Looking down a list of the greatest (highest selling, whatever) video game franchises out there, you'l likely see the Mario games, Sonic, Final Fantasy and eventually the Call of Duty name will get thrown in there. It started out as a simple but well-made World War II game back in the early 2000s, letting players act out some of the nastiest moments in 20th century history from D-Day on the Western Front to the Battle of Stalingrad and the final assault on the Reichstag on the Eastern Front.
Most of the games that followed the first were World War II themed and visited the various locales that were ravaged throughout that conflict, from the islands in the Pacific Ocean, North Africa and of course, Europe. Since these first installments in the series, the games have evolved as the gaming industry has, with graphics improving, stories becoming more immersive, and of course, more multiplayer options.
With that said, as amazing as the franchise is, there are some games that go above and beyond, and others that simply do not offer the same experience to the player. Here, we'll consider the games of the Call of Duty franchise and rate them from worst to best. Our criteria will include the story told in the single-player campaign, the game mechanics (were there glitches, was gameplay "seamless", were the controls problematically complicated), what each game added to the franchise, and finally how the multiplayer experience stacked up.
Call of Duty: Ghosts was the 2013 game and told the story of Logan and Hesh, participating in a war between the United States and the Federation, an alliance of pissed off Latin American countries who have created a space-based super-weapon that can bombard Earth from orbit. The ideas were all there, but the story wasn't entertaining and there was little in the way of meaningful character development or an engaging story to really hold someone's attention. The addition of using Riley the dog was interesting for about five minutes, but like much of the other innovations Ghosts offered, it didn't add much to the game experience.
There were plenty of multiplayer modes, but what they had in terms of variety did not make up for the lackluster maps and lack of creativity with regard to even those games that came two and three years prior. Finally, there was Extinction, a survival game mode Infinity Ward came up with to answer Treyarch's Zombies. Needless to say their attempt came up short.
15 United Offensive
We'll throw down a quick disclaimer here regarding United Offensive, Finest Hour, and The Big Red One. We know they're technically not standalone games, but we included them because each one did have developments that improved the series during its early years.
The campaign saw a segment of fighting during the Battle of the Bulge, a series of missions with the S.A.S. in Sicily, and finally playing as a Russian soldier during the Battle of Kursk. While the single player campaign offered little in the way of upgrades to the first game, the multiplayer featured several changes including a ranking system with perks earned as ranks increase, and much larger and more detailed maps. One of the criticisms of the first Call of Duty game was that multiplayer maps were not large enough.
14 Finest Hour
This was the first game to be featured on consoles and while it offered little that was special with regard to the multiplayer experience (no real noteworthy tweaks or upgrades whatsoever), the campaign was amazing and featured some incredible missions reminiscent of iconic movie and TV scenes. The first level is almost a carbon copy of the opening scene of Enemy at the Gates, when young Soviet soldiers crossed the Volga river in minimally armored boats and were then handed either a rifle or a clip of ammo.
Next was North Africa, and the final third of the campaign took place on the Western Front after D-Day, and featured a mission to hold a bridge that somewhat resembled the final scene of Saving Private Ryan. Unfortunately, the merits of the campaign's story were not enough to make sound issues, glitches here and there, and a very unrealistic feel, excusable.
13 Call of Duty 3
For those who don't remember, Call of Duty 3 had a very unique concept at the time. Prior to this game, every game in the series had featured multiple campaigns. This game deals with the World War 2 battle known as Falaise Gap or Falaise Pocket, in which a German army group was completely encircled by divisions of American, British, Polish, Canadian, and French Resistance troops. The campaign had the player experiencing the events of this battle from the point of view of a soldier from each of these factions. As we have seen, a cool idea doesn't always translate into a great game. CoD 3 was entertaining for sure, but it is now common knowledge that the game was created in a matter of eight months and it really showed. The game had more glitches than players could count and while the advent of DLC in the series was a welcome addition, the product felt rushed and was ultimately disappointing.
With that said however, the game won a few awards so take all criticism with a grain of salt.
12 Infinite Warfare
Much of what we said of Ghosts, we can repeat about Infinite Warfare. We aren't going to just bash the game outright and say that the series should be shut down, but 2016's game is another step in the wrong direction. It is an interesting concept and the single player campaign was well done, but the story is too far outside the realm of what this series is. Perhaps we should say "what the series WAS."
