Call of Duty made its debut in 2003, and for every year since, we’ve dutifully picked up a new game in the series. Activision Blizzard‘s first-person shooters have become a mainstay in autumn’s busy release season, and now with a whopping 19 games in the series, most generations can point to their favourite CoD game with ease.
While some Call of Duty games are looked back on as classics, not all of them have lived up to the hype – in short, there have been a few stinkers (spoilers – one of them is Ghosts). Below, we’ve ranked the 19 “mainline” Call of Duty games -meaning no Warzone, sorry – to work out which is which and definitely not cause any arguments.
From the very first Call of Duty to this year’s Modern Warfare 3, read on to find out where your favourite CoD sits on our ranking – and more importantly, which Call of Duty game we consider the all-time greatest.
Words: Jake Tucker, Andy Brown
20. Call of Duty 3 (2006)
Call of Duty 3. Credit: Activision.
Console-only, Call of Duty 3 was a mess of ideas that was hugely overshadowed by what came next, Modern Warfare. Featuring class-based multiplayer, vehicles and even scorestreaks, it was a very mid-2000s Xbox 360 shooter that didn’t really compete with what Battlefield and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas were doing at the time.
The campaign has its moments, particularly by forcing you into hand-to-hand combat sequences that felt cinematic for the time, and could see players using the Sixaxis movement sensing on the PlayStation 3 controller to beat enemy soldiers to death. Grim.
Call of Duty 3 was developed in just 8 months and was no doubt hurt for being wedged between Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – but it has some nice ideas that were incorporated into better, later, CoD games.
Platforms: PS2, PS3, Xbox, Xbox 360, Wii.
Best map: Most of Call of Duty 3’s maps are reskins of CoD and CoD 2 maps, but Stalag 23 is all-new and lets players charge around a PoW camp while one tower overlooks it all.
Bonus celebrity voice: American TV mainstay Mark Deklin stars as Maj. Gerald Ingram.
19. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
Call Of Duty Black Ops 4. Credit: Activision Blizzard
Despite Black Ops being one of the most beloved single-player Call of Duty campaigns, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 ditched the single-player campaign and its ’70s setting to go for a near-future multiplayer shooter that, frankly, sucked.
The story was delivered instead in the game’s multiplayer, although you would be forgiven for missing it as you ran around at 500 mph, desperately trying to avoid getting killed by the all-new specialists and their ridiculous signature weapons.
It’s mostly notable for Blackout, a battle royale mode that was an early attempt at Warzone, and for Specialist Ajax’s 9-bang, a flashbang that detonates multiple times and served as a tremendously funny fuck you to camping enemies.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Best map: Contraband is one big bridge that holds a constant running firefight while flankers are funnelled into two wide-open areas to fight for dominance.
Bonus celebrity voice: This one is light on star power, but Black Ops mainstay James C. Burns returns as Sgt. Woods.
18. Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
Call of Duty Ghosts. Credit: Infinity Ward.
The United States is no longer a superpower. That’s the horrifying world portrayed in Call of Duty: Ghosts, a fairly meh entry in the series that commits the cardinal sin of being nearly completely unmemorable, with a single-player campaign that ends with a miserable cliffhanger that will never be resolved. There’s also a dog, and a cool bit where you defend a space station from enemies before scuttling it.
The multiplayer is fairly underwhelming but a load of stuff has been done on the technical side: this was the first game to have sliding, leaning and animations for when you’re clambering around the environment, creating a more dynamic feeling CoD. It also has a very fast time to kill (TTK) and bigger maps than before, hinting at a Call of Duty that was trying to reinvent itself. The coolest part though was the Field Orders, which were a special pick-up from the first death of the match that would bestow upon its owner a special mission. Complete the mission and you’ll get a resupply and other powerful rewards, but die and you’ll drop a pickup for another player to have a go. This could lead to map-destroying events such as a mortar strike or even blowing up an entire baseball field.
