What a difference a voice makes

Thanks to Aaron’s recommendation I went out and picked up a copy of Mercenaries 2: World in Flames for the Xbox 360 the other day. It’s early days, but so far I’m really enjoying it. And yet I almost stuck it back on the shelf shortly after booting it up.

Why? Because I picked the wrong character.

Mercs 2 lets you choose 1 of 3 mercenaries to play as. There’s the crazed biker dude from the box (enhanced health regeneration), the grizzled vet (enhanced ammo capacity) and the money-hungry female-agent type (enhanced speed). I figured better health was the obvious choice, so I started playing the crazy dude, Mattias.

And his commentary immediately started grating on me. He’s a nutter, so I’m not saying it wasn’t appropriate for the character, but wow, did I ever get sick of it quickly. He’d name his guns and coo to them that it was time to kill a lot of people… stuff like that. And his voice was similar enough to the voice of the bad guys that sometimes I wasn’t sure who was saying what. It never really felt like the character was talking; it was just a disembodied voice spouting looney things.

Rather than quit the game, I restarted as Jennifer Mui, the ‘all business’ mercenary who is in it for the bucks. She is wonderfully voiced by Jennifer Hale, who has done voice work for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and tons of other games, movies and TV shows (look forward to her in Brutal Legend this fall). Mattias is voiced by Peter Stormare who has done plenty of acting but not a lot of voice work.

The difference, to me at least, was night and day. I connected with Jennifer Mui as a ‘real’ character in the game. Ms. Hale’s voice fits both the character and the lines, which tend towards being a lot more subtle than Mattias’s kill kill kill stuff. My feminist readers might take some exception to some of her quips that complain about ruining outfits and so forth, but when she blasts open a crate and finds a cache of weapons and ammo and mutters “It’s never shoes” I can’t help but chuckle, knowing as many female shoe enthusiasts as I do. When Jennifer (the character & the actress) speaks, you know its her talking. I can’t explain it but somehow it really seems like it’s her, and not the ‘disembodied voice’ feeling that Stormare/Mattias produced.

Now clearly, gameplay come first; I’m not saying good voice work & dialog can turn a bad game into a gem. But I was really surprised at how much my attitude towards Mercenaries 2 changed when I choose a different character, and it wasn’t because of the character’s abilities… it was because of her personality.