Call of Duty: Ghosts recycles old cutscenes. And it really doesn't matter

This morning, my Twitter feed opened in a manner akin to the Ark of the Covenant in the hands of a rat-faced Nazi; all blinding light, face-melting horror, and the rage of an affronted god. You see this morning, someone noticed that Call of Duty: Ghosts reuses some cutscene animation from the end of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Obviously this is yet another scrabbling step along Activision’s slippery slope to Hell (a road paved as it is with poor creative decisions), and yet another slap in the face for the sensitive, artistically-minded souls that all CoD players no doubt are.

That’s according to a large proportion of my Twitter feed, anyway. In truth, it’s a matter of little consequence. I completely understand why a series as mass market as Call of Duty has become a cultural punching bag. That’s just the way of the internet, and it’s been that way in every medium since the year dot. But looking at this within the wider context of what Call of Duty is, complaints at 15 seconds of recycled animation is a ship-sinking maelstrom in the tiniest of espresso cups.

The thing is, CoD is not a delicate little indie title striving for artistic worth and deep existential meaning. And it’s not supposed to be. It’s a bold, brash, ultra-mainstream entertainment product, courting--very successfully, I might add--the most mainstream of audiences. And Infinity Ward is not Team Ico. Again, it’s not supposed to be. It’s a slick, efficient thrill-factory working alongside Treyarch to produce yearly updates to the above-mentioned successful formula. And whether you like its product or not, it does that job well.

Within that context, reusing assets is just sound business sense, and a smart solution to the tight turnarounds demanded by these games’ release schedules. At this point in its run, Call of Duty has a gigantic backlog of pre-made assets on file. Why not capitalise on existing work in the name of efficiency, particularly with the extra technical challenges of a next-gen launch title to take into account?

Infinity Ward is far from the only creative team to use this method. Capcom has reused sprites for its multiple fighting game series for several console generations. Michael Bay has reworked footage from both Pearl Harbour and The Island in a couple of Transformers films. Even Disney, for a long time the world’s most artistically respected crafter of animated features, has reused animation cycles for decades. Have a look at the video below if you don’t believe me. Beyond Disney, the process of TV animation reusing looped backgrounds has become such a well-known cliché as to nowadays be an affectionately acknowledged non-issue.

The reason Disney got away with repurposed animation is the same reason that the practice is irrelevant in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Simply, reusing old building blocks does not matter as much as what you make out of them. No-one but the most ultra-rich and psychotic of parents has ever criticised a child’s Lego creation for comprising the same bricks as the last one. Because it doesn’t matter. When considering the stern logistic, budget and time constraints involved in making a massive entertainment product, it matters even less.

So Call of Duty: Ghosts reuses a bit of old animation. I’m willing to bet it reuses a few gun models and environmental textures too. Just like any triple-A sequel, from Gears of War to Bioshock, has always done. It’s not laziness. It’s just sensible production practice. And everyone does it. If you don’t like it, fine. But let’s not single out Call of Duty just because it’s an easy target.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.