Sadly, Ghosts failed to hit the mark as the first indicator that the Call of Duty series was folding under its own weight, which led to serious changes in how the games were developed.
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
Best map: Warhawk drops you in a town in Nebraska with plenty of buildings for snipers to set up in, but alleyways are often filled with stealthy players setting up ambushes and flanks
Bonus celebrity voice: Stephen Lang plays retired U.S Army Captain Elias Walker, but you can call him Scarecrow. Cringe.
17. Call of Duty (2003)
Call of Duty. Credit: Infinity Ward.
Sorry, but it’s true. Call of Duty’s very first entry had real promise but it’s nowhere near the Call of Duty you’ll recognise today, playing like a very basic WW2-themed Quake 3. Which, it basically was, being built on the same engine.
Still, it’s hard not to appreciate how early the team at Infinity Ward locked in core components for Call of Duty: there are different viewpoints, celebrity voices and a push towards realism by adding iron sights – allowing players to aim down sights for one of the first time in video games. There was even a shellshock mechanic, which messed you up if you were near explosions in the single-player campaign.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Best map: Carentan, later recreated as Chinatown in Modern Warfare, is a French town with roads, buildings and backyards, while mounted machine guns provide solid anchor points. It’s also the only CoD map to get namechecked in The Office.
Bonus celebrity voice: Jason Statham shows up as your commander Sargeant Waters, and the campaign is greatly improved for him growling in your ear during the British campaign.
16. Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
The latest Call Of Duty, to enter our rankings, this dull reimagining of Infinity Ward’s original Modern Warfare trilogy felt utterly phoned-in. Despite the return of series villain Makarov, Modern Warfare 3‘s single-player campaign is both lifeless and shockingly short. Meanwhile, Zombies took COD fans’ favourite undead-blasting game mode and turned it into a limp extraction shooter.
The fact that Modern Warfare 3 continued on from 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 meant that multiplayer was a surprisingly balanced affair from day one. Yet even the return of iconic maps from 2009 couldn’t stop this entry from feeling like it should have been an expansion, not a full game.
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Best map: Airport shoot-em-up Terminal, though this one’s cheating because MW3 launched with the same maps as 2009’s Modern Warfare 2.
Bonus celebrity voice: Shadow And Bone star Julian Kostov drops by to play ultranationalist baddie Vladimir Makorov, but cheesy writing leaves him sounding like a Marvel villain.
15. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 (2015)
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Credit: Activision.
A mind-bending story and a stellar voice cast are huge wins for an otherwise forgettable Call of Duty entry. The addition of cybernetics, robot combatants and even the cybercore abilities layer in a lot of systems to the single and multiplayer aspects of the game, but it often feels like there’s just too much going on and so little freedom.
By the end of the game you visit the Battle of the Bulge for some reason (despite the sci-fi setting) and there’s a horde of zombies to defend yourself from. The tonal whiplash and the fact these elements aren’t handled that well puts a dampener on a campaign with solid ideas.
The multiplayer adds in unique operators but is bland and disinteresting. If you haven’t played this already, you haven’t missed much.
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Best map: Micro is not the best map in the game – sorry – but the most interesting, this shrinks down your soldiers and throws them into a pitched battle for dominance of a picnic table. Shoot ants to see them explode.
Bonus celebrity voice: Ben Browder, star of Farscape and the later Stargate SG-1 series’ is the voice of the male player character. Sci-fi legend Kate Sackhoff appears as Sarah Hall.
14. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Credit: Activision.
Modern Warfare 3 was the first of Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty games after co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella left the company and Activision, taking with them a host of the core team that made Modern Warfare and its sequel possible.
Modern Warfare 3 fares fairly well when you consider all of the dramatic occurrences going on behind the scenes, but it mostly coasts on the Modern Warfare name. Modern Warfare 3 hits the same notes as MW2, even including a playable terror attack on civilians that can be skipped. This is the end of the original Modern Warfare trilogy, meaning a lot of players might have gone through this just to find out what happens with Captain Price and pals.
