Any fresh addition to a much-loved game series that carries the “reboot” label is bound to be met with a degree of wariness by fans, especially if it comes almost a decade after the release of the last game, as Eidos Montreal’s new steal ’em up Thief does. The developers have promised that they’re staying true to the spirit of the game, with the focus remaining on a single-player campaign and the option to play through the entire game without killing anyone, but fans are understandably greeting each fresh announcement with a critical eye.
News of the most notable change so far came with the release of the first CG trailer for the game, which was narrated by Romano Orzari, the new voice of Garrett the Master Thief. For the first three games the character’s lines were provided by actor Stephen Russell, and quite a few fans were disgruntled by the change of casting.
A gamer going by the pseudonym Cloud Unknown has started a petition over at Change.org, demanding that Eidos Montreal bring Russell back for the reboot, and the petition has since gathered almost 2000 signatures. Here’s what the petitioners are signing:
Eidos Montreal; Square Enix: Bring back Stephen Russell for Thief 4.
We were promised that we will play as Garrett. The voice we’ve been given is not him. Stephen Russell, the voice actor for the first three Thief games, defined Garrett. Garrett does not have a defining face, it is his characteristic voice that makes him who he is. Change that, and he becomes another character entirely.
We’ve all gotten attached to that voice over the course of many robberies, adventures, and heists. Without it, Garrett is simply an impostor of his own self. A plastic Garrett lookalike. And so we urge the developers… Please bring Stephen back?
It might seem like a small thing to some, but it is not. Don’t let Thief go the same way Splinter Cell went, which had its main character replaced by a new actor after five games. It is like a slap to the face. We’ve gotten attached to this character. Don’t take it away. Stephen is a core part of the Thief series.
Thief‘s narrative director Stephen Gallagher and audio director Jean-Christophe Verbert have already responded to the criticisms in a community interview, saying that Stephen Russell was their first choice for the role of Garrett, and was even involved with the game’s early development. However, because the studio opted for full performance capture (meaning that physical movement and audio would be recorded at the same time) they found that Stephen Russell was simply not physically capable of taking on the role:
“Stephen was considered quite heavily. We actually had him in for some preliminary vocal recordings in fact.
“Being able to capture the voice at the same time as the actors’ movements and facial expressions, all while the actors play off each other, delivers a much more convincing experience than traditional techniques of recording each characters’ dialogue separately and then animating everything by hand afterwards.
“With the new visual of Garrett we’d created, we found that there was a disconnect that we couldn’t ignore between the concepted character and Stephen’s voice today.
“To answer your question directly, the actor playing Garrett needed to be able to perform his own stunts. Garrett’s a really athletic guy. We could have pasted Stephen’s voice on top of the actions and stunts of someone else, but this wouldn’t appear natural. It really wouldn’t make any sense to capture the full performance for our other characters, but not for our star.”
Voice actor Nolan North has sung the praises of full performance capture as it was utilized in the Uncharted series, saying that, by contrast, the work that he did on the Assassin’s Creed series as the voice of Desmond Miles made the movement of the character and the voice acting feel too disjointed:
“I wish it wasn’t done separately. Don’t get me wrong, the mo-cap actors do a great job, but there will always be somewhat of a disconnect when it’s done this way … The cut-scenes are shot exactly like a film or television program. The actors interact more naturally and unique and subtle elements to the performances are captured. Don’t think for a minute that gamers don’t notice. They’re a savvy bunch.”
This will be the first time that full performance capture has been used in the Thief series. In previous games, animator Daniel Thron created hand-drawn animated cut-scenes that featured a lot of silhouettes and shadows, and even in the third-person view there were a limited range of animations for Garrett. Almost ten years have passed, however, since the release of the last game, and it’s not only understandable but expected that the game developers would want to make use of the technology that has become available since then.
Whether you agree with the petition or not, there’s little chance that Eidos Montreal are going to take any action based on it. 2000 signatures out of their total target audience isn’t all that significant a number, and if the studio was ever going to change its mind about using full performance capture instead of mo-cap/audio booth recording with two separate actors, it would have been before they went ahead and completed the performance capture.
The petition also comes across as more than a little exaggerated, describing Orzari as an “impostor” and a “plastic Garrett lookalike,” and calling the casting decision “a slap in the face.” The Splinter Cell comparison is an apt one, at least, since Michael Ironside was replaced in Splinter Cell Blacklist for the exact same reason that Russell was replaced; the actor is now 63 years old and not capable of the kind of physical movement needed for full performance capture.
Moreover, the backlash doesn’t seem to be against the choice of Romano Orzari or what we’ve heard of his Garrett performance so far; the main criticism of Orzari is that he isn’t Stephen Russell, and that’s not really something he can help. It’s also a little insulting to the writers of the previous games to suggest that Garrett is defined by his voice actor, rather than by the way he is written. Orzari’s voice is actually impressively close to Russell’s gravelly tones, and so long as he does a good job of voicing Garrett, there’s no reason that the change of lead should be detrimental to the game as whole.
You can definitely say this for the Eidos Montreal team behind Thief: they’re not rushing the game out. It was originally announced in 2009, and is currently expected to release on PC, PS4, and Microsoft’s 4th generation console some time in 2014.