In the ever-evolving landscape of first-person shooters, the Call of Duty franchise has consistently pushed the boundaries of gaming, delivering intense action, gripping narratives, and unforgettable moments. From the hallowed beaches of Normandy to the far reaches of futuristic battlefields, each installment in the series has left its mark on the gaming world.
As we embark on a journey through the annals of Call of Duty history, we unveil the top 10 campaigns that have not only defined the franchise, but have also shaped the way we experience virtual warfare. Join us as we revisit iconic missions, relive heart-pounding moments, and celebrate the games that have etched their place in the pantheon of gaming greatness. These campaigns are more than just games; they are immersive narratives that have left an indelible impact on the gaming community.
10. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Infinity Ward faced a daunting task in bringing closure to their acclaimed trilogy, and Modern Warfare 3 handled it admirably. The narrative, even by today’s standards, remains compelling and generally strong throughout, leaving a lasting impact with moments that linger in players’ memories for years. The incorporation of characters from the previous two games adds emotional weight, creating a sense of continuity and connection.
Credit is due to MW3 for successfully delivering emotional gut punches one after another in a thrilling race to the finish. However, despite these strengths, the campaign does falter in critical areas. While the storyline offers twists, turns, and tragic scenes, it somehow feels a bit too impersonal. Moreover, once the dust settles, the ending and the overall journey through MW3 can be perceived as lackluster.
The characters, despite their trials and tribulations, lack a conclusive and satisfying resolution to their arduous journeys, leaving players with a sense of unfulfilled closure. Despite these shortcomings, MW3 remains a testament to the challenges and expectations of concluding an iconic trilogy in the gaming world.
9. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
Some may find it surprising, perhaps even relieving, while others may recall the initial backlash the game faced when its reveal trailer became one of the most disliked YouTube videos of its time. However, setting aside the player’s initial reactions, Infinite Warfare stands out as the creator of the single best campaign to emerge from a new setting since Black Ops.
Adding to the allure of the game, the campaign featured Kit Harington of Game of Thrones fame, portraying Admiral Salen Kotch, the leader of the Settlement Defense Force in their war against the UNSA for control of the solar system. In a departure from the norm, Infinite Warfare presented players with a cast of memorable characters, engaging dialogue, and a palpable sense of camaraderie—a dimension that set it apart from many other installments in the series.
To say that this game could have thrived even without the Call of Duty branding and additional mechanics is no overstatement. The characters journey’s and gripping battles, leave an enduring imprint on players’ memories, solidifying Infinite Warfare as a noteworthy entry.
8. Call of Duty (2003)
Call of Duty, the game that initiated a gaming juggernaut, serves as the foundational cornerstone that set in motion a series boasting 19 installments and counting, with a 20th on the horizon. In retrospect, it’s challenging to pass definitive judgment on Call of Duty, given the substantial evolution and innovation that has occurred within the gaming industry since its inception. By contemporary standards, the game may be perceived as heavily outdated, often described with terms like low graphics, clunky controls, difficulty, and occasional unfairness.
Despite these challenges, Call of Duty encapsulates the essence of the franchise, providing players with the initial zest and building blocks that would go on to shape the entirety of the series. While its technical aspects may pale in comparison to more recent releases, Call of Duty stands as a historical artifact, marking the beginning of a gaming phenomenon that has left an indelible mark on the industry.
7. Call of Duty 2 (2005)
Released in 2005, the game introduced a pioneering approach to storytelling by immersing players in different theaters of war, a concept considered ahead of its time. Offering a multi-perspective experience, players step into the boots of a British, American, and Russian soldier, gaining unique insights into the global conflict. Call of Duty 2 distinguishes itself with a campaign and story that exude a heightened sense of realism and grounding.
The gritty atmosphere it cultivates not only sets it apart but also enhances the overall narrative immersion. Despite its age, Call of Duty 2 retains its relevance, with the gameplay and story holding up admirably even by today’s standards. While the graphics may not meet the levels of modern titles, the game’s essence as a 360-era gem remains intact, making it a noteworthy chapter in the evolution of the Call of Duty franchise that should not be overlooked.
6. Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
World at War unfolds a narrative rich in memorable characters, each contributing to the immersive storytelling from the outset. The narrative takes us on a journey across France and Germany, presenting diverse perspectives from American and Russian soldiers. World at War masterfully captures the essence of war—the palpable atmosphere of uncertainty lurking around every corner.
