A surefire way to tell great voice acting from not great voice acting is to consider how annoying the dialogue would be if you were to read it. Take Tiny Tina, the murderous 13 year old girl in Borderlands 2. If someone were to hand me the script to her dialogue, I would be filled with the desire to take a red pen to it. “Do me a flava and lure the guest to the party or I’ll eat your babies.” What? How could that sound anything other than grating?
Let Ashley Burch demonstrate exactly how that’s going to happen (embedded). Burch is an actress with an awkward enthusiasm that reminds me of Gilda Radner. She’s also related to one of the developers at Gearbox, so it makes sense that she’d have a unique appreciation for Borderlands’ humor and how to make “do me a flava and lure the guest to the party or I’ll eat your babies” funny. She’s furthermore a videogamer with her own popular show and fan base. She is exactly the right way to do what Electronic Arts has tried to do with Jessica Chobot and Felicia Day. You hire an actor for his or her talent, not celebrity.
A lot of Gearbox’s humor is awful on the page, but perfect with the right voice actors. Fortunately, Gearbox is really good at nailing the second part of the equation. Hence Claptrap, Scooter, Ellie, Tannis, and especially Tiny Tina. Here’s hoping for more Tiny Tina and Ashley Burch in whatever DLC Gearbox has planned.