There’s a wealth of content for players who want to stick it to the AI, with survival mode and spec ops letting players team up and batter enemies. The multiplayer is fairly average too, slightly worse than its predecessors, but interesting enough for the time. MW3 is an iterative entry rather than anything really interesting.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii
Best map: Hardhat: this construction site is full of unfinished buildings, but the best scraps are to be had in the central building that occupies the center. Furious close-quarters action is here, with a multitude of angles ensuring every firefight is a chaotic mess. It’s fun, though.
Bonus celebrity voice: Idris Elba, Timothy Olyphant, William Fichtner all star, while Billy Murray returns at Captain Price and Craig Fairbrass is in yet another Modern Warfare voicing Walcroft, this time.
13. Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
Call of Duty: World At War. Credit: Activision.
A love letter to World War 2 films, World at War follows up the franchise-defining Modern Warfare by taking a giant step back into the past.
You’ll storm the beaches of Normandy like in Saving Private Ryan, crawl through the streets of Stalingrad Enemy At The Gates-style, and take orders from Kiefer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. World at War does do a surprisingly good job at being scary, with some sections merely being downright unpleasant and others channeling some genuinely spooky energy into their warfare.
However, gruelling difficulty spikes and a German army outfitted with an unlimited supply of grenades make actually playing the campaign frustrating. Elsewhere, the multiplayer has the same compelling Modern Warfare feel, but things are slightly off. This also marks the introduction of the attack dog care killstreak, one of Call of Duty‘s most infuriating additions.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS
Best map: Banzai: one huge bridge is the focal point for most of the combat, but below that there are scores of paths cutting their way under and around the bridge, giving players a way to rustle out the snipers hiding in the map’s dense vegetation.
Bonus celebrity voice: Gary Oldman plays the role of Sgt. Reznov, your Russian combat dad in the campaign. Kiefer Sutherland is Sgt. Roebuck, U.S combat daddy.
12. Call of Duty: WW2 (2017)
Call Of Duty: WWII. Credit: Sledgehammer Games
WW2‘s biggest issue is that it’s set in…well, you know. The French locales and the WW2 setting make the game feel jaded, but it actually had some fresh ideas, most of them in the campaign.
The knee-slide that has cursed modern CoD games was replaced with a button to throw yourself prone and AI squadmates will even keep you supplied, handing you grenades and ammo during big assaults. For the six to seven hours that you’re tangled up in WW2’s story, you’ll enjoy every second, but once you’re done you’ll struggle to remember what you got up to.
The multiplayer was a bizarre experiment from Sledgehammer, a soft reboot of sorts just before Modern Warfare came along. A social area for WW2 has players crowded around the beach at Normandy, as loot boxes fall from the sky to bestow gifts upon players. It would be grotesque if it wasn’t so outright bizarre.
Elsewhere, multiplayer is decent but feels too modern, a trap that every World War 2-set Call of Duty seems to fall into since 2007’s Modern Warfare: everything feels slick and modern, with red dots and lasers strapped to 1940s weaponry. Wouldn’t it be better to get some gunplay with a bit of heft to it? Still, it’s possible to have a great time if you load dragon’s breath rounds into your shotgun and go to town.
A strong entry, but not quite strong enough to land it in the big 10.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Best map: Ardennes Forest: a battle of the bulge set three-lane classic, this is what COD maps are all about. Good sight lines mean scrappy running firefights.
Bonus celebrity voice: Josh Duhamel – soon to appear in The Callisto Protocol – starts as technical sergeant William Pierson
11. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Credit: Activision Blizzard
One of the best Call of Duty campaigns ever made collides full-body with a terrible multiplayer offering. Infinite Warfare takes Call of Duty into space, with your character throwing down against some Martians – human colonists determined to take earth – with all sorts of hard-fiction gadgets.
