“With my personality, you either love me or hate me.”
And that, Mr. North, is the understatement of this console generation’s entire life cycle. For those of you unaware, Nolan North has carved a legacy of being hired for voice work in just about every single game ever. One minute, he’s the dashing witty everyman spouting all the smug dialogue you can tolerate, the next he’s enemy soldier #472 that you just shot down. A man who knows that to survive in this business, you have got to do some of the grunt work. While North has had some amazingly iconic performances in the world of video games, for every one of his great roles, there seems to be another that’s… well… lets just say he’s not going to put them on his resume.
So for today’s special treat, we get two Top 5’s for the price of one: five of Nolan North’s greatest roles, and five of his not so great. We will alternate between the two one after another, starting with one of his lesser roles as…
5. Male Hero (Fable 2)
Seriously, was it really that important to hire a top rate voice actor like North just to do a bunch of grunts and groans? It would be one thing if this were some real iconic silent protagonist like Link or Gordon Freeman, but he’s not. This guy doesn’t even have a name, let alone any personality. Yeah I’m sure this game has a lot of fun stories for North to tell to his kids. How about something that will actually take advantage of North’s ability to talk out of his ass. You know like…
5. Deadpool (Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions)
Now that’s what I’m talking about. The anti-hero for hire. The mask for your task. The guy who won’t die. While North’s voice can be found in many Marvel Comic video games properties in several different roles (he also plays Cyclops and War Machine on occasion) his performance as Deadpool shines above all others. He takes the merc by the mouth and he slays people with his charisma. You may have heard several of his one-liners in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 Fate of Two Worlds. But his debut in the opening intro to the Deadpool level in Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions is where he’s at his most gut wrenching. In fact, I love his performance so much that I’m just about ready say “screw Ryan Reynolds; if they ever make a live action Deadpool Movie, give it to Nolan freaking North.”
That or Nathan Fillion. Either or.
4. Tiny (Crash of the Titans)
The original Crash Bandicoot series on the PS1 was one of the first games of its kind to have fully voiced dialogue, spot on lip-syncing, and surprisingly refreshing writing. It baffles me that a game released in 2007 couldn’t even be as good as something released in 1998. Since the rights were lost from Naughtydog to Universal, the series has been moving from developer to developer. It is now trapped in the clutches Radical Games, who have done a craptastic job of annihilating the good Bandicoot’s credibility from the inside out. Take Tiny here for example. While Nolan North also plays the new Dr. N.Gin in this series and does an alright job with that, the developers told him to make the newly rebooted Tiny a walking Mike Tyson stereotype.
From the syntax of the original Tiny, “Joke like that only funny once. Afterward, it become annoying. Gus like Tiny better when Tiny referred to self in 3rd person, and speak incomplete sentences.”
4.Sigmund (Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time)
Here’s one that is not the typical Nolan North character at all. Once a lowly cleaner bot located on the planet Viceron, Sigma 0426A (AKA Sigmund) was discovered by Orvis and hired as a Junior Caretaker at the Great Clock. In A Crack in Time, it is his duty to teach Clank all he needs to know to take on his father’s role as Senior Caretaker. In a previous interview, Nolan North stated that he wishes he could do more fun goofy roles such as Sigmund, because they take full advantage of his range as a voice actor. Sigmund is one of few Nolan North characters that if you heard him, you would not guess he is Nolan right off the bat. I know I have more than covered my love for Ratchet and Clank last week, but this is easily one of my favorite characters, not just in A Crack in Time, but of the whole franchise. It makes me feel that if Insomniac does intend on continuing Ratchet and Clank’s adventures, that we visit the Great Clock just so we can see Sigmund again.
3. Raphael (TMNT The Game)
Lets make something perfectly clear. Yes, I know Nolan North also played the voice of Raph in the 2007 TMNT movie. No, this is in no way against his performance in said movie. In fact I loved it. He was an excellent Raph. BUT, that does not excuse the Ugh-inspiring performance that pollutes this game. I didn’t play it, but I watched my good friend Kevin play it just to boost his gamer score, and he honestly could not play as Raph for more than three minutes before wanting to rip the speakers out of his outlets (that or just turn them off). All thanks to this lame ass one-liner that not only does not makes sense in the context of the game, but gets repeated over and over and over and over and OVER AND OVER AGAIN! (…and over!) I am literally convinced that Nolan spent less than a minute recording in-game dialogue and sound bites for this game, and Ubisoft just left it on an unlimited repeat. What, was he charging them by the hour so they got him to record the bare minimum and let him go?
From the words of the original Raphael, “Give me a break!”
3. The Penguin (Batman Arkham City)
Unfortunately, I have not yet got to play Arkham City, but Chris has, and he wrote an excellent review of it last week. I myself have still seen plenty of trailers, footage of the Penguin boss fight, and heard a few of Mr. Strange’s tapes, so despite not playing the game, I feel I am plenty qualified to confirm the authenticity of Mr. North’s performance. The story begins with Mr.Cobblepot already established as one of the big three leaders in the Arkham City Turf War (in fact, I’m told he was supposedly the very first prisoner locked in the city to begin with). From what I’ve heard so far, North brings out the finesse of one of Gotham’s more sophisticated psychopaths like a charm (quite the oxymoron there). He certainly lives up to the standard set by the rest of the game’s legendary voice cast, including our leads Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
Some people might have some issues with the London/Cockney/almost Australian accent he has going on, but I’ll buy it.