Whether navigating the chaotic trenches with flames soaring overhead or threading through a mist-laden forest while contending with Japanese kamikaze attacks, the game encapsulates the multifaceted and intense nature of warfare. World at War truly delivers a comprehensive and gripping portrayal of the challenges faced by soldiers in the midst of global conflict.
5. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
Modern Warfare’s remaster stands as a testament to one of the most intricately designed and perceptive segments of stealth and infiltration in the realm of first-person shooters. The general ambiance of the remaster encapsulates an incredibly detailed experience, boasting graphical fidelity that is bound to leave some players in awe.
While this iteration serves as a reboot, offering a fresh perspective on the iconic narrative, playing through the campaign may evoke a sense that the beloved characters are somewhat relegated to the background in favor of the overarching conflict. Unlike the original games where characters like Price were the driving force and instigators, this modern take sees them adopting a more hands-off approach in certain scenes and even in-mission dialogue.
For players who grew up with a deep connection to these characters, this shift in narrative focus may impart a bittersweet quality to the overall experience, as the familiar faces seem to take a backseat to the unfolding events.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Continuing the saga of Price, Ghost, Soap, and the formidable 141 Task Force ensemble. The narrative unfurls as Task Force 141 relentlessly pursues the elusive Makarov across the globe, with each mission deepening the story through unforgettable betrayals that have left an indelible mark on our collective gaming memory. This installment represents the pinnacle of Infinity Ward’s prowess, showcasing excellence in design, pacing, plot, and character development.
The campaign itself is a masterstroke, featuring a diverse array of missions that span the globe, offering players a rich variety of locales and challenges. At the heart of it all is a surprising and impactful villain, whose actions shocked the fanbase and added layers of complexity to the narrative. Infinity Ward managed to strike a perfect balance, creating a campaign that, even upon close scrutiny, reveals very few missteps.
3. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012)
Pioneering the introduction of futuristic technology and weapons to the franchise, this installment took a bold leap into the realm of sci-fi—a decision that, in hindsight considering the gaming community’s mixed opinions on the genre, proved surprisingly successful. While some may attribute this title as the starting point of the later decline in science fiction games, dismissing Black Ops II would mean overlooking a crucial chapter in the Black Ops storyline.
Staying true to the Black Ops tradition, the campaign unfolds with exceptional pacing and intense plot points. The journey begins in 2025, following Mason’s son as he confronts the formidable Raul Menendez.
Amidst this futuristic plotline, fans are treated to the return of the beloved Frank Woods, who narrates the events leading to Raul’s transformation into a terrorist—an engaging narrative layer that adds depth to the overall story. Black Ops II campaign not only innovated within the series but also managed to captivate players with its intriguing storyline and well-executed campaign structure.
2. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, Black Ops ventures into uncharted territory, providing players with a unique perspective not explored by previous Call of Duty titles. The narrative unfolds through the fragmented memories of Alex Mason, creating a compelling narrative dynamic as players navigate between past and present. The storytelling weaves a tapestry of intrigue, gradually revealing a plot that keeps players on the edge of their seats.
The culmination of the campaign delivers an unprecedented shock, marking a significant milestone in the history of Call of Duty narratives. In terms of pacing, Black Ops masterfully balances its riveting action sequences with well-crafted plot developments. The game’s ability to seamlessly integrate digestible story elements amid intense gameplay showcases its forward-thinking design, positioning it as a trailblazer that was ahead of its time in various aspects of narrative and gameplay innovation.
1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2007)
Revolutionizing the series formula and serving as a catalyst for the franchise’s meteoric rise to unprecedented heights, it’s no surprise that this game secures a top position on the list. Prior to the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the series had been firmly rooted in historical settings, predominantly revisiting World War II and featuring adversaries like Nazis and Japanese forces.
Breaking away from this established pattern, Modern Warfare marked a pivotal moment by catapulting the franchise into the contemporary age. The game introduces players to a fictional political conflict between the Western powers and Russia, shedding the constraints of historical retellings and embracing a narrative grounded in modern geopolitics.
The shift in setting not only breathed new life into the franchise, but also opened the door to a more diverse range of storytelling possibilities, setting a new standard for the first-person shooter campaign.