Every year there's a new Call of Duty. Don't act surprised. Last year we saw COD: WW2 take the series back to its Second World War roots, which poses some interesting questions for this year's entry - will it be historically focussed again? Rumour is it'll be Black Ops 4 and set in the present with more boots on the ground. Sci-fi is apparently no longer in fashion for the world's biggest shooter.
But while we'll have to wait to see what the future brings, we've got well over 20 games (including spin offs) over 15 years to assess. What are the best ones exactly? Fortunately we've created this list of the ten best games in the series to finally answer that question.
10. Call of Duty: World At War
Call of Duty World at War sticks in the memory for one big reason: Nazi Zombies. Intended to be little more than a fun easter egg, it inadvertently becomes the blueprint for one of COD’s most enduring modes. A tense, claustrophobic and addictive play, it suits COD’s frantic speed as you struggle to escape your inevitable demise at the hands of the swarming undead grunts. That’s not to say World At War’s main campaign and multiplayer aren’t worthwhile in their own rights. The Pacific WW2 setting in the campaign is an interesting detour for the series, while the standout set-piece of storming the Reichstag still brings shivers as you plant Russia’s flag after a gruelling assault. The online battlegrounds don’t quite compare to Modern Warfare’s punchy combat, but they do introduce the frustratingly effective Dog killstreak. That alone makes it worth braving.
9. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Saying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the weakest of the Modern Warfare series is like saying Return Of The Jedi is your least favourite of the original Star Wars movies. But, you know, there are no Ewoks here. This wraps up the increasingly bombastic story with some brilliant missions - the rolling sandstorm in Return To Sender is Modern Warfare at its chaotic best, balancing player agency with some serious spectacle. Okay, so the multiplayer focuses on tweaks instead of big innovations, but changing killstreaks into pointstreaks helps balance the playing field and there’s still an assortment of great maps. Plus, you know the punchy and pacy combat will keep you coming back for just one more round.
8. Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 is of the greatest WW2 shooters of all time. And while Infinity Ward’s first sequel (and debut on Xbox 360) may be charmingly old school now, it still establishes what makes the series so captivating. A freight train of a campaign, which uses multiple characters (the highlight is the Russian campaign) to keep that pace up. The pad-dampening tension of multiplayer, especially in the one life per round of Search & Destroy. Cutting edge graphics and an uncommonly solid frame-rate (original Xbox 360 games often struggled). This isn’t quite as high as others on the list purely because of the standards the series goes on to set for itself, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeking out. As a bonus, Xbox One owners can give themselves a history lesson in every sense of the word thanks to backwards compatibility for COD 2. This is a great reason to take the series back to WW2 in 2017.
7. Call of Duty WW2
It might seem odd for Call of Duty WW2 to go back to the Second World War after so much future stuff and the previous game's trip into space, but it works. The reset of all the future tech bring the series back down to its roots and more or less acts like a reboot. The single player suffers a little in the opening half narratively but, for the most part, hits those big set piece moments confidently. It's the multiplayer that really wins here though. Without all the gadgets, tech and spacey stuff this is a much purer expression of what an online shooter should be. Stripped of the drones and satellites the action focuses much more on reactions and spacial awareness and is much more rewarding for it. The new Headquarters mode is also a interesting addition, creating a Destiny Tower like social space for players to hang out in.
6. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
A course correction for the series after the merely adequate Ghosts, Call of Duty Advanced Warfare introduces the double jump mechanic to the series, as well as the near-future timeframe that has been a constant in recent years. Sledgehammer’s debut campaign sometimes leans a little too heavily on a hammy Kevin Spacey, but makes up for that with some trademark manic set-pieces that keep you barreling through levels. There’s also some neat gadgets that add an extra zip to the action - especially in the case of the grapple hook. Plus, the weapon variants in multiplayer only make the compulsion to nab that elusive next upgrade stronger. A fantastic debut in the series for Sledgehammer that lays solid groundwork for their next effort.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
The Black Ops’ trilogy is when Treyarch likes to get weird, and it’s all the better for it. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is the first - and so far, only - time COD experiments with multiple endings to decent effect. Carrying out Strike Force missions and fulfilling certain objectives in the main levels drastically alters the direction of the story, adding depth and a reason to return once the credits roll, even if there’s less new stuff to see. A longer lasting - and much more important - introduction in multiplayer is the Pick 10 system, which gives greater control of your loadout and playstyle, moulding the greater levels of customisation the series now offers. While not every change would be picked up, this entry is both a great example of COD’s strengths and one that experiments enough to stand out on its own.
4. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Ignore the backlash, as Infinity Ward’s latest - Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - boasts one of the series’ best campaigns. Going intergalactic allows the developer to experiment with different types of gameplay experiences, from dogfighting in a spacejet to zero-gravity shootouts where a grapple hook lets you zoom into cover behind asteroids. There’s not a second of wasted time in a propulsive story that sees Infinity Ward get back to its best. The developer also proves capable of remixing instead of reinventing when it comes to the multiplayer, with the Combat Rig System an able replacement for the Specialists of Black Ops 3. Even Zombies In Spaceland proves to be an unexpected delight, which really, just describes the whole game.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There's some big shoes that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 needed to fill and the fact it's the closest the series gets to managing that task is a testament to its class. The single player ups the scale of the spectacle without sacrificing any of the pacing, while the multiplayer introduces the greatest tiny map of all time: the incomparable Rust. Okay, there are some minor missteps, such as the Tactical Nuke killstreak and No Russian mission in the campaign, which mean it doesn't take the top spot. But it's hard to care about niggles when some of the most iconic moments of the series, like storming the gulag to rescue an important prisoner, never stop coming.
2. Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Black Ops Vietnam outing is undoubtedly the developer’s best in the series, with a storyline that’s tonnes of silly fun and multiplayer modes that actually add some worthwhile new game types to try. The introduction of Gun Game - where every kill you get forces you to use a different weapon - is inspired, while going back in time to the ‘60s doesn't diminish the forceful kick of the weapons. A Cold War setting turns out to be perfect for COD, with a moral murkiness that has the capability to shock in places, while pitch perfect use of The Rolling Stones gives it a flavour that none of the other games have. Still can’t figure out what those numbers mean, though.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Remastered)
Did you expect Black Ops: Declassified? Come on. There’s no argument that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the series’ highlight. A revelation at release and an indisputable classic now, this is the standard every new entry must measure up to. Revolutionary multiplayer, especially on consoles, is the main reason why. That alluring mix of compulsive unlocks, brilliant map design and powerful feedback is still hooking players to this day. Then there’s the peerless campaign. Bursting with unforgettable missions - Death From Above, All Ghillied Up, Charlie Don’t Surf to name a few - and a slither of surprising nuance, it’s the best war story the series has ever told. The 2016 remaster only improves on it, getting a timely visual update that makes it just as crisp as its bundle brother, Infinite Warfare. If you only ever play one Call Of Duty, make sure it is Modern Warfare.