This may well be the final straw for many in the Call of Duty community. IW continued the decidedly unpopular trend of taking the franchise into the future and this time went for a campaign in outer space during a war in a period of human expansion throughout the solar system. The game was a cool concept, but what made Call of Duty amazing was that it was a war-based series specializing in first person shooters. There were times when IW looked more like Halo or Mass Effect, and given that the sales have "under-performed" according to Activision, fans may be bored with the futuristic themes.
Before we forget, the game's multiplayer modes showed no improvement on previous games. There have been rumors that the 2017 Call of Duty installment will be a "return to the roots" of the series, which for many fans would be a welcome development.
11 Modern Warfare 3
Don't get us wrong, we like this finale to the Modern Warfare series, but we also like ten other Call of Duty games more. But "like" is as far as we will go. This game was made because it had to be, but the campaign added virtually nothing new to the series, but concluded the story that was being told. It did what fans wanted it to do, but offered nothing more worth mentioning. We'll admit that this is a polarizing game and many fans will say it is a favorite, and while we don't consider it to be a dud by any means, the story was no better than most in the series and multiplayer was, once again, decent, but with little in the way of innovation or anything worth calling home about.
Okay, fine, they introduced "Kill Confirmed" mode in MW3, which admittedly is a cool option.
10 The Big Red One
This was the first time Treyarch tried their collective hand at making a Call of Duty game and we must say, they did a very good job. The Big Red One as the name would imply, follows the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division through World War 2. This is the best of the expansion games and there are a couple of reasons for this. Multiplayer was good, but not revolutionary by any means, but the campaign did have some features that were worthy of praise in terms of the immersive experience.
Many of the voice actors were experienced at playing World War Two soldiers as most of the main cast had worked on HBO's Band of Brothers years before. On a related note, this game was the first to really develop NPCs. Characters had some depth (as much as they could have in a 2005 FPS) and came to look up to Roland (your character), though many of these young men end up dying. This was one of those early shooters in which we actually felt something when NPCs were getting cut down.
9 Black Ops III
Set 40 years after the end of Black Ops II, the finale of the trilogy is an impressive and entertaining adventure with an interesting story, but took legitimate criticism for heavy dependence on elements of science fiction. The fact that a rogue AI (Corvus) was the primary antagonist of the game didn't sit well with characters and the ending didn't sit well with many people and, in truth, it remains unclear whether or not any of the events of the game actually took place after the first couple of missions. Don't get us wrong, like we said, it was entertaining but ultimately unsatisfying.
The multiplayer and Zombies modes of play were modified slightly for BO3 but not significantly enough to make it praise-worthy.
8 Advanced Warfare
There may not be a game on this list that is harder to place than Advanced Warfare. Thus far it is a standalone game (rumors of a sequel will always show up and disappear from time to time) and most definitely a polarizing product in much the same way as Infinite Warfare. We'll start off with multiplayer, which was awesome, boasting an absurd amount of weapons and variations, along with various ways to upgrade one's character, on top of some very creative maps, and of course the ex- suit, which added a new element to the game.
But let's stick with this for a second because that exo-suit has been as much of an asset to this game as it was a liability. Let us explain: many of the franchise's faithful hated this development because it was a symptom of the series getting "away from it's roots." Keep in mind, however, that many of these same fans may well have complained that each game over the previous three to five years was just a re-skinned version of what came before. In short, you just can't please everyone.
Advanced Warfare had a lot of fresh ideas, an entertaining campaign and an entertaining amount of options in multiplayer. Unfortunately, the story, set forty years in the future, wasn't nearly as mind blowing or addicting as many others in the series. The addition of Kevin Spacey, however, was an excellent choice in terms of adding to the novelty of the game.
7 World at War
Imagine you're a young stand up comedian, you're comfortable with your act and are scheduled to perform at a comedy show, but you find out that you're following Bill Burr (Dave Chappelle, Patton Oswalt, whoever you consider a great comedian). That is a tough act to follow, as the fans have been laughing and it will likely take a lot to keep them in such a state. Much the same can be said of Call of Duty: World at War.
2008's game did not have an easy task; following the act of Modern Warfare. Treyarch's game didn't quite live up to what Infinity Ward achieved the previous year, but WaW was a great adrenaline rush through multiple nasty campaigns during World War 2. The gameplay was crisp, the story was well told, the voice acting was outstanding and, of course, this was the first game to have a Zombies mode.
