Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Kids in Cyberpunk and Valhalla should be seen and heard

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I recently bounced back between Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Cyberpunk 2077, and something stood out during that time: These two games broke with the genre’s tradition by introduce children in their open worlds. I’m so used to seeing entire cities devoid of young people that the first time I saw one walking the streets of Night City, it stopped me dead in my tracks. What are you doing here anyway? And then I made the mistake of talking to the child. Yuck.

While their appearance was a surprise, their voice acting was not. Like pretty much every previous game, the kids of Cyberpunk 2077 speak with what I can only call a very specific voice quality. Almost without exception, young people look like a voice actor who frowns his pipe and does his best to carve out a few decades of his age. And I can’t think of a time when it wasn’t terrible to listen to.

I understand that it is probably impossible to select and register young people for important roles – and that labor law probably makes the process a logistical nightmare. Young characters who have spent a lot of screen time in games, such as Clementine from The Walking Dead and Sarah and Ellie from The Last of Us, have been voiced by actors older than their characters, and they did. phenomenal work. But these aren’t the types of characters I’m talking about.

No. I’m talking about the occasional little NPCs that inhabit Night City and the Valhalla vision of Europe. These characters only say a line or two, at best, and every time I make the mistake of listening to them speak, my skin crawls. I watched a tyke splash face down while playing hopscotch in a neon-lit alley, and walked over to her to see if she was okay. “Did you know that I love you?” she scratched before getting up. Maybe the “talk” prompt in Cyberpunk should be changed to “pull string”.

If the problem is that real kids can’t effectively deliver these lines, I hate to tell you – they don’t now. Maybe Ubisoft, CD Projekt Red, and everywhere else could organize office tours for their families (when the world is back to normal) and take a little detour to the recording booth. I know the developers are multiplying like rabbits – check out the credits for “production babies” if you don’t believe me – and that would be a great way to capitalize on taking your daughter to work. I am kidding. Sort of.

I know this is very difficult, and I don’t want to pile on studios that take the time and effort to bring virtual kids into their games. Take Watch Dogs: Legion as a counterexample. London must have a hell of a curfew going on; there isn’t a youngster in the whole scary town! I fully understand that putting kids in games creates all kinds of potential problems (especially in open world games that encourage chaos and destruction), but failing the spoken dialogue takes away all the hard work that has gone into it. necessary to implement them initially. If you have a character who will stick around for a long time, definitely hire actors whose voices won’t change in a year. After all, no one wants a revolving door of voice actors like the old Charlie Brown cartoons. But these unique characters? Hire some creepy kids!

In the end, I understand that it doesn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a (terribly voiced) series of simple sentences or two in games filled with hours of spoken dialogue. But if I’m not complaining about something, what else am I supposed to be doing here? I already moaned of having to run after the paper in Valhalla. Guess I could complain that Eivor can’t order his bird to piss off his enemies. Or maybe how Animal Crossing: New Horizons has a much better cell phone interface than Cyberpunk’s. Come to think of it, it probably would have been a better use of my time here.

Never mind.

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