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There are many Call of Duty games. Some might say too many! I wouldn’t though, because while the franchise has become popular to hate, I think it can still offer up some exciting multiplayer action and big, fun single-player campaigns. Heck, if you like zombies, some Call of Duty games even have that covered. But with a big franchise like this, inevitably some games are better than others.
For this list, we are excluding a few Call of Duty games: the phone games, that weird online-only game released in China, and some of the ports (like CoD4 on the Wii). Also, any remastered versions or re-released versions are not getting separate entries; just assume those versions are ranked the same as their original counterpart. Also, this list isn’t just about multiplayer, single-player, co-op, or zombies. The entirety of each game is being factored into its placement in this list.
So with that out of the way, we are oscar mike and heading to the LZ. Oh and also, let’s rank these games from worst to best!
Note: Anyone viewing this on a desktop can move through the slideshow by clicking the arrows down below. If you’re on mobile, just keep on scrolling!
Kotaku Weekend Editor | Zack Zwiezen is a writer living in Kansas. He has written for GameCritics, USgamer, Kill Screen & Entertainment Fuse.
2 / 22
I went back and forth on including these games, but they are different enough that they feel like they deserve to be included in this list. I’m not going to give each one a separate entry though because they aren’t great. They all have boring missions, muddy visuals, and bad controls. But they are impressive considering the hardware limitations.
3 / 22
Playing Call of Duty on a console with no true analog sticks sounds bad! And it is. Roads To Victory was a PSP release and it controlled like shit, didn’t look amazing, and was just another bog-standard WW2 shooter. Moving on.
4 / 22
Let’s get the other handheld CoD out of the way quickly. Black Ops Declassified looks nicer and the Vita does have two (crappy) analog sticks. But bad missions and lousy gunplay keep this way at the bottom of the list.
5 / 22
It feels a little mean to place CoD3 this far down on the list. But it just wasn’t much of a game. A boring campaign and barebones multiplayer options didn’t help make yet another WW2 shooter feel any more interesting or better. It did have vehicles in multiplayer, something that wouldn’t appear again until World At War. But jeeps and tanks can’t save CoD3 from being… meh.
6 / 22
I know this PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube game has its fans! So I’m sorry for placing it this low. But It felt like such a weird, lesser game compared to the real Call of Duty 2 released that same year on PC and Xbox 360. I still enjoy Big Red One and I’d love to see it come to PC officially. But I don’t know if I’d actually finish it again.
7 / 22
Ghosts has the distinction of being the first game in the series that I didn’t finish. I got about halfway through, reached a crappy aircraft section, and realized I didn’t care. Ghosts had a bland campaign and multiplayer that was functional but felt like a step back from the previous installment, Black Ops 2. It did have extinction mode, which was like zombies but with weird alien-like creatures and more linear mission-based maps. It was fun, but not enough to move Ghosts any higher.
8 / 22
The original game is important. It kickstarted one of the most popular and successful video game franchises in history, popularized the left trigger/right trigger control scheme that so many games would adopt, and felt like a more grounded and action-heavy take on a WW2 shooter. In 2020 it holds up fine, but it does feel old and it’s not a CoD I would want to run back to when I have an itch for some shooting.
9 / 22
The campaign goes off the rails in a way that, while fun, also cheapens the previous two games. But the multiplayer was still solid, with some good maps, and it introduced one of my favorite modes:kill confirmed. But the online action was way too chaotic and annoying in MW3, with too many powerful killstreaks clogging up matches. And the co-op survival mode was fine but not as exciting as the zombies mode seen in previous games, nor as unique as MW2’s Spec Op co-op missions.
10 / 22
After a few years of games set in different eras of history, Call of Duty: WWII returned the franchise to its World War II roots and the end result was… fine. Multiplayer felt stripped down in a way that I found refreshing after a few years of wild and wacky action, but it was also too barebones and grounded, and I bounced after only a month or so because frankly, I got bored. But the whole game looked nice and I enjoyed the creepy vibes found in its zombies mode.
11 / 22
Rebooting the Modern Warfare sub-series was the right call to make after MW3. And for the most part, Modern Warfare works! Warzone is a great battle royale game and multiplayer, while still not as wild as previous entries, is fast and fun and smooth as butter. The big thing holding back MW2020 on this list is the campaign, which seems more focused on being shocking and edgy than fun and bombastic.
12 / 22
Black Ops 4 is the worst game in the Black Ops sub-series. But it’s still a solid Call of Duty game. This was the first game in the franchise to add a battle royale mode, in the form of Blackout, and it works great. It might not be as polished or popular as MW2020’s Warzone, but I had a lot of fun with it. The competitive multiplayer tried to shake things up more, including the removal of auto-healing and forcing players to hold a button to heal back up after taking damage. The zombies mode this time around felt a little stale and, a bigger bummer for me, there’s no campaign.
