My saga into Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just starting, but there is something pissing me off: The voice over. And it can probably explain why the “it’s fully voice over” in Star Wars: The Old Republic doesn’t have any appeal to me.
Oh yes, I know it helps immersing you in the story, but the thing is: I can read things faster than they speak. So the guy talking to me is half-way through their phrase and I already read everything. Sure, I could turn subtitles off, but… well, I’m not a native English speaker (as you should have probably guessed reading my posts so far) and there still are some words I can’t immediately pick up (and I don’t think any of those games offers a “rewind cinematic” option either).
There was one game with voice overs that did hit the spot, though: Half Life 2.
If you have it, install it and check it yourself: The dialogs are either direct to the point or really short. Not a full philosophical discussion about the existence of God by the complete analysis of Mayan calendar and its relation to modern architecture, a simple “yes” or “no”, most of the time. It cuts the dialogs into manageable parts, easy to read with subtitles, easy to understand and, most importantly, it doesn’t spoil anything if you’re a fast reader.
In the case of DE:HR, most dialog options of Jensen show a small phrase with whatever you’re going to say. The problem is, as soon as you select your option, Jensen will go into a full discourse about the topic selected, with the phrase in it. I still prefer that he says something instead of being the silent guy (a là Gordon Freeman), but the fact that I already know what’s the essence of he’s about to say just makes me thing I’m wasting my time watching him go into a full talk about it.
When Alyx was captured by a Hunter, I went full rampage on them, just ’cause I did care about her. When Jensen was telling Megan’s mother about the things he found missing in Megan’s death, I really wanted to check the “FUCK YOU, MRS REED!” ’cause I couldn’t stand hearing him talking that much anymore.
As Saint-Exupéry said “Perfection is attained, not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.” It seems, for some reason, game writers try to cram as much information as they can in dialogs, which leads to this “I’m wasting my time here!” problem.
Just to clear some things before I go: Does this mean that voice-overs are bad? No, Half Life 2 proved they can be used perfectly. Does that mean that Deus Ex: Human Revolution or Star Wars: The Old Republic are bad ’cause they have voice-overs? Again, no, it’s just a part of the whole. But surely it’s a flaw. And I’m talking about SW:TOR without hearing any voice-over, so it may be that they are short and to the point, but still isn’t enough to bring me to the game.
Edit: Oh yeah, I forgot Skyrim also have voice overs. But there are three differences:
1) You have the silent hero treatment, which helps you immerse into the character you designed. How would you feel about him/her if you rolled a male nord in the thinnest body possible and he had the deep voice of Farkas? Or a male Argonian and you didn’t said anything dragging the “esses” like Derkeethus?
2) You can cut the voice overs at any time. Guy talking too much? No worries, you can make him shut up by clicking (except the stupid deities/draenic spirits).
3) Your dialogs are always complete. Whatever you have to say is shown in the dialogs, so you never have to worry about “Will I sound like a good guy here” or not (happened to me one time in DE:HR, when I thought my choice was “I’m a dick and I don’t care” — ’cause it was the less dickish option in the ones I have — but the actual dialog sounded much more like a nice guy).