There are so many highlights: the freedom to tackle the campaign in your own way, the fact that you have a combat robot programmed to spew one-liners to help ingratiate himself with the team, and even Kit Harrington taking a genuinely chilly turn as Admiral Kotch. Did I mention the zero-gravity firefights on deep-space capital ships? Honestly, at moments this is the best Call of Duty has ever been.
The multiplayer, however, is terrible. Everyone moves too fast, but combat inversely feels too slow, with a long TTK and weapons that feel ineffectual. Even a futuristic Terminal reskin can’t save this from just feeling a little bit disappointing.
Even now, the campaign is worth your time. We don’t get enough hard sci-fi shooters and Infinite Warfare shows how much of a shame that is.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Best map: Retaliation takes you to a war-ravaged Geneva, with a giant main building for close-quarters combat, with plenty of places for longer-range fighting and wall-running outside.
Bonus celebrity voice: Kit Harrington is in this and he is a right baddie.
10. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare – official reveal trailer still. CREDIT: Call Of Duty
Another stellar campaign, Advanced Warfare feels like playing the best action movie you can think of. In one segment you’re executing a high-stakes raid on Camp David to rescue the President, in another you’re bounding down the Golden Gate Bridge, bounding over trucks to take out clusters of enemies. The kineticism at the heart of Advanced Warfare is a large part of its charm, and often feels like more of a Titanfall sequel – before we actually got one of those – than something in Call of Duty.
It’s a Call of Duty that actually says something, too: a condemnation of private military companies and the influence they can wield, although sadly that has been eroded by the fact that leading Advanced Warfare‘s military company is the disgraced Kevin Spacey, whose heel turn later in the story is now overshadowed by his acts in the real world.
Elsewhere, quick-time events and a lack of freedom really marred the experience. The multiplayer has wall-running and a lot of mobility, but somehow still feels approachable, with clean maps that make the game feel like a tighter Titanfall rather than the mess of high-speed shootouts you might see in Infinite Warfare or later Black Ops entries.
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Best map: Riot has two big open areas, three lanes and a mix of cover, high jumps and vantage points. Advanced Warfare is big on mobility, and this plays into that in a big way.
Bonus celebrity voice: Kevin Spacey is in this, as the giant gross elephant in the room.
9. Call of Duty: Vanguard (2021)
Call of Duty: Vanguard. Credit: Activision
Vanguard hits a lot of the same notes as the other recent World War 2 Call of Duty games, but gets a higher position due to its inclusion of the Gunsmith customisation system and a fairly robust destruction mechanic that allows players in campaign and multiplayer to absolutely shred the world around them.
You join the world’s first special forces team, a force made up of Nazi-punchers from different nations. Sadly, you join them during their ultimate mission, so most of their tale plays out through origin stories and flashbacks set long past the point of frustration.
However, the performances are good and you get to do a lot of fun set pieces, it’s just a shame the campaign doesn’t really spend a lot of time exploring how this team works together and instead has characters blubbing over the death of friends, family and commanding officers until it all comes to a satisfying conclusion.
The multiplayer is good fun, albeit with the same problem as WW2: using modern customisation options with era-inappropriate options, giving players the option to create some truly cursed guns without really adding any mechanical support to the fact we’re in WW2.
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Best map: Eagle’s Nest is an all-time great Call of Duty map, encompassing one long building and two winding paths that led around it. Grab a shotgun and head inside for a fun shootout, but the outside paths offer interesting options.
Bonus celebrity voice: British TV actor and Banshee star Chiké Okonkwo stars as Arthur Kingsley, and he’s brilliant.
8. Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War (2020)
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Credit: Raven Software / Treyarch
I love a spy story, and with Raven‘s first campaign for Call of Duty, the developer tells a masterful one with a few interesting mechanical quirks: trying to solve puzzles in an ’80s safehouse in Berlin is memorable, and shootouts inside locations like a Russian recreation of small town America are some of the best moments Call of Duty has to offer.
