MGS5: The Phantom Pain Can Benefit From David Hayter Absence
Perhaps you’re wondering why I would be revisiting an old topic such as this (read that in a Bane voice), and the reason is because I’ve just spent the past two weeks reliving the best moments of my time as a gamer by playing through the Metal Gear Solid Legacy Collection. I’ve been told that I’m ‘incessant’ in my worship of Metal Gear Solid, which is my favourite game. I’m playing the series again to not only recap before The Phantom Pain, but also to revisit the game series as an older, wiser, more critical and more experienced gamer. The one issue I didn’t really comment on regarding The Phantom Pain was that of the voice actor situation, and I wanted to revisit the issue of David Hayter being replaced by Kiefer Sutherland now. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve discussed an issue like this, as I also debated Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil’s replacements in Batman: Arkham Origins.
I’ll put out the expected disclaimer in saying that I of course love David Hayter. His voice work was fantastic, and remains worthy of its iconic status after all these years. He’s the Snake we grew up with and loved. However, there is a tendency for fans to become too attached to voice actors and their portrayals of popular characters, to the point that it actually stops new talent from rising or alternative portrayals from happening. While many fans would gladly have, for example, Kevin Conroy voice every single Batman rendition ever, the obvious point is that he can’t do it forever. More importantly though, getting stuck with one voice talent perceived to be necessary for all renditions of the character results in an inability to portray the character in different lights. To again use Conroy as an example, he does a rather splendid job of illustrating Batman as heroic with a touch of menace, but the man would not be able to pull off the rage, obsession and power that fuels the Batman of, say, The Dark Knight Returns.
This is to say that as much as we love our chosen one, we have to accept that there are limitations in their portrayals of the characters we love. Having replayed all of the Metal Gear Solid games that I hold so dearly in my heart, I can see where David Hayter is lacking. He is absolutely excellent in his portrayal of Solid Snake, with the right touches of compassion, bravado, humour and badassery brought to light when needed, but there’s something about Big Boss that I feel requires a different touch. He lives for war, and is almost defined by his pain. Yet Naked Snake and Solid Snake were quite similar in a lot of ways, due to David Hayter’s portrayal, despite being fundamentally different characters. Sure Solid is a clone, but he’s not an exact duplicate – he is his own person. And now more than ever with The Phantom Pain set to be an exploration of Snake’s journey to becoming Big Boss, and an evil in the eyes of the world, it is necessary to show the character in a new way. It’s going to be darker and more tragic, and this is where I feel David Hayter may potentially have held the portrayal back.
David Hayter has a quirk about him. He’s great, he’s likable, and I understand why fans want him back for the new game. But when thinking of the darker and more tragic game that Kojima wants to create with The Phantom Pain, I ask fans to really think whether David Hayter would be ideal for that. One must consider what happened to Naked Snake, or Big Boss, at the end of Snake Eater. Some theme spoilers are ahead, but he became utterly distraught and lost faith in his country and ideals as a soldier. He was crushed. The patriotism was beaten out of him. This carried over to Peace Walker where his actions are clearly that of a changed man. Now we’re going to be embracing a new path for MGS, and a darker depiction of the hero. And each time I think of David Hayter in this role, I just know that I’ll always find him likable, with that charm, dry humour, quirk and compassion. But perhaps in The Phantom Pain, it would be odd to have that attachment to a character on a darker path.
Whether Kiefer Sutherland is the answer is something we’ll only know when we actually play The Phantom Pain. The point I want to make here is firstly that David Hayter perhaps isn’t suited for this portrayal of Big Boss, and secondly that Sutherland should have a fair chance given that it is possible for new talent to succeed the old and the nature of this story may suit him better. Remember that we had to give Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker both a chance in Batman: Arkham Origins, and I believe that they were the only standout elements of that game, doing wonderful jobs. Ground Zeroes wasn’t enough of Snake to gouge Sutherland’s talents, but I get the sense from this latest trailer of The Phantom Pain (go to 4:20 and watch until the end) that he absolutely has a unique edge to his voice and has the potential to be a darker or at least more provocative character.
In conclusion as much as we love our favourite voice actors, whom we’ve built a connection with over years, we have to accept that sometimes they aren’t timeless and often they aren’t suited for all depictions of the character in question. Sometimes the immediate ‘go-to’ choice based on past legacy can actually be what holds the future back. The risk of retiring someone iconic like David Hayter is of course large, but could potentially benefit The Phantom Pain with regards to its narrative. That we will only know when we actually play the game. At the very least, however, if you do not support the decision to replace David Hayter you should at least keep an open mind about Sutherland, and allow him the chance to prove to you whether he can deliver on this depiction of Big Boss.