"Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" Is Millennials' Fascist Nightmare

Kevin Spacey Is a Very American Despot

By Matthew Gault

As the American Marines deploy to Seoul, the bright lights of the city obscure their vision. Fire, smoke and ash mask the skyline. The jarheads push through the streets, a tank crawling over trenches to provide covering fire.

“We’re tracking a drone swarm coming your way,” a voice squawks over the radio. The ’bots appear on the horizon, a hundred of them buzzing in an eerie, synchronized swarm.

Exoskeletons boost the Marines into the sky. Bullets deflect off of armored helmets—bullets fired by the invading North Korean army.

It’s the mid-21st century, and America is fighting yet another war on foreign soil.

This is the opening mission of the newest installment in Activision’s multi-billion-dollar video game franchise Call of Duty. It’s more than a game. It’s a political statement about the consequences of endless war.

The destruction of Seoul (Activision)

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the 11th game in a series that has become an annual entertainment juggernaut. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2—the ninth game in the series—raked in more than a billion dollars the first day of its release.

By comparison, the entire Batman movie franchise—from Tim Burton’s 1989 film to Christopher Nolan’s recent Dark Knight Rises—has earned a combined $1.8 billion.

"6,000 dead in four hours." The aftermath of the New Korean War. (Activision)

Advanced Warfare casts the player as Pvt. Mitchell—a young Marine who joined up with his best friend Will. The defense of South Korea is the pair’s first combat mission. Mitchell loses his left arm. Will loses his life.

At the funeral for his fallen friend, Will’s father approaches Mitchell. It’s Kevin Spacey, playing billionaire Jonathan Irons, head of military company ATLAS. He offers Mitchell a second chance to fight … and a fancy prosthetic arm.

So begins the player’s service to the man who will become the story’s villain. That’s not a spoiler. It’s clear early on that Spacey’s character is an evil megalomaniac.

“ATLAS has the single largest military in the world, but we answer to no country,” Irons says. “Unlike the government, we don’t make a secret of our capability. We don’t sell policy, we sell power. We are a super-power for hire.”

The early Call of Duty games were set during World War II. Call of Duty 2’s rendering of the Battle of Stalingrad is particularly affecting.

But somewhere along the way, Call of Duty lost its way. The last half dozen or so titles have been blatant power fantasies. Blatant American power fantasies. Flags ripple in the air while bombs explode before American heroes save the day.

‘Advanced Warfare’ is different. It’s subversive—a game about corruption, the limits of power and the ultimate powerlessness of the player.

Only the first chunk of the game seems like the same old Call of Duty power fantasy.

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