A couple of days ago, at Konami’s Pre-E3 show, Hideo Kojima and Konami revealed to the world that the next actor to voice Snake in the acclaimed Metal Gear Solid series would be none other than Jack Bauer himself, Kiefer Sutherland. It was an announcement that I had anxiously anticipated since this past March when rumors began flying that David Hayter, the beloved series veteran and voice of Snake since he, well, had a voice, would not be reprising his role in the latest entry in the series, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. It was a hard blow to us hardcore fans of the series, but what hurt worse was hearing that Hayter had not even been asked to return to the franchise.
Those who know me know my absolute adoration of the Metal Gear series (it was number two on my top ten list). Seriously, it’s impossible for me to quantify how much I love it. I have purchased nearly ever game in the franchise twice and heaven knows I would have re-purchased MGS IV if there had been released an expanded version of the game like the ones that came before it. More than that, the series is the sole reason I purchased both my PS3 and my PSP.
Metal Gear is a franchise that has often polarized gamers to the point that most of the people I discuss it with either love it or hate it. Those who fall into the latter company tend to groan over the series’ excessive use of cutscenes which can account for as much as two-thirds of a titles playtime (based on my own experience with MGS3). Those of us, however, who fall into the former category adore Metal Gear for its cinematic approach to storytelling, memorable characters, boss fights, and stealth gameplay (something for which MG is known to have pioneered).
When the original Metal Gear Solid (a long awaited sequel to Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake) released for the PlayStation in 1998, it set the bar for quality voice acting in gaming. Fully voiced games were still a relative new thing in those days, particularly so for console gamers, and actor performances were still largely hit-or-miss. The movie-like MGS, however, boasted a cast of unprecedented strength which included the likes of Jennifer Hale and Cam Clarke (both of whom also appeared in another of my all-time favorite games, Quest for Glory IV), and for the first time since the character’s creation in 1987, gamers heard the raspy voice of series protagonist Solid Snake.
Since then, and in spite of his successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter, David Hayter’s name has become practically synonymous in the community with both Solid Snake and Snake’s genetic precursor, Naked Snake (i.e. Big Boss). Just to put things into perspective for those of you who may not be familiar with the franchise, Hayter has performed the English voice for Snake/Big Boss in Metal Gear Solids one, two, three, and four as well as the spinoff titles, Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops and Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker, and even in Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Literally no other actor has ever voiced (in the English versions of the games) Solid Snake or, with one notable exception in Metal Gear Solid IV in which Richard Doyle, the voice of Solidus Snake, took up the reigns, Big Boss. I hope that brings to light just how dramatic the casting of Sutherland is.
So why the change? As you can see in the announcement video above, Kojima is intending to focus on a subdued acting style which relies less entirely on dialogue and more heavily on character facial expression made possible with modern graphical and motion-capture technologies. He is also citing Naked Snake’s age–the character will be 49 in this title–as another motivation for the change. The latter is a difficult pill for me to swallow as Hayter successfully voiced an older Solid Snake in MGS IV (the character was even called Old Snake in the title), and I wonder if Kojima is suggesting between the lines that he didn’t believe Hayter, a voice actor rather than a live-action performer like Sutherland, was up to the task of physically performing the character.
In any case, the announcement was bittersweet for me. On the one hand, I’m ecstatic at the prospect of playing a new, next-gen Metal Gear title. I’m also very excited to see how Kojima’s vision for subdued character performances will play out. Heck, I’m even excited to see how Sutherland approaches the character. He seems to have taken on the job with no small amount of respect to the franchise or its fans and, perhaps more importantly, he seems to have actually enjoyed the work, something that can only improve his performance. On the other hand, I’m not ready to see Hayter go. As far as I’m concerned, he is Snake.
Conspiracy theories are beginning to abound across the internet from fans like me who are finding it difficult to believe that Hayter truly won’t appear in-game. Some of the theories are more extreme than others, but it’s worth pointing out that in the game’s continuity, we’re approaching an era in which both Big Boss and Solid Snake are active characters. It’s possible that while Boss may have a different voice than ever before, Solid Snake may appear in the game with Hayter behind the mic. At least that’s my hope.
I think we’re trying to reconcile the good news with the bad. We are excited and terrified, elated and angry. If The Phantom Pain launches without Hayter’s involvement, it will come as a hard blow to long-time franchise fans, but it won’t be the first time that Kojima has pulled a fast one on us (*cough* Raiden). The question which remains to be answered is whether or not Sutherland can fill Hayter’s shoes. What do you guys think?