The Call of Duty series is about to return to its Nazi-stomping roots with the impending CoD WWII (which is going to totally blow Battlefield 1 out of the water, by the way). So it seemed like a good time to take a walk down Call Of Duty memory lane.
Here we're covering every single entry in the main series, from where it all started with the original groundbreaking Call Of Duty, to latest flop Infinite Warfare -- the game everyone loves to hate.
We won't be straying from the path of the main franchise, however, ignoring handheld titles like Roads To Victory or console spin-offs like Big Red One and Finest Hour. With all those extra titles the list quickly gets out of hand.
With that out of the way, let's get ranking!
The Absolute Worst: Call Of Duty Ghosts
Unfortunately we've got to put a "worst" somewhere -- and with CoD, the general consensus is Ghosts. As the first in the franchise to hit current gen consoles, it suffered somewhat of the same fate as Assassin's Creed Unity (although thankfully with fewer horrifying missing-face bugs).
The story was a bit bland and predictable, even if the Homefront-style setting was interesting. All-American brothers who need to patriotically save a crumbling nation with their perfect Republican dad (faithful hound, hunting rifles, distinguished grey hair and all) just didn't really resonate with people.
This was also where we started to go into space for some reason, and the space combat was just not satisfying at all -- although it would be taken up a notch with the also-poorly-received Infinite Warfare.
Despite those criticisms, it's worth noting that Ghosts isn't a terrible game by any means, even if it is among the worst Call Of Duty has to offer.
The game features some amazing scenes, like rappelling down a skyscraper and taking guys out on each floor without drawing attention. Using the dog instead of a drone was at least something a little different, even if it didn't quite work out as hoped.
The alien Extinction multiplayer mode was a cool idea, but sadly the execution was a bit of a flop. This story arc of the series has now essentially been abandoned, as has the alien mode -- which clearly lost out to zombies. So it's unlikely we'll ever see a sequel to that ending, which was just begging for a follow-up game.
Call Of Duty 3
Back in 2006, I remember being completely blown away by the graphics on this entry of CoD while watching an Xbox 360 demonstration at Gamestop.
That's really the main thing this title has going for it though -- and obviously a game can't survive the test of time on graphics alone, since there will always be a better-looking game down the line.
Between a horde of quick time events (as that was starting to ramp up here), checkpoint glitches, the inability to skip cut scenes (whoops), and a forgettable cast of characters, CoD 3 just doesn't match up to what would come down the line. It is noteworthy, however, for the rather dubious honor of being where paid map back DLC started showing up through the Xbox store.
Call Of Duty: World At War
Although I'm sure there will be keyboard warrior hell to pay, I'm going to to break ranks with fan consensus here: I wasn't crazy about this final World War II entry (until the upcoming CoD WWII, that is).
If memory serves, this is where the series started putting in the big stars with Keifer Sutherland. And while hearing a recognizable voice in your CO was a nice surprise, the game itself didn't have nearly as interesting characters or missions as later entries.
The gameplay felt like an oddly bastardized hybrid between the two main developers of the era, Treyarch and Infinity Ward, and just didn't quite have its footing properly on either side, with unsatisfying spawning waves of enemies.
I do have to give credit on one front though: this is where the Nazi zombies made their appearance, which has since become a staple that's been extrapolated in some very fun ways over the years.
Call Of Duty
Woah, woah, woah. You're probably thinking right now: why on Earth isn't this one up at the top, man? It was ground-breaking and started a franchise that now dominates gaming every single year!
I'll tell you why it's not at the top. Health packs, you guys. Health. Packs. If it isn't something ludicrous like Doom or a game that's at least trying to seriously simulate binding wounds like the Far Cry series, you get those health packs right the hell on out of here.
Now that that unpleasant business is out of the way...yeah, this is still a pretty solid shooter, even if the mechanics are a lot more clunky and it is showing some serious age.
Call Of Duty 2
You feel that? That's the sensation of your health regenerating after you hide behind cover. Has there ever been a more glorious sensation?
As far as I'm concerned, Infinity Ward deserves a Nobel Prize for getting rid of health packs. I'm not sure there's been a more noteworthy contribution to the advancement of mankind, other than perhaps... grenade indicators! Yep, those appeared here too. IW was on a roll in CoD 2.
Granted, there's a level of polish that isn't quite here yet and won't show up until around Modern Warfare -- but if you want to see where shooters started getting serious, look no further.
Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Although Ghosts was what kicked off the series' time on current gen consoles, Advanced Warfare is where it really felt the franchise was taking advantage of better hardware -- but it wasn't an entirely smooth transition.
While the faces in the cut scenes are amazing, you can really tell where they cut corners, with certain buildings and objects in the actual campaign maps having a much more low-res appearance.
That issue aside, Kevin Spacey is a major character and you have self-targeting swarm missiles/ So needless to say, this is a pretty rocking time. The game straddled the line between realistic and futuristic warfare amazingly well, even if there were a few times it felt like you should have died but didn't. The multiplayer took a bit of a hit with all the twitchy exo suit double jumping, though.
Advanced Warfare is where the series starting ramping up the famous people appearing in zombie mode -- this time with Big Love's Bill Paxton. There's also a very clear blueprint here on the campaign, re-imagined with zombies that would be refined later in Black Ops III.
