Video games have been speaking to us ever since 1980, when arcade and Atari titles like Bezerk began synthesizing robotic voices – hashing out grainy one-liners of instruction and inspiration. These audio endeavors soon materialized into real-life voice acting, and before long extended dialogue sequences were a presentational staple, cinematic cutscenes were commonplace, and riveting characters began uttering riveting speeches and monologues. Conversing became immersing.
As facial animation and visual realism grows ever stronger, and the voice-acting talent pool ever fuller, the art of the video game speech has reached its highest state yet in this generation.
Which moments made our top 5? Read on to find out.
[SPOILER WARNING] Massive spoilers to the endings of BioShock and Metal Gear Solid 4 are found within pages 4 and 6, respectively. Click with caution.
Mass Effect – Kirrahe Holds the Line
Sharp. Precise. Invoking but to-the-point. In little more than a minute, Captain Kirrahe gets his band of Salarian brothers ready for a suicide mission long before Mass Effect 2 rewrote the definition. Sure, objective completion and intuitive thinking might save the Captain a smattering of his men, but individually, these sons of the 3rd Infiltration Regiment STG are fully devoted to the notion that this, here on Virmire, is their final hour. For many, it will be.
Without the leadership of Kirrahe (who’s appropriately named after a mountain used to prepare U.S. paratroopers for D-Day) Shepard’s mission never would have had a chance. Saren – the Reapers – would reign supreme.
But not this day. With a swift salvo of rhetoric, a timely thunder clap from the God of Punctuation, one of the more resonant moments in Mass Effect makes it mark. And the line is held.
Killzone 2 – Visari Readies for Bloodshed
Warmongering diatribes are a hallmark of the Visari administration – if Killzone provides an accurate account of it. Though played through the eyes of his enemies (AKA the good guys), each game in the series has opened to the pater familias of the Helghan Empire inciting his catechized corps of Helghast troops to the cause of ISA annihilation. With the walls closing in at the introduction of Killzone 2, Scolar Visari spins his masterpiece: the “hold the line” speech every dictator dreams of.
Rico’s irritable avoidance of Visari’s stern warning even seeds the interlude sequence with a small touch of foreshadowing: The ISA have no idea what’s waiting on the planet Helghan, and the bloody montage that ensues when the speech concludes proves that this man means every word. It’s all the welcome back a Killzone 1 fan could have asked for.
BioShock – Confronting Andrew Ryan
It’s one of the moments that defined the first BioShock: the haunting pre-mortem soliloquy of Andrew Ryan.
Here was a man who so despised Altruism – he believed every man was “entitled to the sweat of his own brow” – that he rejected the social hierarchies of sea-level civilization to construct his own metropolis, Rapture, leagues-deep in the middle of the Atlantic. He convinced society’s finest minds – doctors, scientists, entrepreneurial geniuses – to join him, and together they forged a thriving cultural mecca. At least, that’s how it began.
This Utopian ambition is introduced to us in an opening monologue that’s spectacular on its own – but even more powerful is our first/final live encounter with Ryan, after his dream has crumbled into pieces. It is at this moment when we witness his life’s cruel irony: a man of such Altruism animus, initiating his own death when it will only save others – Jack; Dr. Tenenbaum; the Little Sisters, if they’re alive – hollow objects of welfare, now, with his real love, the fruit of his labor, spoiling into decay.
But the speech isn’t memorable for its deadly swings of fate (if of golf clubs). In the end, we look back on Andrew Ryan’s death the way we do his life. In the end, he chose; a man, not a slave.
Gears of War 2 – Prescott Brings the Fight to the Locust
There are no would-you-kindly’s in Gears of War; it’s a rarity when orders and observations aren’t grunted through teeth, laced with profanities or giddy about the amount of viscera splashing around at any given moment. But when the series does try to step away from its traditional bawdy bounds, when it overthrows action for emotion, poignancy, and carefully scripted drama, occasionally it will hit the mark surprisingly well.
Case in point: At the beginning of Gears of War 2, with the COG haven of Jacinto on the verge of Locust annihilation, the Honorable Chairman Richard Prescott puts the entire human race on his shoulders and commemorates the first day Sera takes the fight to its underworld invaders in riveting fashion. He’s a windbreaker and walkie-talkie away from jumping in a King Raven and personally leading the assault.
The COG leader is described better as enigmatic than charismatic, and is scantly depicted as endearing throughout the main Gears trilogy. The gravity of the situation brings out his best, however, and while Prescott may not seem the ideal rallying symbol to motivate his army and the audience, both are left ravenous by the time he’s finished.
Metal Gear Solid 4 – Big Boss’ Parting Words
Sometimes, the best speeches are those that don’t require a pulpit or a megaphone. When an organic moment between two or more readily-oratory participants suddenly produces a one-way conversation: one person gets on a roll – musing, brooding, eulogizing, ranting – and everyone else realizes it’s best to shut up and listen… and standby for cigar service, if necessary.
Big Boss closes out Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots with one such speech, the final reflections of an illustrious life silencing his last-living son, Solid Snake, into the role of a graceful bystander. The FOXHOUND founder formerly known as Naked Snake bears all (metaphorically speaking). Reflecting on exploits decades-past, appealing for recompense long-overdue, and dreaming about a future era that’s fast-approaching – it’s Hideo Kojima’s way of passing the torch to the next generation (be it the rapidly-ripened Snake or a completely different tangent – we’ll know when Metal Gear Solid 5 is revealed) whilst tactfully closing the encyclopedia on the past. Furthermore, this being the work of said director, there almost has to be some sort of symbolism, some foreshadowing clue hidden with the patchwork of those white annual flowers. We won’t attempt to decode Kojima here, but it’s one of many reasons we keep returning to some of his finest work.
From a Salarian captain in Mass Effect to a business magnate in BioShock to a warrior politician in Gears of War, video games have shown how speeches can thrill – and also kill; an autocratic dictator in Killzone can revel in a bloody conflict while a lifelong solider in Metal Gear Solid sheds away its memory.
But even as the five speeches here are a testament to modern gaming’s ever-growing emotional spectrum, it’s important to remember their debt of gratitude to the moments of speaking splendor of generations gone by: the Metal Gear Solid’s, the Half-Life’s and so many more.
And as for the honorable mentions – that’s up to you. What other speeches deserve recognition? Which do you find inspirational? Which exciting, provoking, or eliciting of tears? Feel free to share in the comments below.
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