Voice Acting, Game Immersion, and Helldivers 2

The Little Things That Make Something Big

Mar 12, 2024
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As I’ve gotten older, I’ve often realized it's the little things in life that end up making all the big events matter. Getting married is a life altering experience, but it's actually signing the marriage license together or choosing the rings you both might wear the rest of your life that makes it feel tangible and real. Having a kid is both wonderful and exhausting, but it's in the small moments, like how they snuggle against you as they fall asleep that can make all the hard work and long hours suddenly rewarding.

In many ways, video games operate the same way, with developers winning fans over with the small details that make their game feel distinct. There are hundreds of games about running around and shooting enemies, but if I show you the image of a bandit psycho with their painted hockey-esque mask on, and you immediately have a reaction as you know we’re talking about Borderlands. This sort of branding works even better as you work it into the game mechanics themselves. I’ll always have a tiny little dopamine rush when I hear the sound effects of your shield depleting and returning in a Halo game. That extra little effort in a small detail has helped make a game series something iconic, even nostalgic.

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It’s the attention to little details that can make a game stick in your mind long after you’ve put down the controller, and the best example that I’ve seen in a while is Helldivers 2.

The Importance of Theme And (Over The Top) Voice Acting

First off, I think the absolutely amazing intro movie and all of the video shorts of people playing Helldivers 2 pasted all over the internet already speak for themselves. People understand this is a homage to the wonderfully strange Starship Troopers movie. I’m only a handful of missions in, but the found dataslates and faded propaganda posters plastered everywhere speak for themselves. Sure, the bugs need to be killed, but you aren’t exactly the good guys either.

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What’s great is how the ridiculous theming actually makes the game itself better. Make no mistake, Helldivers 2 can be a punishing game, with giant bugs leaping on you without warning or a teammate’s misplaced airstrike beacon killing you instantly. However, people actually seem okay with friendly fire incidents in a way that wouldn’t be acceptable in other games. The thousands of video clips of players shouting ‘Democracy!’ and ‘acceptable losses!’ as their explosives accidentally take themselves out is hilarious. Hell, when you request for your teammates to be redeployed from orbit, you can use them airdropping as a chance to land on top of an enemy for extra damage… or accidentally take out another teammate.

Yes, the theming is incredibly heavy handed, but as players, we’ve been invited to be a part of the joke. You’re the shock troops for a massive army effort, with your tutorial mission having live fire exercises used against you to prove a point. The end of the tutorial literally puts you into a rocket pod without a ceremony and shipped out to the front lines, with only receiving a cape as a congratulations moments before. The whole thing stinks of a dystopian future and it sort of frees you as a player to just go along for the ride.

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I really enjoy that you get to name your ship hub, but you don't have total choice: it must be a mixture of often entirely over-the-top patriotic or jingoistic phrasing. In honor of my son's love of sharks, this is what I chose.

This backdrop just gets even better the deeper you go, and the juxtaposition gets more dramatic. Your characters occasionally shout out things like “Say hello to Democracy!” as you open up with a heavy machine gun, and in some other games that voice line would be mocked for being too over the top. Yet when I had a character scream “Freedom Never Sleeps!” as they injected themselves with stims to heal, I honestly couldn’t stop laughing and wanting to play even more. It just makes sense in a game where the worldbuilding has been executed so well from top to bottom.

Throwaway Lines

Talking about how the small details of a game really matter is something we’ve covered before. A decade ago, I found myself absolutely haunted by Supergiant’s Transistor, an action RPG set in a cybernetic dystopia. As you play and unravel the mystery, you realize your character is mute - her voice has literally been stolen, and even though it serves no purpose gameplay wise, the game developers added a button to let her hum. It’s a genius choice, one that really highlights the melancholy and sense of loss as she tries to recover what she’s lost while also mourning what’s been taken away.

I really, really love aesthetic choices like this in games, when developers program in something extra to really send a message home. With some of the first examples I give, you can say that artistic choices have a mechanical benefit: I really love the sound of the Spartan armor shielding depleting and refilling, but there’s plenty of good reasons to make those sound effects strong for player feedback and response. When game devs take the extra time to really reinforce their game’s theme or mood, that’s when you end up with something special.

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It’s why I can’t stop adoring Helldivers 2’s design I since I started playing this weekend. Yes, it's an absolutely over-the-top co-operative horde shooter and it doesn’t waste time with a complex plot, barely even naming any of its characters. Yet, it absolutely is an artistic success because of how deep it goes in reinforcing its own satire and mood.

I’ll never stop feeling a mixture of giddy laughter and chills at how the NPCs constantly praise all the hard work you are doing, but you’re never given a name. I’ll always relish the fact that unless you actively choose a voice pack for your avatar, the game randomizes what voice your Helldiver has each and every time you die and respawn.

At every level, Helldivers 2 reminds you that you are playing a game where you are just an expendable part of a military industrial machine, and I love how hard it commits to making sure you know that in your very bones.

Wyatt Krause

Editor-in-chief, Co-founder