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Games can now deliver well-crafted and layered narratives, and with motion-capture and highly-talented performers taking on roles, the level of performances can sometimes rival that of television and film. It’s important to recognize the brilliant video game performances that delivered an experience well worth an Oscar award or two.
Updated January 2, 2022 by Doruk Kaptan: With motion capture technology becoming more and more commonplace with each passing year, games have taken actors’ performances to a whole new level.
Several modern video games are capable of pulling at your heartstrings by the look on a character’s face, just like in live-action. With that being the case, these performances are deserving of a reward for sure.
Few voices are as synonymous with their characters as Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. These two juggernauts of voice acting have brought these characters to life in several mediums, and one of the shining examples is the critically acclaimed Batman Arkham series.
Kevin Conroy is as great as ever, but Mark Hamill totally steals the show. Being allowed to go absolutely off the rails and dip into the inherent campiness of the character, Hamill likely brought us the best Joker performance of all time in this series.
14 Vaas – Far Cry 3
Many fans of Breaking Bad know Michael Mando as Nacho from the prequel Better Call Saul. It appears the man can act in a mocap suit just as well. The iconic character Vaas was beautifully portrayed by Mando to amazing effect.
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His unnerving demeanor, dangerous outlook, and straight-up instability made for an amazing character. To this day, his monologue on the definition of insanity is one of the best in gaming. The character was so intriguing he was even brought back for Far Cry 6.
13 Lara Croft – Tomb Raider
It’s really hard to give life and depth to a character that hasn’t been more than a few polygons as the protagonist. It’s doubly hard when a said character has been portrayed by the one and only Angelina Jolie on the big screen. Despite the challenge, though, Camilla Luddington gave us yet another iconic Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider series.
With the reboot of the series back in 2013, it was crucial to have a version of Lara Croft that was deeper and gave players more to connect with. With a great performance, Luddington gave us the quintessential modern Lara Croft. She was so great in the game that the live-action film Tomb Raider, released in 2018, based its depiction on Luddington’s portrayal.
12 Trevor – GTA V
Trevor is a creature of chaos. No matter how ready you are for the wacky side of GTA 5, Trevor still manages to catch you off guard with his antics and violence. That is largely thanks to the amazing portrayal of Steven Ogg.
When you have a character so violent, random, and unhinged, it’s essential to have that feel real and raw. Steven Ogg manages to do just that. He gave us a character so iconic that many people know him from screenshots and memes, even if they haven’t played the game.
11 Max/Chloe – Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is a game that balances fantasy elements and human emotion perfectly. That crucial balance requires loveable characters you can empathize with, of course. Thanks to Hannah Rebecca Telle and Ashly Burch’s portrayals of Max and Chloe, we got just that.
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Few duos in gaming manage to pull at your heartstrings like these two young women. With a game that shines through its narrative more so than its gameplay, such as Life Is Strange, great characters and acting were necessary for success. Luckily, these two amazing actors delivered just that.
10 Kratos – God of War
When the God of War soft reboot was announced, fans immediately became interested in the new approach to Kratos as a character. With Christopher Judge playing the titular character, the game showcased a sense of depth the ruthless killer had always lacked.
The game focuses on the relationship between Kratos and his son Atreus. Judge delivers an emotionally impactful performance that expertly showcases the nuances of Kratos as he navigates parenthood via the balance of his true nature versus what he’s tried so hard to become in this new life.
9 Nathan Drake – Uncharted 4
Since the first Uncharted title, actor Nolan North has brought the main protagonist Nathan Drake to life. With each new game in the series, his familiarity with the character and the writing team took the character to new heights.
Despite the games functioning as blockbuster fun with huge set-piece moments, it’s the character interactions, specifically in Uncharted 4, that provided North the opportunity to show Drake in a different light. Having the benefit of experience and development in technology also elevated this performance in particular.
8 Commander Shepard – Mass Effect Trilogy
Unlike the other titles and performances on this list, Jennifer Hale must get credit for what she did with Commander Shepard across all three titles in the Mass Effect Trilogy.
Though players could choose for their Commander Shepard to be either male or female, most consider Hale’s female performance to be the canonical one. This is most likely due to what she brought to the role, which many consider to be science fiction royalty. Hale’s still working hard, adding iconic roles to her resume.
7 Peter Parker/Spider-Man – Marvel’s Spider-Man
Yuri Lowenthal is a name you might recognize, as the actor has been the voice of anime and video games’ most beloved characters. The modern classic, Marvel’s Spider-Man, functions as a critically-acclaimed superhero open-world game, but it’s what Lowenthal did with Peter Parker that made the game and his performance feel special.
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Towards the end of the game, there are two scenes, one involving Aunt May and the other Otto Octavius, where Insomniac Games’ performance capture brought Lowenthal’s emotional performance to life in a way that felt both vulnerable and authentic to the tragic character of Peter Parker.
6 Joel/Ellie – The Last of Us
It’d be hard to argue that any video game has or ever will match the emotional resonance and impact of what The Last of Us did in its opening minutes. Few gamers can claim to have held back their tears.
From the beginning of the game to its credits sequence, Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker had the audience captivated and connected to Ellie and Joel’s journey through the world of clickers and more. The game as a whole is filled with stellar character performances that flesh out the world and add to the overall immersion.
5 Henry/Delilah – Firewatch
Firewatch is a first-person independent adventure game released in 2016 by developer Campo Santo. You play as Henry, voiced by Rich Sommer, who takes a job as a fire lookout in a Wyoming National Forest.
The game’s story revolves around his conversational relationship with fellow lookout Delilah, voiced by Cissy Jones. With just their voices, the two develop a close relationship as they seek to discover answers to the various mysteries occupying the surrounding wilderness.
4 Senua – Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Almost every other performance on this list was done by a professional actor who’s had years of training and experience working at their craft. Melina Juergens, who played Senua in Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, was a freelance photographer and video editor before this performance.
Through both her voice acting and motion capture performance, she managed to bring the character to life in such a commanding way that she was rewarded with numerous awards for her performance, including a BAFTA.
3 Ellie/Abby – The Last of Us Part II
The internet is rather divided when it comes to how the narrative of The Last of Us Part II played out, but any reasonable gamer will tell you that Ashley Johnson and Laura Bailey delivered when it came to their acting performances for Ellie and Abby, respectfully.
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Both characters were on journeys of revenge, with each coming to terms with what this deep-seated hatred cost them at all turns. A piece of art that makes you respond positively or negatively is much better than something that does neither.
2 Lee Everett – Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is a series that went on for several seasons, with Clementine being the game’s main character for most of it. The first season kick-started the series, with Dave Fennoy voicing the original protagonist, Lee Everett, a man under arrest thrust into a zombie apocalypse in which he finds an abandoned child he feels he must protect.
As with most great stories, his isn’t without tragedy. The complexities of morality and dealing with one’s past are executed to perfection by Fennoy as he provides the world with arguably the best performance in the entirety of The Walking Dead series.
1 Arthur Morgan – Red Dead Redemption 2
Red Dead Redemption 2, critically, is one of the best games ever made, and a lot of that has to do with the numerous amazing performances in the game by members of the Van Der Linde gang.
Arthur Morgan is introduced as this game’s protagonist, a man who goes on a character arc focused on redemption and forgiveness. Roger Clark weaves a magical display of hardened outlaw and vulnerable human introspection that endears Arthur to anyone experiencing his journey. By the time the game reaches its conclusion, it’s clear that Roger Clark is as talented an actor as they come, regardless of the medium.
Next: The Best Story-Driven Video Games Of All-Time