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The Real Reason These Game Voices Sound So Familiar

Major actors and celebrities performing video game voice work is nothing new — as long as the technology has been there, developers have been eager to get recognizable names attached to games. Some titles make a point to hype up the A-list voice cast, but others let the actors disappear into the role — after all, it's much easier to do if their voice is their only identifying feature.

Sometimes, you'll be playing a game and you'll hear a voice that just clicks; you recognize it from some movie or television series. You know you've heard it before, but you just can't put your finger on where. Games like Death Stranding need not apply — the protagonist's character model is obviously based on Norman Reedus. 

Here are some of the mainstream actors you may have missed in your favorite games.

Zachary Levi - Fallout: New Vegas, Halo: Reach, and more

It should come as no surprise that Zachary Levi has showed up in a few video games. He has played both a beloved Disney character (Flynn Rider from Tangled) and a DC superhero (Shazam), and has reprised those roles in a variety of video games. However, you may have heard Levi in a few titles before his stardom really took off, as he took a few minor voiceover roles when he was still primarily known for his work on Chuck.

Levi shows up in Halo: Reach as the unnamed "Trooper 4," though forum posts indicate he voices a few different roles in the game. You can reportedly hear him definitively in the final section of the "Pillar of Autumn" level. Levi also provides the voice for Arcade in Fallout: New Vegas. You can locate his character in the Mormon camp in Freeside.

Levi has always been vocal about his geekiness and love of video games, so it's no surprise that he jumped at the chance to take these roles, even though they are relatively small.

Max von Sydow - Ghostbusters: The Video Game

Max von Sydow is an absolute legend. His first screen appearance came in 1949 when he was twenty years old. He accumulated over 160 credits to his name from then until he passed away in March 2020. Von Sydow portrayed some classic villains (like Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon), and he appeared in massive geek franchises like Game of Thrones and Star Wars. He also reprised a video game role that haunted many a childhood — von Sydow was the voice of Vigo the Carpathian in the Ghostbusters video game.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game was actually a true sequel to Ghostbusters 2, and the stern-faced Vigo plays a big role in both the film and the game. The video game featured several actors reprising their roles from the previous films, but Max von Sydow is a bit of an odd case. The masterful actor only provided Vigo's voice in the film (German professional wrestler Wilhelm von Homburg actually gave the character his distinctive look), and he was uncredited for his voice work. This means that Ghostbusters: The Video Game is the only time Max von Sydow was credited for this iconic role.

Neil Patrick Harris - Saints Row, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, and more

Neil Patrick Harris has got the perfect skill set for video game work. His voice can transition from meek to grandiose or goofy to menacing in an instant, giving him great range in playing pretty much any type of character. NPH has gone all over the map in his traditional acting roles, but he's had a few different memorable video game characters that you probably didn't know were him.

Of NPH's video game roles, the one people are most likely to remember is his turn as Veteran Child in the Saints Row series. This ridiculous looking drug dealer is killed in Saints Row 2 but returns as a simulation in Saints Row 4. NPH voices him in both games.

Harris also appears alongside a gaggle of voice talent in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Several different web-slingers from across the Multiverse team up in Shattered Dimensions, and Harris voices the "Amazing Spider-Man" version. You can catch Neil Patrick Harris in a few other games, like Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard and Penguins of Madagascar: Dr. Blowhole Returns – Again. It's hard to pick: which of those games has the worst title?

Hayden Panettiere - Kingdom Hearts and Until Dawn

Hayden Panettiere has been acting professionally since she was less than five years old: her first screen credit was a recurring role on the soap opera One Life to Live. She had dozens of credits to her name before hitting the big time with Heroes, but she actually did quite a bit of voice work even before she shot to stardom, including some of your favorite video games.

Panettiere's first foray into video games was reprising her role as Dot in A Bug's Life, but a few years later she landed a part that she's maintained for decades. Panettiere is the voice of Kairi in the English versions of multiple Kingdom Hearts games, making her one of the first characters you meet in the series.

Panettiere also showed up as Samantha, one of the central characters in 2015's Until Dawn. Good actors, like Panettiere and co-star Rami Malek, were essential for the narrative driven game, and Panettiere was a big reason Until Dawn was such a surprising success.

Malcolm McDowell - The Elder Scrolls Online, Fallout 3, Call of Duty, and more

Talk about an extensive voice-over career — Malcolm McDowell made his first video game appearance in Wing Commander 3: Heart of the Tiger back in 1994. McDowell has long played an admirable combination of charming but sinister characters, and his work as Admiral Tolwyn in Wing Commander and Metallo in a few Superman video games showcases that.