The campaign, sadly, is short and vanishes before it wears out its welcome. This is one of the bigger reasons Cold War doesn’t rank higher in the list – that, and the multiplayer lets things down. Coming directly after 2019’s Modern Warfare reinvented the wheel, Cold War‘s multiplayer often feels infuriating and never delivers the same serotonin hit as either version of the Modern Warfare franchise.
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Best map: Miami has the benefit of actually feeling like Miami, with a beach and hotel both providing memorable battlegrounds. Hunkering down and sniping from the hotel balcony is a great time, until you get flanked.
Bonus celebrity voice: Not strictly a voice, but Bruce Thomas – the motion capture body for Master Chief in Halo 4,5 and Infinite – appears here as Russell Adler.
7. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012)
Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Credit: Activision
Remember that incredible Black Ops 2 commercial? Starring faces like Robert Downey Jr, Jack Black and FPSRussia, it was the most 2012 commercial ever and it was awesome.
Black Ops 2 examines America’s behind-the-scenes scraps and scrapes, and does some fun stuff: a shootout in a club full of civilians – soundtracked with dubstep because it’s 2012 – feels tense, and there are elements of real-time strategy, narrative branches and stories taking place in 1986 and 2025, giving you a good mix of different elements. The story itself is pretty gross, with some dodgy character motivations and even Michael Rooker showing up to spew exposition everywhere.
The multiplayer is better for getting rid of the ridiculous movement mechanics, with high-tech gadgets like thermal scopes that are fun to play with, but the real draw is that the levels blend retro style with the near future.
The character customisation is solid in multiplayer too, with create-a-class becoming the pick-10 system, which let players pick 10 things to use rather than just picking perks, weapons and attachments. Longer sight lines in the maps mean you often have a little more time to prepare for fights and the skill ceiling feels higher than many of the newer games in the franchise.
This was the last phenomenal Call of Duty game before 2019’s Modern Warfare – after this, the mutliplayer started to unravel.
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U
Best map: Grind drops you into a skate park and has players charging around the place trying to navigate a world of half pipes, ramps and some brutal sniper positions to punish anyone who tries to climb either.
Bonus celebrity voice: Michael Keaton gives a memorable performance as Jason Hudson, taking the reigns from Ed Harris who – spoilers – plays the role in Black Ops.
6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022)
‘Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’. CREDIT: Infinity Ward.
The sixth greatest Call of Duty, 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 followed fan-favourite tough guys Soap, Ghost, Gaz and Captain Price as they romped across the world on a hunt for stolen missiles. It’s got no shortage of blockbuster setpieces, but Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign truly shines in its moments of restraint – like a stealthy crawl through an occupied Mexican town, or a sniper-fuelled spiritual successor to CoD 4‘s All Ghillied Up. Within these quieter missions, Infinity Ward explores its characters with more charm than we’re used to seeing from Call of Duty – and Modern Warfare 2 is all the better for it.
As for the multiplayer, Modern Warfare 2 offers a big step up to 2021’s Vanguard: weapons feel responsive and deadly, while new game modes like Prisoner Rescue offer a compelling middle ground between high stakes Search and Destroy games and more traditional death matches. While some disappointing map design cast a damper on Modern Warfare 2, the rebooted sequel is proof that Infinity Ward remains one of the best FPS developers in the business.
Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Best map: Embassy is the best of a bad bunch – two buildings of an embassy have several routes to explore and a central area where all parts meet in repeated grisly bloodshed
Bonus celebrity voice: Barry Sloane returns from 2019’s MW1 to voice Captain Price, but video game fans will likely recognise Warren Kole – who voices Graves – as bad dude Rafe Adler from Uncharted 4. He’s also “Galaga Guy” from the first Avengers movie.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
Call of Duty: Black Ops. Credit: Activision.
Black Ops is a worthy successor to the 2007 Modern Warfare and is one of the best settings for a Call of Duty game, letting players explore America’s secret wars through the eyes of a few celebrity cameos.
