Thursday, December 3, 2009

Nolan North, You Are Not Samuel L. Jackson

I write this not because I think Nolan North has a misconception about the existence of a country called 'What,' but because I'm concerned that Mr. North doesn't quite have the same ubiquitous appeal as Jackson, despite the recent casting decisions made by many developers.

I like Nolan North. I think he does great voice work, especially wielding the dry wit of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series, but I'm starting to wonder if he might not be getting a tad over exposed. I mean, he's already typecast as the Lovable Rogue--which, as far as typecasting goes, is pretty good--but it sometimes feels like the man is in
every game I play. Assassin's Creed 2 is the latest in a long list that has got me thinking about it.

As Desmond, North's character in AC2, was opening the game, I immediately recognized North's voice and couldn't dissociate it from Nathan Drake's. Did he voice Desmond in the first game too? Curious, I looked up the voice credits for AC1 and, lo-and-behold he had done the voice work for the original as well, before he exploded as the voice of Drake back in 2007.

This past summer North also starred as the voice of Jason Fleming in the biggest-selling Xbox Live title to date, Shadow Complex. Jason so much resembled Nathan Drake that many people took to calling the game Uncharted Complex.

In 2008, North starred as the re-imagined Prince in the newest Prince of Persia. Again, north seemed to play Nathan Drake, adapted to a mythical ancient Persia-type setting.

So, North has starred in two Assassin's Creed games, two Uncharted games, Shadow Complex and Prince of Persia, for a total of six mega-selling triple-A titles all released within the past two years.

Aside from this already exorbitant amount of exposure, North has done videogame voice work for Dragon Age: Origins, Halo 3, Halo ODST, Transformers 2, inFamous, Madworld, Gears of War 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Dark Sector, Lost Odyssey, Unreal Tournament III, Spider-Man 3, TMNT, Rachet and Clank: Size Matters, Lost Planet, Resistance: Fall of Man, SOCOM, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Saints Row, Call of Duty 2, God of War, Everquest II and, in addition, only about a hundred cartoons and television shows. He's also already slated for what seems to be a major supporting role in Obsidian's upcoming RPG/FPS, Alpha Protocol.

Again, I do enjoy North's work. However, the fact that I now recognize his voice in most games I play, even if it's just as Red Shirt #1, is really starting to hurt my sense of immersion and investment. Not so much when North is playing backup, but when the leads from three of my favorite series start to become some strange amalgamation of Assassin/Prince/Fortune Hunter, it really does make me stop, think "North has his fingers in this one
too?" and wonder why it is that so many developers see him as a buoy for character development and likability.

He's good. He's not so good to keep from being instantly recognizable and slightly grating as when he (too often) plays only slight variations of Drake's character. There are lots of videogame voice actors that also seem to be in every game, but, to their credit, their characters are more diverse in disposition.

I guess I'm worried that North is commanding too much of a monopoly on the male-lead parts in the videogame casting world. I like his work, but I don't want to hear him in everything I play and, if I must, I really want him to start trying harder and not just settle into channeling Nathan Drake for every character.

Is it just me? What do you guys think? Do you notice him too, or is his mile-long list of credits a surprise to you? If you have noticed him, has it bothered you?

Edit: Also, does it bother anyone else that the characters he plays the same all look similar to each other (and to him!) to boot?


  1. I have noticed he's in almost everything. But since Uncharted was the last of them all to play, he was never Drake first to me in my own personal experience, though everyone would always say "It has the voice actor who did Nathan Drake in Uncharted!" so even though I hadn't played the game, Drake was still creeping around in the outer realms of my immersion, poking his head in and reminding me it wasn't actually a Prince in Persia.

  2. I haven't noticed Nolan yet, despite having enjoyed Everquest II and Call of Duty 2 tremendously (I'm embarrassed to say those are the only two games on the list that I've played). But I have noticed celebrity voiceovers in the past, sometimes gratingly so. I'm looking at you, Patrick Stewart! Maybe the emperor in Elder Scrolls IV would have been more interesting if he could magically make women's clothes fall off.