McDowell has plenty of other impressive games that you may not know he was a part of. He voiced President Eden in Fallout 3, lending gravitas to one of the game's better reveals when you finally meet "him." McDowell also appeared as Daedalus in God of War 3, Dr. Monty in a few Call of Duty games, and in Killzone 3.

Probably McDowell's best "wait, he played who?" role comes from The Elder Scrolls Online. In the original game and the 2017 expansion Morrowind, McDowell provides the voice of Molag Bal, the Daedric prince of domination and enslavement. Even if you never played the MMO, you've probably carried around the Mace of Molag Bal in Skyrim or Oblivion.

Martin Sheen - Mass Effect 2 and 3

Martin Sheen has given the world an awful lot. He has graced movie theaters with some all time great performances, like his role as Captain Benjamin Willard in Apocalypse Now. He played one of the greatest television characters of all time in President Bartlet on The West Wing. Two of his sons, Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez, have gone on to experience their own successes. 

Sheen has done tons of impressive voice work over the years — he was Sly Sludge in the Captain Planet cartoon! His eloquent voice has also spilled over into the world of video games, where he portrayed one of the galaxy's most notorious villains: Mass Effect's Illusive Man.

Martin Sheen's menacing vocals breathe life into the leader of Cerberus, making him every bit as charismatic as he is terrifying. The Illusive Man's goal to make humanity superior to all other races is central to the narrative of Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, and Sheen's delivery as the antagonist is a big part of what makes him so memorable.

Kristen Bell - Assassin's Creed

A wildly successful voice actress, Kristen Bell has reprised a few of her most popular roles in several video game adaptations. Of course, you can catch Bell as Anna, her character from Frozen, in a variety of titles like Disney Infinity and Kingdom Hearts 3. She also voiced Cora in the video game adaptation of Astro Boy, the same character she played in the movie. Those roles are pretty obvious, but Bell is also a part of a major game franchise: Assassin's Creed.

You can find Bell in the Assassin's Creed series as Lucy Stillman, the allegiance-shifting assassin turned Abstergo researcher turned Templar. Eventually, Lucy's true loyalty is found out and she is removed from the board, but she played a pretty major role in the titles she appears in. Bell voices Lucy in the first three major games of the Assassin's Creed franchise, culminating in her death at Desmond's hands in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood.

Bell has done plenty of voice work in animated series and films, so it seems likely she'll show up in some more video games in the near future as well.

Lance Bass - Kingdom Hearts

The Kingdom Hearts series has a massive amount of A-list talent attached to it — even characters with relatively small roles are seemingly voiced by monster celebrities. You could play the "Ooh, I know that voice!" game all day with Kingdom Hearts, but a favorite example comes from an optional boss in the first entry: Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7.

Sephiroth is the final battle of the Olympus Coliseum, and he takes an insane amount of muscle memory and leveling up to defeat. So, of course, the Kingdom Hearts developers picked the most menacing man of all to voice the English version of Sephiroth: NSYNC's Lance Bass. Yep. The same Lance Bass who crooned hits like "I Want You Back," "Bye Bye Bye" and "It's Gonna Be Me." He's Sephiroth.

Voice acting regular George Newbern took over the role of Sephiroth after the first Kingdom Hearts game, but still ... Lance Bass played one of Final Fantasy's most iconic villains. Weird.

Rosario Dawson - Dishonored 2, Ratchet & Clank, and more

Rosario Dawson is a true gem of an actress. She can shift immediately from vulnerable emotion to total badassery without ever making you question her character. She has shown up in plenty of geeky franchises, including an awesome turn as Claire on Netflix's run of Marvel shows. She basically steals the screen whenever she shows up in something, so it's no surprise that she's done plenty of voice work in some of your favorite games.

Dawson helped raise the quality of the voice work about a million times over by appearing alongside several NBA players as Isa Ellington in NBA 2K20. She has appeared twice in the Dishonored franchise as Meagan Foster in Dishonored 2 and Billie Lurk in the expansion Death of the Outsider. You can hear her in Ratchet & Clank as Elaris, Syndicate as Lily Drawl and the PlayStation 2 graffiti game Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. Finally, it should come as no surprise that Dawson also reprised her role as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl in the Lego Dimensions game.

Gary Oldman - Call of Duty, Spyro, and more

Of course Gary Oldman does video game work. He has repeatedly shown himself to be a complete chameleon of an actor, so it makes sense that he'd be able to slip into video game roles without people noticing. His first video game spot was reprising his role in The Fifth Element as Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg, but you've heard him in several others.