The campaign is good fun although weirdly paced. You’re hurled between assassinations, invasions and wars throughout history with barely enough time to catch your breath, in a story that rips stuff from Fight Club. It’s not high art, but it does mean a lot of time riding around in Chinooks getting your hands on a variety of ’70s weaponry.
The multiplayer is exceptional too, taking what made Modern Warfare work and lacquering it with Cold War-era cool. It’s not quite as much fun, but killing an enemy with a ballistic knife – a knife you shoot like a gun – or even rinsing enemies in Search and Destroy with a FAMAS, ensures this is a game many players will be fond of.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS
Best map: Nuketown has become a Call of Duty icon, but it’s easy to forget quite how well-designed it is. A cul de sac of carnage, two houses face each other with scant cover and nowhere to hide.
Bonus celebrity voice: Ed Harris, Gary Oldman and Sam Worthington star, but Ice Cube’s turn as Joseph Bowman is the most memorable.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Infinity Ward
Building on Modern Warfare‘s reinvention, Modern Warfare 2 is a confident, stylish romp. It may lack the substance of its predecessor but it made up for that with flash. Iconic moments are nearly constant: watching Soap tackle a man from the roof of a favela, skulking through a military base in a snowstorm by using a heartbeat sensor, and the famously maligned but actually quite tame airport section which sees you gunning down an airport full of civilians in a sequence that was seemingly designed solely for edge 16-year-olds.
As the story gets sillier and sillier, it never really stops being fun. There aren’t many games that would have you holed up in a burger restaurant, trying to kill invading Russian troops as an invasion force rolls across a car park, but no matter – Modern Warfare 2 has already nailed it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, mind, but by the time you’ve seen the flaws you’ve already bought in.
The multiplayer is famous for the sheer variety of completely broken, rage-inducing, combos. Modern Warfare 2 is a game where you can be killed by sentry guns, riot shields, sawn-off twin shotguns or even a throwing knife that has bounced down from a rooftop to kill you instantly – likely just in time for it to be the game-ending killcam, embarrassing you for years as part of someone’s frag video forever more.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Best map: In a game filled with top-notch maps, Terminal takes the prize. A map so beloved it’s even a popular GMOD fixture, this is an airport turned into a shooting gallery
Bonus celebrity voice: Lance Henriksen takes a break from starring in every horror movie ever to appear as the villainous Lieutenant General Shepherd.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare. Credit: Activision
Call of Duty was in a bad spot when Modern Warfare’s reboot came in 2019. Sales were down and while it was still the biggest game in the world, it wasn’t all that exciting. This game mixed things up, and made everything feel fresh again: gone was the boiling world war that ended the original trilogy, and in its place was a quiet skulk through a house in Camden, looking for terrorists in the wake of a terrorist attack.
It’s still jingoistic. A war crime perpetuated in the real world by American forces has been rewritten to make Russia the baddies, and the franchise still goes all-in on how amazing the unaccountable special forces are, but generally the story is engaging and introduces a likeable cast.
Then, there is the cracking multiplayer. Gunsmithing makes Modern Warfare‘s arsenal feel huge and lets you personalise guns to your own needs, while the maps are excellent. Firefights around the stalled busses in Piccadilly Circus, or through underground caves, all feel solid, while the fidelity afforded to these means that firefights feel close to overwhelming sometimes.
Modern Warfare‘s team had an impossible mission: to make Call of Duty cool again. They pulled it off.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Best map: Shoothouse is a rat run of slaughter, with three lanes crisscrossed with flanking routes and cover placed smartly to encourage a cornucopia of violence
Bonus celebrity voice: Claudia Doumit – Victoria Neuman from Amazon’s The Boys – appears as Farah Karim.
2. Call of Duty 2 (2005)
Call of Duty 2. Credit: Activision.