Call Of Duty Infinite Warfare
There's always been a fun little rivalry between Battlefield and Call Of Duty, but here things got nasty. There's no question Infinite Warfare came out the battered loser, netting some of the highest "dislikes" on YouTube of all time.
Even the star power of "you know nothing Jon Snow" Kit Harrington couldn't save the game. One of the biggest killers was that the multiplayer is straight up garbage. I'm not gonna mince words or defend what doesn't deserve defending: you can skip the death matching here altogether.
That being said, I'm again going to have come to the defense of the campaign, much like with Ghosts. It's not nearly as bad as everyone says. It was clever to add side missions based on hunting down specific members of the enemy command throughout the solar system, and I really liked picking my own weapon upgrade and loadout schemes.
This one also majorly improved on the lackluster space combat from Ghosts, and I don't care what anybody says, that robot companion is just all kinds of awesome.
There's also another solid reason that Infinite Warfare is worth playing, and a major exception to multiplayer problem: the 80s neon VHS zombie mode is an absolute blast. It might even be one of the best zombie modes in the whole series.
Call Of Duty Black Ops II
Here we're getting to a point in the series where any ranking differences are mostly nitpicks or personal preferences. All of these are on par in quality, with just minor issues detracting from the experience that might drag them down a spot or two.
Treyarch again experimented with concepts outside the franchise norms here (like multiple endings), in addition to the expected weirdness on the story front. The "pick 10" system also shook up the multiplayer aspect a bit.
If there's a downside here, it's that the zombie mode somehow wasn't as good as the previous entry, which was a serious shame. Don't worry yourselves though, my fellow CoD time travelers, as it would become amazing again in subsequent games!
Call Of Duty Black Ops
Honestly, I could probably just say "Nuketown" and leave it at that.
Here we see Treyarch become a powerhouse, and do something different in terms of time frame and gameplay. All of the Black Ops games offer something offbeat and very different, with wonderfully bizarre story lines and this time around some iconic music from The Rolling Stones and Creedence Clearwater Revival.
It's also where zombie mode started becoming its own bona fide phenomenon, which has since taken over the franchise.
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 3
After the series-topping Modern Warfare 2, this sequel had high expectations. And while there were some disappointments here and there, overall the game caps off the story arc very nicely.
Sure, some of the big action sequences didn't feel as compelling or unique as its predecessor, but the gameplay in the campaign is spot-on, the globe-hopping story is fun, and finally getting to wrap a noose around Makarov's neck and then light up a cigar is something every gamer had wanted to do for five long years.
The co-op Survival and Special Ops modes were also refined quite a bit here, and they are still fun to play to this day.
Call Of Duty Black Ops III
At this point the series had become advanced enough that the main single-player campaigns could no longer work on previous gen consoles, with only a stripped down version of the multiplayer released for older systems. RIP Xbox 360 -- you served us well for so many years.
It's a Black Ops game, so of course we've got a weird mind-bending story, this time giving us a sort of Jacob's Ladder in the future. Aside from the cool new futuristic powers, the claim to fame here of course is Christopher Meloni -- of Law & Order: SVU, Oz, and that one season of True Blood where he didn't really need to be.
I really enjoyed unlocking and selecting your own power loadout in this one, rather than having it chosen for you in each mission like in Advanced Warfare. The Lovecraftian pulp zombie mode with Sons Of Anarchy's Ron Perlman is also a highlight that's well worth sinking a lot of hours into with your friends.
Call Of Duty Modern Warfare
If I have to name one game where the series really revolutionized the FPS genre and brought out a level of polish that other franchises have since tried to emulate, it would be right here with Modern Warfare.
The tilted screen on the sinking boat chase sequence was absolutely heart-pounding (although looking back now from a modern perspective, the ships and buildings in the background seem incredibly basic and low-res).
There are so many crazy, genre-defining moments packed into one game that it's hard to sift through them all. That nuclear explosion scene will of course always stick out, where you get back up and crawl around for while, foolishly believing the character you've been playing for half the game might actually survive.
Then of course there was the incredibly cinematic ending -- lifting one arm to shoot at the big bad before he can kill you and the rest of your team, which is a segment that has since been ripped off repeatedly and overdone all throughout the series and in FPS games in general.
Best: Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Alright, here we are: the cream of the crop. Yep, there have since been CoD titles released with better graphics, but this one still kills it on story, level design, cinematic sequences, and shock value ("No Russian" killed my innocence).
From stalking through a snowy Russian base to the insanity of defending heartland America from invasion (I'll never not hear the phrase "Get on top of that burger town!" echoing in my head), this entry solidly earns its spot at the top of the pile.
Top-speed snowmobile gun fights, fighting your way through a destroyed White House, getting your throat torn out by dogs...this game has it all.
From past to present and into the future, the Call Of Duty franchise has covered a ton of ground -- and could even cover much more if the sadly cancelled Roman Wars is any indication.
Next up, the impending CoD WWII takes us back to war-torn Europe to kill a whole bunch of Nazis once more. But from there, who knows where the series will head.
Call Of Duty is just the latest giant franchise we've definitely ranked from best to worst. Want to see how we felt about other huge series? Check out our listings of:
What did you think of our rankings, and what time period or location do you hope to see next? Let me know in the comments!