Earlier today, it was inadvertently announced in a behind the scenes video that Kiefer Sutherland would portray Solid Snake in the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5. This confirmed the rumor of Kiefer being involved, who was first heard in the GDC trailer (and likely from me accidentally exclaiming “IS THAT KIEFER SUTHERLAND?” during said event). While this as upset many fans loyal to the work of original voice actor David Hayter, it has me all the more excited for the cinematic quality of the game.
Let’s get it out of the way before I’m flamed in the comments section: I’m a huge, loyal Metal Gear Solid fan. And while the general rule of thumb is that if you have to call yourself out as a fan of something, you’re probably not, nothing could be further from the truth here. I have no qualms in stating that it’s my favorite game series and has impacted both my career and emotional state. While some scoffed at Metal Gear Solid 2′s story calling it convoluted, for me it was one of the first entertainment experiences I had that spoke to me on an emotional level. I say all this because I want it to be known how important the series is to me and how alienated I would be if drastic changes were implemented that strayed from the original intentions of the series. So when David Hayter announced he would no longer reprise the role of Solid Snake, I was surprised that a notion I’d never even considered didn’t seem to bother me.
Voicing Snake since the original game, some would argue that Hayter is snake. But that’s not true (and technically, Michael Biehn is Snake). Snake is Snake. David Hayter is simply the voice behind the man. But even though hearing Hayter’s voice makes you instantly think of Snake, I’ve never felt a synonymous connection that the man and voice were indistinguishable. The ever-talented Hayter did a great job voicing Snake throughout the years, but besides association and nostalgia, there’s nothing very unique about the performance. It’s simply a gruff military voice that fit the character — not something that helped conveyed any sort of emotionalism or depth. From what we’ve seen so far of Metal Gear Solid V, it looks to offer an unseen cinematic gaming experience that looks to challenge notions that we’ve clung to throughout the years. Hayter’s Solid Snake is a video game character. It’s how video game characters were voiced for many years, but as we begin to bridge the gap between the storytelling of both mediums (film and video games), we need trained actors to provide that. Beyond: Two Souls, for instance, recently recruited Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to provide both motion capture and voice for the main characters of the game. To deliver the cinematic experience expected in the next-gen, it’s a trend that has to continue.
If a new actor has to portray Snake, it’s hard to think of a better choice than Kiefer Sutherland. While many simply know him for his role on 24, Sutherland has proved his acting chops time and time again in lesser-known projects. Not only did he already prove he can provide a great voice performance in a video game with Call of Duty: World at War, but he’s given sincere, emotional performances in films like Melancholia, Dark City, River Queen and more. But for proof of how Sutherland’s voice can impact a narrative, one need not look farther than Phone Booth. While the high concept Joel Schumacher film may not get the respect it deserves, Sutherland’s performance as The Caller (a character never seen besides a brief silhouette during the finale) helped elevate the tension and excitement of the film in a way that is deceptively challenging. Alas, for much of the film, the nail-biting tension simply hinges on what Sutherland would say next — the sort of power that would go a long way in spinning Kojima’s emotional roller coaster of a plot-line.
David Hayter was a fine Snake and deserved better than being (apparently) unceremoniously dumped; but as good as Hayter’s Snake was, it’s a relic of gruff macho protagonist video game voices of the late ’90s and early aughts. From what we’ve seen so far of Metal Gear Solid V, Kojima is looking to deliver a cinematic experience that we’ve yet to see from the format — and for that, the chains of its cliche roots need be broken. A motion capture and voice performance from one of the most underrated character actors will enhance the stakes of what Metal Gear Solid V is trying to accomplish, and isn’t that worth breaking tradition?