Call of Duty 2‘s campaign is good fun, but hard to distinguish from Call of Duty‘s – although the romp through Africa as British Desert Rats feels ahead of its time. Infinity Ward also does D-Day again, having originally tackled it in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Now, it’s memorable for its non-linear levels, which was a bold move before Call of Duty slid deep into scripted events and blockbuster explosions.
But if you have fond memories of Call of Duty 2 it’s more likely to be for its online elements. On PC Call of Duty 2 has 64-person multiplayer, and it’s gloriously clunky with weapons being tricky to use. Persevere with it and the reward is firefights that feel just the right side of unpleasant, and combat that requires genuine thought to improve at. Picking your way through ruined buildings with a single-shot rifle while watching out for an ambush from the 32 enemy players out to ruin your day is a feeling that no Call of Duty has ever successfully emulated. I played Call of Duty 2 so much back in the day that I used to dream about the ping of an M1 Garand.
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Best map: Lots of excellent Call of Duty maps come back from Call of Duty 2, but El Alamein is a new addition that might be the best of the bunch, filled with trenches, sniper spots and inky nighttime for stealthy players to take advantage of
Bonus celebrity voice: Band of Brothers’ Michael Cudlitz gets back into WW2 character as Sgt. Glenn Hawkins.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Credit: Activision.
Admit it, you were expecting this. Much has been made of Modern Warfare for the way it shaped the franchise into what it is today. The praise is well-deserved. Combat in the campaign is pacey and engaging.
It’s easy to forget how innovative Modern Warfare actually was, too. So many of its innovations are now commonplace not only in the Call of Duty franchise, but across contemporary shooters in general. The tutorial is an SAS shoothouse set as the player passes selection, while the opening level is an assault on a cargo ship as rain whips around the deck. ‘All Ghillied Up’ remains an all-time best FPS level as you sneak around an irradiated Chernobyl, and ‘Aftermath’ even offers a bleak look at the horror of nuclear attacks by letting you experience death by nuclear fallout, moments after a nuke is detonated at the end of a campaign mission.
‘Aftermath’ works best when you play it directly. Even years later I think about the struggle directly before that level as your character, Sgt. Paul Jackson, fights through the streets of Basrah trying to rescue a downed pilot so she isn’t captured by the enemy. It’s all heroism and derring-do, soldiers bravely risking themselves to make sure everyone comes home. Moments later it’s all irrelevant, and every single soldier you encountered in the American portion of the campaign – including the pilot – is obliterated. As Jackson, you might as well be the last person alive in the whole of Iraq, and you control him for a minute or so as you try to make sense of what the game wants you to do before you perish. There is no objective here. No hope for survival.
Games have played with this since, but in 2007? In a jingoistic military shooter? It was unthinkable. Revisited in Modern Warfare 3, you get to see the other side of the coin as the ultranationalist Makarov orders the detonation of the nuke, but this was at its best for new players in 2007, trying to get their heads around what they had seen.
For me, however, the quiet black-and-white horror of ‘Death From Above’ is the shooter’s most effective moment. Your character sits quietly in the skies in an AC-130 while a colleague dispassionately comments on the slaughter you’re bringing to the ground below. It’s almost humorous, if not for the Wikileaks Apache footage that emerged in 2010 showing just how true to life ‘Death From Above’ actually was.
The multiplayer was revolutionary too: regenerating health, create a class, the perk system. That all came with Modern Warfare. The prestige system allowed players to start the levelling grind all over again in exchange for a new emblem on the player screen and this became an early status symbol for online gaming. It also meant getting your favourite weapon at level 36 (it was the G36, it’s okay to admit it) before packing it away again at level 55 as you started anew like a beautiful, combat-fuelled, butterfly.
This is the best Call of Duty has ever been, and probably the best it ever will be.
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
Best map: Shipment might have had more of an impact, but Crash is the real winner, encompassing the town around a helicopter crash, this might just be the best CoD map ever created.
Bonus celebrity voice: Billy Murray from cop show The Bill plays Captain Price, while walking embodiment of the cockney accent Craig Fairbrass plays Gaz.