13 / 22
Black Ops 3 has one of the weirdest and wildest single-player campaigns in the franchise’s history, featuring zombie hallucinations, killer robots, and that dude from SVU as the bad guy. It doesn’t always work as a coherent narrative, but it ain’t boring and that counts for a lot. Multiplayer introduced the idea of “Specialists.” These different characters had unique special abilities, like a powerful flamethrower or shockwave emitters: a neat twist on the CoD multiplayer formula. A lackluster zombies mode and some bad multiplayer maps keep BLOPS3 from ranking higher.
14 / 22
For many fans, this was the point where Call of Duty went too far. Setting games in the near future was fine, but Infinite Warfare pushes the franchise out into the far future and involves spaceships. But I loved it. The campaign is a blast and is a legitimately good sci-fi action-adventure with characters that I liked and care about. And its zombies mode is a wild ride through different eras and movie genres and features a bunch of celebrities including Seth Green, Pam Grier, David Hasselhoff, and Cassandra Peterson as Elvira. Multiplayer is the real let down here, feeling like a reskin of Black Ops 3’s online multiplayer.
15 / 22
The sequel to the original improved on every aspect of that first game. It looked better. It felt better. It had more multiplayer options and a more impressive campaign. And for those who bought an Xbox 360 it was a real easy way to show off the power of your new console. (I did this.) CoD2 also moved the franchise to auto-healing, which ended up being a big change that probably helped it click with more people and was another reason the series became huge. It’s almost the best Call of Duty game set during World War II. Almost.
16 / 22
Black Ops felt like something different. The campaign was one of the best up until that point, with some great setpieces, connections to World at War, and a hell of a late-game twist. It also brought theater mode to the series, letting you go back through previous matches and watch them from any angle, saving clips of great kills or funny moments. Oh, and it had some of the best maps in the game’s history, including the one and only Nuketown, a map that’s hung around the franchise ever since. Not to mention the best zombies mode intro in the franchise.
17 / 22
There was a time before Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare when multiplayer games didn’t feature leveling up and unlocks. And while it wasn’t the first game to introduce persistent multiplayer features, it was for sure the game that popularized it. It also introduced the idea of killstreaks and custom loadouts, which are now key parts of the franchise. These things might seem standard today, but they were new and innovative at the time. It also featured a fantastic campaign that was filled with moments that people still talk about to this day. The influence this game had on the entire industry, for better and for worse, can still be felt today in 2020.
18 / 22
World at War took the mechanics and ideas of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and brought them back to World War II. At the time it felt like a step backward, since the series had finally escaped WW2, but World at War was a good reminder that it’s still possible to make a fun and interesting game in that familiar setting. The key was an exciting campaign, which supported co-op(!), great multiplayer maps, and some fun ideas. Adding a killstreak that lets you call in a pack of dogs to kill your enemies is genius, and I still remember hearing friends scream when I killed enough people to release the hounds. Maybe not as “important” as Call of Duty 4, but a classic nonetheless. Oh, and it was the first game in the franchise to have a zombies mode, something that has become a fan favorite ever since.
19 / 22
Oh boy. I know there are folks who are furious—furious!— about this game making it so high up on the list!. Here’s the thing: I get it. Advanced Warfare changed the franchise in some big ways. You could now double jump! And dash around in different directions. It felt amazing and it is still one of the CoDs I’ve put the most hours into, playing it for months and months after release. The campaign was great too, though it does star Kevin Spacey. At the time I liked him in the game a lot. He hams it up, but in a way that works and helps sell his character as this dangerous, militarized Elon Musk type. Today, however, seeing Spacey isn’t great. But I don’t think it’s fair to hold that against Advanced Warfare.
20 / 22
No Russian, even if you hate it today, is still one of those moments in gaming that I’ll never forget. Later games in the series would try to replicate it and they all failed. But here, the shocking display of violence works to set in a motion a fairly by-the-book war story conveyed over a fantastic campaign, with moments that still stick in my brain. I’ll never forget defending that Burger Town. Multiplayer took all the great things from Call of Duty 4 and expanded on them. More maps, more perks, more weapons, and more options. And the spec ops co-op missions were some of the most fun I had with friends.
21 / 22
The first Call of Duty to move into the future, Black Ops 2 is still the best after all these years. It featured a campaign that bounced between the past and the future with multiple endings and optional missions. The multiplayer introduced the pick-10 system, which allowed players to fully customize their loadouts and classes like never before. Now you could go in with a bunch of perks and just a pistol. Or take no perks or grenades and bring two big rifles, loaded up with attachments. This flexibility, combined with some of my favorite maps, made Black Ops 2’s multiplayer outstanding. While many might have a soft spot for the first Black Ops, Black Ops 2 is truly the best Call of Duty game of all.