Enormous news dropped this week concerning perennial video game series Metal Gear Solid. To the unfamiliar, the Metal Gear Solid franchise is an espionage game, a classic action movie send up, an anti-war treatise, and an insane Japanese anime all rolled into one weird, awesome package. With a few minor exceptions, the player either takes the role of Solid Snake, one-man army and war-weary badass, or his clone-pappy, “Big Boss,” who sometimes also goes by the name “Snake.” Over 15 or so games, you’ve bounced between these two identical protagonists, either exploring the future of war with Solid Snake or examining the Cold War era with Big Boss.
If all of this sounds confusing, that’s okay – I’ve played all the games in the main series (non-portable), and I’m certain I don’t understand half of what’s going on. Suffice to say, they’re odd games with a lot of soul, heart, and radical over-the-top action. They’re popular the world over, and Metal Gear Solid stands proudly in Gaming Olympus.
Both Big Boss and Solid Snake have been defined by three things: eyepatches, gentle souls, and the voice of David Hayter. David Hayter is an amazing man: not only has he given Snake his trademark panther-growl voice in every Metal Gear Solid game, he also wrote the good X-Men movies, the Watchmen adaptation, and recently directed his own movie, a flick called “Wolves.” David Hayter has become something of a geek icon, and his voice is the equivalent of nerd crack.
Check out his Solid Snake voice right here, giving one of the series’ weird-ass monologues.
If that doesn’t make you want to slap on an eyepatch and do something awesome, than there’s Kool-Aid in your veins.
Two different Metal Games are about to be released, parts of a greater whole – Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The hype machine is in full overload, dishing out screenshots, trailers, rumors, the full works. However, Hideo Kojima, the series oddball creator, has been oddly silent about mentioning David Hayter.
Many long-time fans thought Hideo was just playing coy – David Hayter defines Solid Snake, and Snake defines Metal Gear. Fans assumed he was playing one of his mind-games that he enjoys so much, building excitement for what had always been a foregone conclusion. Make the fans nervous then . . . tada! David is back! Hideo is known for his tricky marketing style – for the first trailer for Metal Gear Solid V, all mentions of “Metal Gear Solid” were excised, and it was made to look like a trailer for a brand new game series called “The Phantom Pain.” Sprinkled liberally with hints to the franchise, fans were able to put together that the game was, in fact, Metal Gear Solid. They even went so far as to create a fake gaming company that “created it,” and hired an actor to play the CEO of the company. A slick marketing move for advertising the sixteenth game in a franchise, don’t you think? Generate intrigue and fresh excitement for an otherwise ho-hum announcement. “Oh, a sixteenth game? Surprise?”
David Hayter would return. David Hayter IS Solid Snake. No one could ever replace – wait, Kiefer Sutherland?
Hideo Kojima announced this week that David Hayter would NOT be reprising the role he originated and popularized, and would instead be replaced by 24 star and Lost Boy Kiefer Sutherland. Also known for his trademark growl and ability to punch terrorists until they cooperate, Kiefer isn’t a bad choice to play a tough-guy soldier who’s been through hell.
Kojima’s reasons for replacing David Hayter are vague: he said that Snake is older in this story, and he wanted someone who could portray a soldier in his late forties. He also said that the new games use extensive facial motion capture, and he wanted an actor who can portray meaning with facial expression just as well as one who can do it by voice. Thirdly, Kojima said the themes in this game are different, and they wanted to go in a new direction with a new portrayal of Snake.
Just as a heads up, this is going to sound like a bitchy fan rant. Which, I suppose, it is. But if it helps at all, this represents what A LOT of gamers are feeling right now.
Let’s start with the first reason. The “Snake is Older” theory. Kiefer Sutherland is 47 years old. David Hayter, who he replaced, is 44. Not exactly a generation gap. Also, David Hayter played Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4, which saw Solid Snake in a seventy-year-old body. Seventy. And David pulled off what many consider to be his finest performance to date. It seems unlikely that “late forties” would be too difficult for the master voice actor.
Now, on to the second reason – Kojima needs a face-actor as well as a voice-actor. I’m not going to put down Kiefer – the dude is a good actor. I’m sure he can pull off the face gymnastics required, even with balls all over his face. Yeah, you heard me. Balls. On his face. Still, David Hayter is a conventional actor as well, and while I wouldn’t necessarily compare the two (Hayter has mostly been in B-Movie like “The Guyver”), I have no doubt Hayter could pull it off. He’s been eating, breathing, and smoking Solid Snake for fifteen years. PLUS, there’s a second strange thing about this idea – traditionally, the animation for the game is done in Japan, with Japanese actors, and English actors are added later. Now, just for this new game, they’re starting motion capture with Kiefer?
The third reason is the most easily dismissed – the game has different themes? All of the games have had different themes. Metal Gear Solid was about gene manipulation and legacy. MGS 2 was about repetition of ideas in the public consciousness, and also effeminate bishounen pretty boys. MGS 3 was about the Cold War and betrayal, while the 4th game was about persistence, loss, and the steady inexorable march of time. Unless Metal Gear Solid 5 takes a huge leap into musical comedy or something, I very much doubt the themes would be too much for Hayter to chew on.
Many fans have decided that this is all an elaborate ruse – series creator Hideo Kojima is trolling his audience, an attempt to garner attention to the franchise in the same way he did with the trailer. Make something old look new. If Hideo Kojima came and said “David Hayter is returning as Snake,” there would be exactly 0 heat on the internets. The typical fan reaction would be: “Well, obviously.” Hardly the stuff news articles are made of. The fan theory goes that in pretending Hayter isn’t coming back, Hideo is churning the ultimate newsblast.
While I like that theory, and I wish desperately it was true, I find it hard to believe Hollywood famous-guy Kiefer Sutherland would sign up for a marketing campaign for a video game. Especially if it involved bald-face lying in multiple interviews, which he’s already done. There’s been images of Kiefer in motion capture booths (see ball-face above), and videos of his facial expressions synced up with Snake’s model.
But perhaps the most damning evidence is from Hayter himself. According to his twitter:
aaaaaannnnnnddddd . . .
Is it possible David is part of the conspiracy? It’s possible. Maybe he and Hideo and Kiefer had a couple of In-N-Out burgers and giggled over their icecream shakes at what a totally sweet idea it would be, but I’m skeptical. Being coy in a marketing campaign is one thing. Hiring a world-famous actor to fuck with a video game audience? I just don’t see it. Plus it requires David Hayter having to “act pissed” for like a year – games take longer than a weekend to create, promote, and release.
Every interview, every tweet, every incessant question about his opinion – Hayter has been ordered to act indignant and hurt for that long? I don’t buy it.
Metal Gear Solid is without a doubt one of my favorite gaming series, and I honestly don’t feel comfortable playing it without David Hayter’s gravelly tones washing over my ear holes. Am I going to boycott? I don’t know. E3 is just around the corner, and if the “gotcha” moment is coming, it’ll be then.
Do I believe the conspiracy? No. Would it make me extremely happy to find out that Kiefer Sutherland was just bored and thought it would be funny to screw with some geeks? Yes. But I’m skeptical.
Still . . .
Tell us how we all feel, Ocelot.