Despite being a polarizing franchise in the gaming community, Call of Duty is still a juggernaut, dominating sales charts year-in and year-out, and often earning critical acclaim as well. Furthermore, Call of Duty has been at the forefront of major advances in the industry, with Call of Duty 2 serving as a launch title for the Xbox 360, and Call of Duty 4 revolutionizing online multiplayer for the first-person shooter genre.
With fan-favorite developer Treyarch back at the helm, the next game in the series, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 has more anticipation surrounding it than the average COD release. And in celebration of Black Ops 3‘s release we’ve ranked each title in the franchise from worst to best.
For the purposes of this list, we decided to exclude the many Call of Duty spinoffs that have been released over the years, and focus only on the core series that started in 2003.
11. Call of Duty: Ghosts
Call of Duty: Ghosts has the worst review average score of any game in the series, and that probably doesn’t surprise many. It was developed by Infinity Ward after they lost key talent to Respawn Entertainment, and does little to move the series forward in any meaningful capacity. Criticisms for the game include stale gameplay, a story with an insulting ending, and an Extinction mode that comes across as a pale imitation of Zombies, leaving Ghosts with very little redeeming qualities.
10. Call of Duty 3
Call of Duty 3 is significantly more entertaining than Ghosts, but compared to the rest of the games in the series, it’s arguably one of the weaker entries. As the first core Call of Duty title developed by Treyarch, the title lacked the studio’s signature voice and largely mimics what Infinity Ward did with Call of Duty 2.
The class-based multiplayer component of Call of Duty 3 was fairly popular at the time of its release, and it does tell a more coherent story than its predecessor, with better realized characters. Unfortunately, misplaced QTEs bog down the campaign, and Treyarch forgot to let players skip the cut-scenes, making return visits to the game a chore.
9. Call of Duty
When the original Call of Duty launched, it was hailed as a Medal of Honor-killer, and praised for its groundbreaking sound design. That being said, the game hasn’t aged very well, mostly thanks to a dated, unforgiving checkpoint system that makes completing it on Veteran way more frustrating than it needs to be. With the sequels refining and improving greatly upon all that the original did, there isn’t much reason to return to the first Call of Duty game.
8. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
Black Ops 2 features a relatively great campaign and solid multiplayer (the fact that it still has 12 million concurrent players is a testament to this), but where it falters is in its execution of the Zombies mode. After Zombies became hugely popular in the original Black Ops, many fans were eagerly anticipating a followup, but Treyarch didn’t quite deliver on the hype.
Zombies in Black Ops 2 was said to be a “massive” campaign, but in reality it was just a few maps tied together by a bus transit system. Better maps came later as DLC, but Treyarch’s initial Zombies effort in Black Ops 2 was disappointing.
7. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
With Infinity Ward’s founders entangled in a lawsuit with Activision, the development of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 was a bit troubled, to say the least. Even so, the game managed to be entertaining, and was supported long after launch with new multiplayer match types and maps (some of which were free).
Modern Warfare 3 also delivered an expanded Spec Ops co-op mode, which offered countless hours of excitement. The campaign was a letdown, but MW3 was a standout when it came to co-op and multiplayer modes, arguably the most important ingredients to any quality Call of Duty experience.
6. Call of Duty: World at War
On the heels of the revolutionary Call of Duty 4, World at War took the franchise back to World War II, sending the era off with great fanfare. The campaign included 4-player co-op for the first time in series’ history, the multiplayer style introduced in Call of Duty 4 was still fresh, and World at War also gave birth to Zombies, which has proven to be one of the franchise’s most popular game modes over the years. While criticized for being brutally tough at times, World at War is one of the most complete Call of Duty games to date.
5. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Until Advanced Warfare, all the previous core Call of Duty titles were developed by Infinity Ward and Treyarch. For their freshman effort, Sledgehammer Games did a pretty great job at delivering a genuine Call of Duty experience, while also making the game standout from its predecessors.
This was accomplished with the game’s exo suits, which added a whole new dimension to how players approached Call of Duty. The approach also left gamers curious as to how Sledgehammer will innovate with their next Call of Duty game. Perhaps they’ll revisit the Vietnam-era third-person horror Call of Duty they were originally developing?
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops
With Call of Duty 3 and World at War, Treyarch seemed as though they were merely copying Infinity Ward’s work. When Black Ops came along, Treyarch finally found their voice, and became the premiere Call of Duty developer.
Black Ops added exciting Wager Matches to the multiplayer, featured an enthralling campaign, and also the best Zombies maps to date. Moreover, Black Ops saw the introduction of the extremely popular Nuketown map, which has been remade numerous times since then, and will be returning in Black Ops 3 as Nuk3town.
3. Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 took the impeccable sound design and near-perfect depiction of World War II present in the original game, and added well-designed online multiplayer and a highly enjoyable campaign to the mix. It launched alongside the Xbox 360 in 2005, which means it helped usher in the seventh generation of consoles, making it an important milestone in video game history, as well as a great Call of Duty game.
2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The hype was real in the weeks leading up to Modern Warfare 2‘s release, with the game demolishing sales records when it finally launched. MW2 felt like a highly refined version of Call of Duty 4, with jaw-dropping graphics, some of the best multiplayer maps in the history of the series, and a twisting, controversial story that somehow managed to top the action seen in CoD4. If all that wasn’t enough, Modern Warfare 2 also introduced the challenging Spec Ops co-op mode, beginning a trend where each Call of Duty would be a three-tier experience of campaign, multiplayer, and co-op that continues to this day.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is often considered one of the finest games to come out of the seventh generation, and for good reason. The game is an FPS masterpiece, completely revolutionizing online multiplayer while also delivering one of the most exciting campaigns we’ve ever played. Without Call of Duty 4, we’re not sure if the franchise would still be going today, and there’s no denying the game’s influence on gaming in general. Call of Duty 4 is an absolute must-play game, fan of the series or not, and it stands as the pinnacle of Call of Duty.
12 years and 11 games later, the Call of Duty series remains one of the most reliable franchises gaming has to offer. From what we can tell, Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, many’s most anticipated game of 2015, has a good chance at escaping the sales decline that the franchise has suffered in recent years, and may win back some of the lapsed players that were once Call of Duty faithful. We’ll find out if it does very soon.
Do you plan on picking up Black Ops 3? Which Call of Duty game has been your favorite? Which one do you think is the worst? Let’s talk Call of Duty in the comments below.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is out now for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.