Game Characters, Voice Actors, and the Hand-Wringing Wrought by Re-casts
A couple of years ago, there was a gamer-led outcry unique from any other seen before: the character of Agent 47 would not be voiced by Hitman series bulwark David Bateson in the then-upcoming Hitman: Absolution. News of the change broke in June 2011 that Bateson had been forced to audition for the role for which he had already played four games, then was promptly declined in favor of a younger, more aggressive sounding actor.
The following is a clip of the gruffer, would-be replacement speaking to another character.
Forums went haywire with the news. An article posted on InsideGamingDaily.com garnered comments such as, “No Bateson? Piratebay, here I come…” and “It’s painful enough to have to wait 4-5 years between each Hitman game. Worse, still, knowing that the series has been destroyed.” An online petition was even started that garnered over 3,500 signatures. As a result, a year later in August of 2012, Bateson would be reunited with the role. But why had there been such a violent reaction from the gaming community?
I was confused even then. By that point in 2011, this writer had worked his way through some of Hitman: Blood Money and all of Hitman 2: Silent Assassin years before. And when the news broke of Bateson’s rejection, it took me some time to remember what his voice even sounded like. Worse yet, when I got around to playing Hitman: Absolution last winter, I was underwhelmed with Bateson’s lukewarm portrayal. His acting simply paled in comparison with the surprisingly colorful performances given by other members of the cast, such as Keith Carradine and Powers Boothe.
I chocked it up to another case of consumers not quite knowing what they wanted, and that their concerted efforts to return Bateson to the role may have harmed the game in the long run. Maybe this particular game in the series would have in fact benefited from a fresh voice actor, due to the fact that this entry was much more emotionally driven; a front on which Bateson, as a one-trick-pony kind of actor, fails to deliver.
But what did I know? I’m not a huge fan of the series. I enjoyed the earlier games in passing for their puzzle elements, stealth-based gameplay, and their quiet, yet goofy use of humor, and that was that.
Sadly, it wouldn’t take long for me to be forced into a clearer understanding.
Yeah. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, a trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain came out in late March of this year. Not long after, David Hayter, who has voiced the series’ lead character of Solid Snake for seven games and for fifteen years, revealed via Twitter that someone close to the project had told him that, for this entry, his talents would not be necessary.
I was utterly shocked. Put simply, I’m a big fan of the Metal Gear series. I have fond memories of discussing the games’ insane story beats with high school friends when the second and third games came out. When I got a $600 return at a casino during my college years, I went straight out the next day and bought a PS3 and Metal Gear Solid 4. I love their plots and gameplay dynamics, even though a good portion of them I still don’t understand behind all their whacky glory. I love Snake’s battle-hardened yet sensitive personality. I even love the drippy melodrama (to a reasonable extent).
And I’m sure there are people out there who feel similarly about the Hitman series.
You go on a journey with these characters, and as such, you spend a lot of time with them. Again, Hayter voiced Snake through seven full-length games. That’s seven expositions, rising actions, climaxes, and resolutions. Those are seven self-encompassed emotional rides in which we get to become closer to the game’s characters, especially that of the series lead. And having made it through so many experiences, we felt that we could conquer seven more. That is, until the news dropped.
Snake’s appearance has changed a lot through the years, but his voice has remained. Hayter as an actor adapted well to Snake’s ever-changing challenges. I never felt that we were given a poorly-defined rehash for a particular game, or that Hayter was ever losing steam. Instead, he evolved with the role as well as series followers could have ever asked. He is Snake, Solid or otherwise. No one else knows him better.
So with Snake’s performance history thrown out the window this year, I’m apprehensive about the future of the English-dubbed Metal Gear games. And yet, I trust series creator Hideo Kojima to be a brilliant man. Recasting Snake had to have been one of the most difficult decisions of his career. However, in the same sense that Hitman: Absolution wasn’t a good fit with Bateson behind Agent 47′s portrayal, could the upcoming Metal Gear games be so different from the last that such a radical change in casting would make sense? Could the series’ divorce from one of the industry’s most renowned voice actors actually turn out to be a smart move? After all, Kojima has been with the series for a decade longer than Hayter, hasn’t he?
I won’t pretend to know the answers, or that I can come anywhere close to it. But let’s parse it out a little; what do you, dear Metal Gear die-hards, think about the future of our upcoming Naked Snake/Big Boss of the 1980s and beyond?