I've already covered celebrity cameos in video games, and my general opinion of them. In short, they work as long as knowing the celebrity’s name is a side joke, not their character’s entire raison d’être. Having a character in a game for the sole purpose of filling a slot on someone’s IMDb page is just bad writing. However, in this and other things, the Call of Duty series operates under its own set of rules.
In case you missed it, the trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Activision’s 2014 release, dropped this week. It was supposed to be out on Sunday, but they had to release it early after it was leaked. I should say “leaked,” because an early trailer would explain why all of Activision’s games have been up for Steam sale since midweek. (I’m going to buy Vampire: The Masquerade and Prototype.)
CoD has never been shy about showcasing their celebrity talent in trailers. I’d wager a good chunk of their expenses go toward the actors’ fees. The in-game voices have included Sam Worthington, Gary Oldman, Michael Rooker, and Lance Henriksen; and Megan Fox even made a cursory cameo in the Ghosts trailer.
Now the latest actor to join their stable is Kevin Spacey, recently of House of Cards. Since that series has several sequences of Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, playing Call of Duty to relax; I prefer to believe that this is some kind of exchange. Rumor has it that this will be more than a cameo: Spacey will be playing the primary antagonist, the head of an evil PMC.
Time for a quick reality check: While I think Spacey is a superb actor and I love House of Cards, I don’t for a moment think his presence will elevate the surrounding game. If the game turns out well, it’ll be because the new developer has put in a huge amount of work and improved upon the formula. At best, Spacey will be too good of an actor for the game.
I will say this: Giving the role to a relatively mild-mannered actor who plays the part of a cutthroat and controversial politician on television is much better than giving it to an actual, dyed-in-the-wool, controversial politician. Remember Black Ops II? Not only did we have Oliver North of the Iran-Contra Affair as a behind-the-scenes military adviser and as his younger self in a minor role, we also had David Petraeus as the Secretary of Defense. Yes, that game came out a week after he resigned his position following the 2012 Petraeus-Broadwell scandal. Timing, huh?