Celebrity casting has come back to gaming in a big way. From Keanu Reeves in Cyberpunk 2077 to Arnold Schwarzenegger in Mortal Kombat 11 (sort of) it seems that every major release these days has an obligatory celebrity cameo. Ghost Recon Breakpoint is no exception, with much of the game’s marketing centered around The Walking Dead and Punisher alum, Jon Bernthal, who plays the game’s primary antagonist.
But while much is often made of high-profile casting decisions in video games, the results can sometimes be disappointing. In the case of games like Man of Medan, and even going as far back as Mass Effect 2, characters played by high-profile actors often get significantly less screen time than other characters, and often feel rushed into the game for no reason other than name recognition. Even Metal Gear Solid V made sparse use of Kiefer Sutherland’s actual acting abilities, despite him playing the main character.
It’s natural, then, to go into Breakpoint with a heavy dose of skepticism over Bernthal’s appearance. Luckily, the actor’s turn as the menacing Cole Walker isn’t reduced to pithy endgame monologues or audio diaries, as his character is intrinsically baked into the narrative. The game’s protagonist, Nomad, and Walker were close allies during an ambiguous conflict in the Middle East, and the game gives players a good sense of how deep their bond ran during that war – and how much Walker shredded it to bits when he went rogue.
How Breakpoint Uses Its Main Villain
Once every hour or so of the main narrative, the game will deliver a flashback sequence putting the character front and center. These cutscenes do a fantastic job of humanizing Walker’s descent into violent vigilantism. Without completely condoning his actions, the game gives him a convincing enough reason to have gone down the dark path he did, and as the story progresses, the player is forced to question whether or not they might have done the same thing in his shoes.
Bernthal Owns The Role
Of course, these cutscenes wouldn’t work nearly as well if somebody like Bernthal weren’t playing the character. He brings a subdued gravity to the role, playing Walker with an understated sense of pain and remorse that serves to make the character more nuanced. The actor forgoes sweeping speeches and grand gesticulations in favor of gravelly whispers and mild, menacing mannerisms. It is, honestly, one of the more subtle performances in gaming this year and ranks among the best I’ve seen in the medium.
Bernthal’s presence serves to lend an urgency to Breakpoint’s narrative that it might not have had otherwise. Even if the game’s narrative feels a bit lacking in comparison to Wildlands’ fraught but pointed critique of American interventionism, the actor’s performance is such a compelling centerpiece that you’ll likely find yourself drawn into it all the same.
So, no, Jon Bernthal isn’t just a marketing bullet point for Ghost Recon Breakpoint. His character is not only a vital component to the narrative, but one that’s featured regularly and given ample room to grow into a compelling, full-bodied character. In fact, he may very well be the best part of the entire package.
Look to see how Bernthal’s performance factors into our full review of Ghost Recon Breakpoint later this week.