6 Call of Duty
We discussed the first game briefly in the introduction, but now we'll drool over it some more. Released in 2003, it looks like an unpolished mess by today's standards, but playing through it at the time, we knew we were experiencing something special. Call of Duty had a phenomenal feel to it that was unheard of in comparison to other shooters at the time. This was just a year after Medal of Honor: Frontline and comparing the two is like comparing a chocolate cake to cat food that has been left out for a couple of weeks in the summer (CoD is the cake).
Of course, the game featured the ability to aim down iron sights rather than the more common zoom and while the health points bar was irritating, not to mention the lack of checkpoints (both rectified quickly in the timeline of the series, however), these were small issues when taken with the big picture of the actual game. It started it all and was an awesome campaign.
5 Black Ops II
The fact that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega tried to sue Activision for the use of his name and likeness in this game is not the only reason it is so high on our list. Actually, that story is little more than a trivial piece of info: this game, while hard to follow at times, was a great time. The campaign in the past, along with the future, was an amazing concept and well done. The plot of the single player mode was difficult to predict and the fact that there are different endings based on who you kill and who you don't added to the replay value of this already worthwhile campaign. If there was a problem with the campaign, it may have been the fact that main missions were interrupted every so often with the tedious Strike Force missions, which served a purpose but took the metaphorical wind out of the sails of what was an otherwise exciting campaign.
The multiplayer modes, much like those of its predecessor, were somewhat innovative, ("pick 10", weapon customization, and the use of points to earn streaks to name a few examples), but not life-changing.
4 Call of Duty 2
2005's Call of Duty 2 was an incredible game both for its time and in retrospect, looking back on it here in 2017. Yes, the graphics were primitive compared to what we're seeing now and the gameplay wasn't as crisp as that to which we've become accustomed, but the overall experience was amazing and the game added some very key aspects to the series. The campaign was similar to the first game, with a Soviet campaign, a British and an American part to finish. All were memorable and well put together.
One of the biggest additions featured in CoD 2 was health regeneration, which seemed ridiculous at the time, but has become a staple in the franchise (and among many FPS series). The AI was vastly improved for both allied soldiers and enemies and, of course, the creators went to great lengths to make a game with somewhat authentic scenery. They also added the grenade warning signal with this game, along with having enemies enter what we now call "last stand" and pulling out their sidearm before death. The multiplayer modes were solid as well, but the campaign added so many things that have become mainstay in the franchise.
3 Black Ops
2010's Black Ops was an epic romp through the dirtiest days of the Cold War, starting during the Bay of Pigs Invasion attempt, before spiraling into a terrifying, exhilarating psychological thrill ride through a Soviet Union prison, and the Vietnam War. The campaign had incredible story depth, which almost made up for some minor flaws in gameplay.
The multiplayer mode was incredible as well, bringing new weapon customization options to the table, a very challenging series of maps (and the iconic Nuketown) and, of course, the added potential to wager in-game points on matches. This game really added to the Zombies storyline that has become such a fan favorite at this point in the series.
2 Modern Warfare 2
MW2 boasts one of the most complete campaigns in the series and had a very entertaining multiplayer mode to boot. The sense of urgency that gradually built up over the course of the single player campaign made it nearly impossible to put the controller down. With regards to multiplayer, the maps came in many shapes and sizes and they reflected the settings of the game very well.
But looking back at the campaign, several missions stand out: including No Russian, in which you're forced to participate in a massacre at a public airport, Whiskey Hotel, in which your character has to assault the White House, and of course Loose Ends, the mission in which General Shepherd shows his true colors.
The inclusion of Spec Ops mode is yet another aspect of this game that added to the overall value that it offered to players.
1 Modern Warfare
I can't say with any degree of honesty, that I did not enjoy every game on this list. Despite the widely held criticisms that I share with many gamers about Infinite Warfare, Ghosts, and quite a few other Call of Duty titles, I had fun playing each one and will likely play through every campaign again at some point in my life. Obviously, however, some games had more enjoyable gameplay, offered a more impressive multiplayer experience, or just told a better story than others, and the game that brought the best story and put multiplayer into another gear was Modern Warfare.
For its time, there was nothing the game did poorly. The graphics were great, the story was a "sitting on the edge of your seat" nail-biter, the missions were well thought out and varied (All Ghillied Up, anyone?). Finally, Modern Warfare made us feel like no other first person shooter had. Playing as Sgt Paul Jackson as he breathed his last breath while looking at the mushroom cloud, or playing as a wounded Soap MacTavish as Griggs gets shot and then Gaz is executed, while Price struggles and finally slides you a sidearm; these scenes were art of the most brutal variety.