Oldman played Sergeant Jack Barnes in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – Spearhead and he played both Rocky and Agent Masterson in True Crime: Streets of LA. You can also catch his voice in Lego Dimensions and the long-awaited Star Citizen. Those are all small potatoes compared to Oldman's two major franchise roles.

Oldman voiced the Dragon Guardian Ignitus in the Legend of Spyro series, teaching Spyro how to control the element of fire. Even more mainstream, Oldman voiced Viktor Reznov in Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops. It seems likely Oldman will show up in plenty more games in the coming years.

Alan Tudyk - Call of Duty, Injustice, Halo 3, and more

Alan Tudyk does tons of voice work on television and movies: Star Wars, Disney, DC Comics, Rick and Morty, American Dad and many others have all featured Tudyk's talents. Let's be real here: the dude played a character in Moana who never says a single word (he's Heihei, the dopey chicken). Tudyk is so in demand that Disney will call him up just to make chicken noises.

It makes sense that Tudyk has shown up in several video games, both as characters he had already played in other media and just to showcase his vocal talents. You can catch him in things like Astro Boy as Mr. Windex, Halo 3, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and as Simon in the Defense Grid games.

Tudyk's most prominent video game work comes from characters he plays elsewhere. He is obviously K-2SO in a few different Star Wars games, but did you know that he is also the voice of Green Arrow in several DC properties? It's obvious Tudyk plays the role once you know, but it's hard to pick him out unless you're looking for him.

Kiefer Sutherland - Metal Gear Solid 5 and Call of Duty

Kiefer Sutherland has one of those voices that just commands respect. He was able to be scary in Phone Booth as just a disembodied voice, after all. Sutherland has done a lot of good work over the years, and his mainstream popularity ticked up even higher as Jack Bauer in 24. His commanding vocal presence makes him a slam dunk in a variety of military/uniformed roles in video games.

Sutherland has appeared as two different characters in the Call of Duty franchise. He played Sergeant Roebuck in Call of Duty: World at War and as cowboy sharpshooter extraordinaire Gideon Jones in the Black Ops 4 Zombies DLC Dead of Night. However, his biggest video game role appears in Metal Gear Solid 5.

Sutherland appeared in Ground Zeroes, the game's prequel, as Snake, Classic Snake, Raiden and Medic. He would then take the main role in The Phantom Pain as Venom Snake, Big Boss, and Medic. No wonder Big Boss is so good at killing — he's Jack Bauer!

Mae Whitman - Prey, Kingdom Hearts, Spyro, and more

Most of Mae Whitman's voice work comes from characters she has played on television or in film, but she has a prolific enough catalog that she deserves a look. You'll be surprised at how many things she shows up in and the wide variety of characters she voices. Whitman is known for a lot of different roles: Ann on Arrested Development, Roxy in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Mary Elizabeth in The Perks of Being a Wallflower ... she's done a lot.

Whitman also has nearly two dozen video game credits to her name as of this writing. Her first came in 2004's Everquest 2, where she provided the voice of Lilly Ironforge and Thana Rumblehoof. She appeared in Prey as Danielle Sho. She has also voiced Yuffie in several different Kingdom Hearts games and Cynder in The Legend of Spyro.

Whitman has also done plenty of work in video games for characters she plays in movies and TV. Whitman voices Katara from the Avatar: The Last Airbender franchise in a few games, and one of her first animated roles, Little Suzy from Johnny Bravo, in Cartoon Network Racing. She plays April O'Neil in several TMNT games, Tinker Bell in Disney games and Wonder Girl in Young Justice: Legacy.

Patrick Stewart - Oblivion, Castlevania, My Memory of Us, and more

He's just got one of those voices. Patrick Stewart has lent his soothing tones to many video games. Of course, he's reprised two of his most famous roles many different times over, playing Jean-Luc Picard and Professor Charles Xavier in several different games. But you can actually find Stewart in several other games if you listen closely.

His first video game work came in 1994 when Stewart voiced King Richard in Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos. After several years of voicing Professor X and Captain Picard in games, he started branching out. You can hear Stewart as Khelban 'Blackstaff' Arunsun in Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, Zobek in the Castlevania: Lords of Shadow games, and as the narrator in both Lego Universe and My Memory of Us.

Stewart's most iconic video game role, however, comes from The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. He played Emperor Uriel Septim VII, who the player encounters on the game's first quest – the ramifications of which set the game's entire plot into motion.