin can," he announces to Jones, in one cutscene - and it's likely the player would have preferred he'd stayed there. It all feels like a first read-through, with emphasis falling in the wrong areas - although, that same emphasis is barely notable, at the best of times.
Vin Diesel loves video games, and we've a lot of time for the man. He's executive producer on the forthcoming Ark 2, and also stars in it - which sounds like a dream job for someone who put over 1,000 hours into the original game. Twelve years ago, he appeared in virtual form in his second video game, having already lit up cinemas in The Fast & The Furious, Pitch Black, and XXX. Sadly, Wheelman was almost completely forgettable, despite his best efforts.
Okay, "best efforts" is generous. Again, we like Vin, he's here for games and we're here for that, but oh man does he ever phone it in for Wheelman. As an open-world game with both on-foot action and in-car destruction, it tried to mix Grand Theft Auto's DNA with Burnout's, and came out with little discernible flavour of its own. Diesel plays the player-controlled Milo Burik with an oddly tired tone in his voice, his delivery slow and unable to match the energy of leaping from one moving car to another.
Maybe he was worn out from all his film work. Maybe he thought Milo should always sound like he'd just woken up. Whatever the reason for Vin's lacklustre performance, though, playing through Wheelman finds the actor expressing less range than we heard him exhibit when he was voicing the titular role in The Iron Giant - and that thing is literally a robot.
Finally, for this oh-so-brief look at some truly terrible gaming voice work, we've come to the one you were all waiting for. A performance so bad that it was actually cut from the game, with all of the original lines re-recorded by another performer.
It's hard to fathom how Bungie's Destiny got it so wrong, casting Peter Dinklage as the player's AI companion, Ghost. Having risen through countless smaller roles on television and in movies, Dinklage became a household name as Tyrion Lannister in HBO's Game of Thrones, and was absolutely one of the most in-demand actors in the world around the time of this game's release. And yet, it just didn't work, did it? Players and critics agreed that Ghost's voice-over was a weak spot in a bright game.
Perhaps it wasn't all Peter's fault. According to Bungie, the decision to not work with Dinklage again on the game's The Taken King expansion of 2015 was down to "Hollywood nonsense", rather than any grand desire on their part to make a change. They replaced him with Nolan North, known to gamers as the voice of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, and he subsequently went over Dinklage's lines in the original game, too, for consistency. RIP, Dinklebot. Thank goodness that the Internet Remembers. And if you want more, watch the Kotaku video, below.
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