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Voicing Celebrity Concerns

Voicing Celebrity Concerns (photo)

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Movie stars sell movie tickets, but do they also sell video games? The latest title to put this question to the test is “Brütal Legend,” a new action-adventure title set in a heavy-metal land of mythic creatures and crushing tunes that stars Tenacious D frontman and “School of Rock” maestro Jack Black as the voice (and likeness) of its head-banging hero Eddie Riggs.

Developed by acclaimed designer Tim Schafer (of “Grim Fandango,” “Psychonauts”) with Black’s creative input, “Brütal Legend” is a heavily hyped game that’s invested a lot in the popularity of Black, who’s not only touted in ads as the lead but who even has shown up on red carpets dressed as Riggs. More so than any other recent game, “Brütal Legend” has pinned its retail hopes on players’ fondness for its lead voice actor, a decision that says a lot about the industry’s desire to market their games around recognizable voice talent.

But does anyone really give a hoot who’s speaking their on-screen avatar’s lines? The answer’s still “Reply hazy, try again.” The same goes as to whether having a celeb’s participation really does anything to enhance a game’s quality. There’s no doubt that, at least when it come to movie tie-in games, having the cast carry through to the game helps maintain synergy. But in terms of stand-alone titles, the benefits of having celebrity voice actors is murkier, thanks to the many examples out there where celeb efforts either did nothing for the game or actually hurt as much as helped the overall product.

Signing a big name movie star to voice your game’s protagonist or villain definitely carries with it a sense of credibility, all the more to make the argument that gaming is just a legit an industry as cinema, one with major talent getting involved. But as more and more actors turn their gaze to the console and PC arena, it’s getting difficult to see what significant benefit, if any, is really enjoyed by games that choose to use them.

The practice first took off in the ’90s, when CD-based crud like “Night Trap” (starring Dana Plato) and “Wing Commander III” (headlined by Mark Hamill and John Rhys-Davies) erroneously assumed that having filmed cutscenes of real actors would enhance the gaming experience. But the modern trend to hire accomplished actors really kicked into gear with 2001’s “Grand Theft Auto III” and, to an even greater extent, its 2002 sequel “Vice City.” Featuring Dennis Hopper, Ray Liotta and Samuel L. Jackson (among many others), “Vice City” has a star-studded cast to match its over-the-top scale, one made up of actors whose badass personas perfectly meshed with the game’s gonzo thug-life material.

There can be an artistic danger in relying too heavily on celeb voice actors, as seen in the case of animation. Following the lead of DreamWorks’ “Shrek” series, the majority of animated films have started pushing their A-list voice cast in the same way they would any in-the-flesh leads, which can get in the way of the fiction that their characters are “real” as opposed to performed “roles” — “Hey, that’s Seth Rogen voicing the adorable gelatinous blob!” Games haven’t, at least until “Brütal Legend,” gone quite that far, but it’s a future fast approaching.

11202009_Wet.jpgMy favorite AAA game from 2008, the time-usurping post-apocalyptic RPG “Fallout 3,” offered up the vocal stylings of Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman, all of whom provided fine work that had absolutely no bearing on my attitude toward the game. Similarly, Eliza Dushku’s starring role as “WET”‘s sexy mercenary Rubi didn’t make a lick of difference, not because her work was terrible (“adequate” would be a more appropriate assessment), but because the game’s interests aren’t in serious drama (or engaging scripting) but choreographed action.

The list goes on — Patrick Stewart in “Oblivion,” Tim Curry and Jenny McCarthy in “Red Alert 3,” Linda Hunt in the “God of War” franchise — and the conclusions are usually the same: actors can be solid in games, but their efforts rarely elevate or desecrate a title’s general value, except in those many instances (mostly, again, with movie tie-ins) when the celebs’ voice acting is so lifeless, stilted and disconnected from the action at hand that it calls attention to their lousy contribution.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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