As you may have heard recently, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 seems set to release without a story mode this fall. The news seemed highly unpopular, especially around these parts where much of the community seems interested in story and campaign modes primarily and multiplayer is only a secondary interest. If it's true Black Ops 4 will be without a story mode and if the game sells well regardless — and such a scenario seems likely — we may have seen the last of story modes for the best-selling franchise.
With that in mind, now seems like the best time to look back on the blockbuster series. The video game equivalent of a Michael Bay vehicle, Call of Duty always seemed to stage memorable action setpieces and fiery explosions time after time with at least a handful of fan-favorite heroes and villains too. As the years went on, they started employing more and more familiar faces too, like Kit Harrington and, most recently, Josh Duhamel. But not all campaigns were created equal, of course.
We looked at the history of the series, dating back to the earliest days of the property and came away with a top five we could respect. That doesn't mean you have to agree with it. Sound off in the comments and give us your top five too!
Infinite Warfare was slammed by fans leading up to release and then praised by many once it was made available. Maybe it can teach us something about not judging a game by its universally panned debut trailer. If you've avoided it due to the loud groupthink since it came out in 2016, it may be worth a chance after all. It lacks some of the favorite characters of games higher on this list, but it was actually a pretty bold move to set levels in space. It feels like a different game outside of the Call of Duty run at some points and that's a good thing for an annual series that needs to keep things fresh.
World at War was our last visit to the 1940s until just this past November and for that reason, people look back on it fondly. It took us to multiple fronts of the second world war and even earns some retroactive points for tying into another game on this list in fun and unexpected ways. It was, at the time, the most unflinching depiction of war the series had done to date too. Previous to World at War, the games still felt a bit sanitized, but this one, with its graphic depictions of bayonet kills and limb explosions made things feel dirtier and uneasy.
The most recent Call of Duty is also one of the best stories in the series. Yes, it pulls from Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan more than some are probably comfortable with, but it also makes time for its own characters with a few famous faces and a few more whatshisnames and ties it all together in the now standardized Call of Duty manner: lots of boots on the ground, some stealth, and a few tanks and planes missions to keep things fresh. Its best facet is the way everyone in your squad provides you with some sort of resource, which, as game designers know, is the most effective way to endear AI teammates with the player. You can't make it without them, so in turn that bond is strengthened and everpresent just the way the studio intended.
The sequel to the phenomenon that really kicked the series into high gear was one of the biggest video game launches of all time. This time, rather than return to the role of the once silent Soap MacTavish, he is one of your mentors. Picking up where the original left off, Modern Warfare 2 introduces a few new characters, says goodbye to a few others, and even says "surprise!" with a few more. All together it was one of the most varied and exciting stories in the franchise's history and represents the height of the series for many. Rumors say it'll be remastered this fall (and maybe even accompany Black Ops 4). If true, it'll surely be an exciting rush of nostalgia.
The fourth game in a series can't really be "the one that started it all," but COD4 is certainly the one that changed everything. Gamers had played war shooters for years and years, almost always taking place during WWII. Modern Warfare made a new setting exhilarating and mainstream in a way nothing else to date ever had in 2007. It's why so many games in the series since then tried to go deeper and deeper into the future, often to diminishing returns. There's only one COD4, and the rest were imitators trying to capture that original magic.
Just sneaking ahead of the most revered game in the series is the one that actually does have the best storytelling in it. Black Ops took us to Vietnam to tell a story that is more about the characters and less about the setting, which is arguably still the only time the series has done that. Future games in this subseries have let down the original's intriguing mystery and cool twists, but if we take it as a standalone, Black Ops is clearly the best one of them all. With story modes in doubt going forward, Black Ops may forever sit on the throne of our favorite Call of Duty campaigns too. But that doesn't mean you have to agree. Let us know your ranking in the comments!
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