Although Call of Duty titles are far and away the most popular go-to for militaristic first-person shooter experiences, they aren't often thought of as being fantastic storytelling mediums. But surprisingly enough, many of the campaigns feature some great and immersive stories, particularly in terms of character writing. Less surprising, perhaps, is that there are just as many examples of bad, lazily written trope festivals in that department.
With a brand new installment in the franchise's much-celebrated Modern Warfare series just around the corner, what better time is there to compare and contrast the two opposite ends of the spectrum? Below are the five best characters that the entire franchise has ever produced, alongside the five worst. Check it out and see if any of your personal favorites made the list, and more importantly, which side they ended up falling on.
10 BEST: Lieutenant Simon "Ghost" Riley (Modern Warfare 2)
Ghost only appears in the events of Modern Warfare 2, as far as the mainline titles go. But that certainly didn't stop him from easily becoming a fan favorite, thanks in no small part to his snazzy, skull-printed balaclava and surprisingly well-developed background story.
Unfortunately, good things don't tend to last. As most players likely recall all too well, Ghost is betrayed and murdered by General Shepherd after retrieving the DSM containing intel on Makarov, having become a liability for the shadowy and manipulative old sod.
9 WORST: Yuri (Modern Warfare 3)
While Yuri is far from the worst character in the franchise, he certainly wasn't developed enough for most players to feel any sort of kinship with him. He also had a pretty tough act to follow, essentially serving as a replacement for the long-running protagonist Soap after he's killed in Modern Warfare 3.
He's a bit of a blank slate, all things considered. Essentially retconned into the continuity of the Modern Warfare series, he had some established motivation and backstory, but it was very little and very late into the game before it's revealed. Then he's unceremoniously killed off by Makarov shortly thereafter.
8 BEST: Alex Mason (Black Ops Series)
You can't get through any sort of discussion concerning surprisingly good writing in the Call of Duty franchise without Black Ops entering the ring, particularly when it comes to protagonist Alex Mason. His convoluted and remarkably engaging story pulls players in immediately when the first Black Ops opens on his interrogation. "The numbers, Mason. What do they mean?"
Equal parts hardened military veteran, CIA operative, and even Russian sleeper agent. Alex Mason is an enigma that the player continuously and desperately attempts to unravel as the main Black Ops storyline unfolds, with the rabbit hole growing deeper than they ever imagined as it proceeds.
7 WORST: Sergeant Foley (Modern Warfare 2)
"Ramirez, do everything!" If there's a single Modern Warfare 2 player that isn't immediately struck into conniptions by the voice of Sergeant Foley barking orders, then they clearly didn't spend enough quality time at the infamous Burger Town.
Placed into the humble combat boots of Private James Ramirez, players will soon learn that they're Sergeant Foley's go-to guy, for better or for worse. Whether it's defending Burger Town from invading Russians, dropping Predator missiles, or disarming a nuclear device using their knife and positive vibes, Sergeant Foley needs them to do it all.
6 BEST: Viktor Reznov (World at War, Black Ops)
Even among the considerable offerings that Black Ops has on the table character-wise, few stories are as intriguing, complex, and stunningly well done as that of Viktor Reznov. But he is actually first encountered during the memorable Vendetta mission during World at War, where he guides the player through assassinating a high ranking Nazi.
Though he isn't the only factor that provides continuity between World at War and the Black Ops series, he is arguably the strongest one, and his mysterious appearances are absolutely crucial to the plot that makes the Black Ops storyline so great.
5 WORST: The Player (Black Ops III)
Black Ops III was a polarizing title to begin with, and the relatively boring campaign didn't help. Accentuating the plot's missteps was the decision to go with a nameless blank slate as the protagonist, likely made with the idea that it would aid with player immersion.
Through the attempt to deviate from the norm of utilizing characters that had established backgrounds and deep motivations (though the precise depth varied from character to character), the storytelling suffered, making the player feel more like a fly on the wall while the supporting characters did the majority of the heavy lifting in terms of exposition and plot development.
4 BEST: John "Soap" MacTavish (Modern Warfare Series)
The original and presumably squeaky-clean FNG of Modern Warfare is the protagonist that so many players had their first Call of Duty experience with, and thus absolutely must bear a mention here. But seriously, to put it as Captain Price would, "What the hell kind of name is Soap, eh?"
Jokes aside, Soap is an icon. Playing integral roles in the entirety of the original Modern Warfare trilogy, his boots were always familiar and comfortable to slip into, and he was one of the most welcome faces to pop up as a friendly NPC. Many tears were shed when he was finally killed in action during the events of Modern Warfare 3.
3 WORST: The Entire Cast (Call of Duty: Ghosts)
Being one of the least fondly remembered entries in the franchise, it's easy to take issue with practically any of Ghosts' established characters. The entire Walker family being militarized and serving together is laughably convenient, and frankly, none of them have enough personality to feel even remotely engaging.
Antagonist and generic bad guy Rorke is entirely forgettable and fails to evoke any sort of emotional response when he gets his just desserts. The only saving grace is the Walker family dog, Riley, as no faithful canine companion deserves to have dirt thrown at them.
2 BEST: Captain John Price (Modern Warfare Series)
The man, the myth, the legend. Captain Price's excellently radical mustache and trademark cigar are purely unforgettable, with his no-nonsense personality and razor-sharp wit pulling the picture together nicely. It's no surprise that he's essentially the poster boy for the upcoming Modern Warfare title.
From his stealthy infiltration of the ruins of Chernobyl during the iconic All Ghillied Up mission, to his vengeful pursuit of Makarov during the climactic final act of Modern Warfare, there are few words outside of "legendary" that adequately describe his resume. We can't wait to see what he's got in store for the upcoming game.
1 WORST: Salen Kotch (Infinite Warfare)
There's little enough about Infinite Warfare that actually won over audiences but the character work in particular, was less than stellar. This is most evident with Martian bad boy Salen Kotch, who, facing facts, was little more than an excuse to shoehorn Jon Snow's face into the game to win some press points.
Though Kit Harington himself is an excellent actor well-deserving of accolades, his performance as Mr. Kotch was woefully lackluster, more on account of the writing than anything else. Being totally fair, it doesn't matter who they cast to fulfill the role of generic bad guy number one thousand and seventy-two, as it would've come to the same end.