It’s amazing how even good companies can screw up the most basic things.
You might not know the name Naughty Dog, but you’ve definitely heard of what they do. They make videogames. Games like The Last Of Us, Crash Bandicoot, and the incredible Uncharted series. They are known for their attention to detail, their incredible cinematography, their action-packed gameplay, and their brilliant graphics and voice acting.
This week, they released a new game in the Uncharted series – one I was excited to play. Instead of starring series regular Nathan Drake, this one put two supporting characters in leading roles: Drake’s treasure-hunter-colleague-cum-lover Chloe Frazier and the antagonist from the last game, Nadine Ross. Chloe and Nadine team up to hunt down a mythical treasure in India, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.
(Yeah, Nadine was a bad guy, but now she’s a good guy, or at least a guy who exists who in a grey area. Also, not actually a guy. Anyway…)
Nix and I have spent a few hours with the game. It’s a lot of fun. Not only does it deliver everything Naughty Dog are famous for, but there’s also real chemistry between the two leads. I genuinely give a shit about them, and love their back and forth as we hare around the Indian marshlands in a badass Jeep.
But there’s this one thing…
OK. I hate callout culture – that obnoxious, manufactured social media outrage over something deemed even mildly offensive – but I don’t think pointing this out counts. For one thing, it’s an actual, demonstrable thing in the game, and for another, it almost ruined the experience for me. I’m not kidding when I say it nearly wrecked the game. More importantly, it was something that could have been avoided with about ten seconds extra effort.
Chloe is an Australian. Her voice actor, Claudia Black, hails from Sydney, and she’s knocked her character out of the park in every game she’s appeared in. Nadine Ross is a South African, like me. Her voice actor is Laura Bailey, and she hails from…um, Biloxi, Mississippi.
And her South African accent is horrible.
I mean that in its most literal sense. It horrifies me. It is a total mess, the worst South African accent I have heard in any film or videogame, ever. Worse than Leo in Blood Diamond. Worse than Joss Ackland in Lethal Weapon 2. Worse than even JB Blanc in the Titanfall 2 game, and he sounded like he was carrying around two giant marbles in his mouth.
Bailey’s accent veers all over the place. One second, it’s Swedish. The next, Aussie. Then it does an about face and veers up to Russia before bouncing down into the Asian subcontinent. It’s not that she’s phoning it in – it that she sounds like she’s trying way too hard. South African accents are notoriously difficult to nail down, but Bailey’s is a disaster.
You know what it reminds me of, actually? A guy trying to pull off a golf swing, only he goes in way too hard, misses the ball, swings all the way round, full 360, then lets go of the club, which sails off into the distance and brains a caddy walking across the fairway. I might not know how to do a lot of things, but if there’s one thing I am definably an expert in, it’s good South African accents. You know, on account of being born there, and living there for twenty years.
You could argue that the character travels a lot internationally, has probably been out of South Africa for some time, and so doesn’t have a strong accent. Except no South African I’ve ever heard, in any setting, talks like that. I should know. I’ve spent a decade bouncing between countries that are not South Africa.
It’s not that Bailey can’t do voiceover. Her list of credits is enormous, going all the way back to 1991. And despite her shit-show of an accent, she can definitely act. So how did she cock this up so badly?
In the previous game her character appeared in, it was rough, but it wasn’t too much of a problem; Nadine Ross wasn’t in every scene, and although it was annoying, it was tolerable. Here? Nadine is always onscreen, always speaking, and I’m trying to appreciate the great writing and witty banter but I just can’t get over how she sounds like Gimli from Lord of the Rings bumbling his way through an elocution lesson. I’m not joking when I say it almost breaks the game for me. It’s that bad.
And you know what would have fixed this? Wait, hang on, this is really complicated. Work with me here…
You have to –
(Take a deep breath)
Hire a South African actress.
Jesus, Naughty Dog. It’s not hard. It really isn’t. You’ve hired nationally-appropriate people before. Claudia Black, for one. Pema Dhondup and Rene Auberjonois in Uncharted 2 for another. What would it have taken to find a South African voiceover to handle Nadine Ross? Sure, you’d have to fly her over to the US for a few mocap sessions, but who gives a shit? You’re Naughty Dog! You make more money than god.
Hell, I’ll do it for you. A five second Google search gives me this. And this. Also this. I’m not saying that casting the perfect Nadine Ross is that simple, but maybe you shouldn’t turn around and give the job to an actor from Mississippi.
(There’s also this whole debate about Nadine, a black character, being played by a white actress, which is something I don’t want to touch with a twenty-foot pole.)
Blugh. It’s such a basic element, and they cocked it up so, so badly. For most people, it’s probably not even noticeable. For me, it’s like someone is reaming out my ears with a set of pipe cleaners.