Troy Baker has been a busy dude. Popping up at Comic Con to steal the show with readings from The Killing Joke, and populating copious making of vignettes, the man has become virtually synonymous with 2013’s Triple A entertainment.
But he’s hardly new to the scene. Baker has lurked in the backgrounds, often literally, providing miscellaneous wit and atmosphere in games like Modern Warfare 2, Darksiders, New Vegas and a crapload of Naruto titles.
The talented jerk in question Enlarge
But if his star rose in recent years with higher profile roles in Saints Row: The Third, Resident Evil 6, Catherine, Arkham City and Mass Effect 3, then 2013 represented something of a supernova for Troy Baker’s career!
Suddenly everyone be like ‘Nolan who?’ ‘North of what, now?’
He hardly fluked this victory though, securing principal roles and unloading layered performances in the following memorable titles…
Booker DeWitt - Bioshock Infinite
Infinite is very much ‘The Elizabeth Show with special guest star Flying Bird Mutant’. Regardless, Baker’s ability to inject some vigour (pun intended) into a faceless avatar while remaining innocuous enough for his co-star to shine shouldn’t be understated. Behind the stereotypically gruff exterior, there’s a tortured soul to Man-of-Action DeWitt, one Baker teases out with a nuance of tone and inflection. This might not marry perfectly with the war-crimes players continuously commit in Infinite. But it is a perfect complement for the open-eyed awe of his headstrong counterpart.
Ironically enough, Infinite’s lava spewing, machine gunning, neck wrenching protagonist is defined more so by a certain mumbled subtlety.
The Boss - Saints Row IV
Very much at odds with the above, Baker’s is just one of seven customizable voices available at the outset of the Saints’ fourth adventure. But he’s the default for a reason. Despite the presence of a cockney Jason Crank impersonator and Nolan North’s own manic intonations, Baker remains the obvious choice due to the relish he takes in Saints Row’s quick fire wit. There is no better example of a studio just having a good time than Volition’s comedy franchise. Baker understood the precise tone to strike here – that of a puckish rogue!
The Joker - Batman: Arkham Origins
Following on from Mark Hamil’s frankly mythic Joker run was no enviable task. And with the release of Arkham Origins last week, there may still be a few die-hard clusters refusing to acknowledge Baker’s personal spin on this twisted icon. Well, screw ‘em!
Predictably, Baker’s Joker is the best thing about Origins (a feat not necessarily all that difficult.) And though he strays a little close to Hamil’s jester territory, there is a rarely witnessed ferociousness to this iteration.
The subject matter doesn’t so much concern the tired ‘descent into madness’ arc, but instead a quickening, a galvanising of previously aimless compulsion into frightening resolve. Perhaps because of this very plotting, it won’t go down in history as the definitive version of Crime’s Clown Prince. But Baker doubtless gives a deeply distinctive voice to such dread, hysterical psychopathy.
Joel - The Last of Us
His most celebrated role, commercially and critically, is also arguably his least daring. It’s not Baker’s fault, but Joel, for all his anguish and ‘realism,’ is a deeply clichéd, predictable, unadventurous creation. Nothing he does or says is all that surprising, nor particularly inventive. He’s initially sceptical of his young companion but eventually warms to her. Because that’s the archetype, and you can’t possibly play with the formula!
(In case it’s too subtle, I may be colouring this with some dissatisfaction re. that ‘Oscar Bait’*, TLOU)
But again, Bakerdoes his best, introducing a soothing southern drawl, complimenting it with the occasional feral growl. Coupled with Naughty Dog’s peerless facial animations, Joel is consistently convincing, despite his narrative constraints.
My complaints notwithstanding, TLOU has made a legitimate star out of Troy Baker. Or at least as close as we get to one of those in THIS industry.
*(I’m not sure what the Game equivalent of this is. GOTY bait, maybe?)
Has he surpassed Nolan North as the premier Triple A front man?
Joel’s not Drake. Not by a very, very long shot. And for all his work on Saints Row and Batman, Baker has yet to show the confidence and command of comedy North has been throwing around for a generation now.
But that’s a moot point. He’ll get there. Maybe. If he doesn’t, who cares? Isn’t it just nice to have more than one genuine A-Lister voicing our games for a change?