2. Spinoza (50 Cent Bulletproof)
I guess it’s true what they say. You really do have to start at the bottom and work your way to the top. For the record, 50 Cent Bulletproof is one of the absolute worst games of the last console generation. No, I did not play it. Why? Because I was a good boy, and when X-Play told me that it was a game that was, and I quote, “One Part Hip-Hop, one part shooter, and all parts crap,” I believed them. I don’t know the details, I don’t care about the details, all I know is that Nolan North was right down in the fray of this crap café, playing… some generic bad dude with a generic bad dude name, Spinoza, saying all the generic bad dude clichés you can think of. Classic stock phrases like, “You’re in no position to be making threats,” or “If you ever want to see your girlfriend again,” and assorted others.
What sucks even more is that in an Alphabetical list of all the video games he’s performed in, this game always comes up at the very top do to it’s numerical title, so right away it paints a negative look at his career that he really doesn’t deserve.
2. Dalton Brooks (Overstrike)
Okay, so this is cheating right now. This game isn’t even out yet. In fact, all we have of Overstrike is a two-minute teaser trailer of Agent Brooks being questioned about the various members of his team, and yet, that is all I need to see in order to confirm just how awesome this voice work is. I don’t even have a full confirmation that the guy voicing Mr. Brooks is in fact Nolan North. For all I know, it could just be a really good sound-alike.
But seriously, who are we trying to kid? I would recognize that million-dollar tone of cool a mile away. If this game turns out anywhere near as epic as it’s trailer is making it out to be, then there is a very good chance Nolan North will become more recognized for this role than he’ll be for either of his current #1 best or worst characters.
Though for now, he is most famously, and infamously, known for the following.
1. Desmond Miles (Assassin’s Creed Series)
Good. God. This. Guy. Is. The. Biggest. Tool. Imaginable. Just looking at his smug stoned-ass face makes me want to bash his teeth in. Thinking that he’s this real special guy simply because everybody’s counting on him to solve all their problems with the Templars, even though he does jack squat. No, lying in a chair and entering your subconscious so that OTHERS can decipher hidden memories of your ANCESTOR’S heroic exploits does not count as YOU actually doing anything. Especially when you come off the whole time as a more punkish version of the typical Mathew Broderick stereotype, with this dumbfounded look on his face, going “Huh? What? What’s going on? Where are you taking me? Why am I here? Are you my love interest?” While everyone else just tells him just sit there, be the lab rat that he is, and shut the hell up.
All right, so I’ve really only played one Assassin’s Creed game: Assassin’s Creed 2. As for what I though of the actual game, I liked it. Most of it at least. Great setting, fun story, engaging characters (most of them at least), and yet, I can’t honestly say I had any desire to play any more of the series once I finished it. The unnecessarily complicated running and climbing controls were one thing, the slow-paced, clunky, repetitive combat system I can get over, but the ending of the story was the real killjoy for me. I was really into Ezio Auditore’s character arc in AC2, and how much he developed in just that one game, and at the very end of his final battle with the Pope, he gets this out-of-nowhere message from this celestial being that is calling out, not to him, but Desmond, and he’s like “WTF!,” or as he would put it “Who iz zis Desmond? It sounds like somvone I vould beat up.”
You know the real reason why Ubisoft has made so many AC2 downloads and spinoffs, including last years Brotherhood, and this years Revelations? Because it’s working. Ezio is eons more interesting a character than Desmond, and there is still plenty to explore regarding his character, his timeline, his environment, and how he personally connects with the other generations of assassins. Basically, they are delaying the inevitable. They know that when they finally have to make Assassin’s Creed 3, that they will be forced to focus strictly on Desmond, and have it be in a modern day urban sandbox setting that has already been done to death in video games a thousand times over. Unless Mr. North can pull a miracle of a performance out of his ass in the final chapter, this series could be going out with a whimper.
And with that out of the way, we come to the crown jewel of Nolan North’s career. A character that has just about become synonymous with his own being. A man who needs no introduction (but is getting one anyway).
1. Nathan Drake (Uncharted Series)
The road to video game stardom for Nathan Drake has not been an easy one. After his debut at E3 back in 2006, he was immediately dubbed “Dude Raider” by the press. Since then, he’s been accused of being everything from a white supremacist to an Abercrombie and Fitch model. Oh, I especially found the “Indiana Jones as written by Joss Whedon and played by Dane Cook” comment pretty damn harsh. I mean, I can accept the Joss Whedon comment, but come on. Nathan Fillion, yes. Gerard Butler, fine. Christian Slater, maybe. Mark Walberg, that’s pushing it. But Dane Cook? NO ONE deserves that amount of accusation.
And yet despite all that, Nolan North has managed to achieve a genuine sense of charm with Drake that is nigh impossible to find in any other game series. It is true that writing and characterization has evolved leaps and bounds in video games since their humble roots, but the subtle and natural comedic moments found in Uncharted are often far more challenging to pull off than any of the big scale dramatic epics like Bioshock or Mass Effect.
No, not everyone will like Nate, nor are they obligated to. I’ve accepted that. But he is undoubtedly Nolan’s best work. Not only does he voice him, but he also mo-caps for him and improvises a good chunk of his dialogue. He is literally a character only Nolan can perform.
This November, we saw the release of Nathan’s third adventure on the PS3, Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception. Stay tuned for my full review coming up tomorrow.