Call of Duty is a world-renown series for its popular gameplay. While the main selling point of the series has been the online multiplayer for over the last decade, the campaign has been a big draw for a section of the fanbase. From World War II to futuristic battles in space, Call of Duty has covered significant ground in its campaigns. Here are the five best Call of Duty campaigns.
5. Black Ops II
Black Ops II’s campaign did something completely new that Call of Duty has not replicated since. It went into the future while also looking at the past. For the most part, it did it well too. It created this weaving story that was interesting with a hint of replayability.
The story takes place following the events of the first Black Ops in the 1980s as well as in 2025. In the past, you again focus on the first game’s protagonist Alex Mason as he and Frank Woods hunt down Raul Menendez. In 2025, you take control of David Mason, Alex’s son as he finishes his father’s mission. Uncovering the different aspects of the past and future, while seeing the definite differences in both, was an interesting take and a gamble for Treyarch.
Black Ops II has a good story that minimally changes depending on the key choices you make. Everything else about the campaign is very by-the-numbers for Call of Duty. You can expect the typical firefights that you see everywhere else in the series.
4. Modern Warfare (Reboot)
Following Black Ops II, Call of Duty campaigns hit a rough patch. Ghosts, Infinite Warfare, and Black Ops III had some of the worst stories in the entire series before Black Ops IV completely removed the campaign from the game. The Modern Warfare reboot brought the campaign back to glory, though.
In the reboot, American forces are trying to find dangerous gas chemicals in Russian territory. Things go awry, of course, and SAS Captain Price is called in to assist. During the hunt for the gasses, Price and company team up with Urzikstan rebel leader Farah Karim who is in their fight against Russian forces.
Modern Warfare is an example of how to do a reboot well. The series’ most popular characters return in new ways, and it sets itself apart from the original while giving plenty of nods to what came before it. It also has plenty of situations to challenge your conceptions of right and wrong. Following a battle, you see a civilian car driving towards you. Will you shoot the driver? In a dark house, you get surprised by a civilian. Will you shoot them out of self-preservation? These and many other moral situations are brought up in the game and are delivered exceptionally well.
3. Modern Warfare 2
Modern Warfare 2 picked up right where the original Modern Warfare left off. Soap has advanced to Captain in Task Force 141 as they hunt down Russian terrorist Vladimir Makarov. Between Soap, Roach, Captain Price, Ghost, and other characters, MW2 has arguably the best cast in any Call of Duty.
Modern Warfare 2 received a lot of criticism around its launch because of a certain mission in the game’s campaign. In “No Russian,” you play as Joseph Allen, who is undercover as one of Makarov’s crew. The mission is simple, go through a populated airport shooting up citizens to spark a war between the United States and Russia. During this mission, there is no opposition. No guards or military to protect the innocent. The criticism came from shooting into a crowd of defenseless people. It is a harrowing mission that is one of Call of Duty’s best attempts at making the audience have an emotional reaction and it worked, going so far that news outlets outside of the gaming industry were talking about it.
Outside of “No Russian,” the levels are exciting, and the story has an interesting twist thrown in to shake things up. MW2 was the last hit Call of Duty needed to prove that they could keep the gaming industry’s attention for longer than one year. It was a perfect example of how you iterate on a popular game to make a successful sequel through its story and gameplay.
2. Black Ops
When talking about Call of Duty games with a twist, nothing beats the first Black Ops. In this Cold War-era game, you play as Alex Mason following his escape from Russian captivity. During his time under Russian control, he was subject to brainwashing. This is the main point of contention for the entire campaign.
Seen both on the main menu and in-between missions, Mason is strapped down in an interrogation room. His brainwashing has made him a Soviet sleeper agent bent on assassinating John F. Kennedy. Black Ops’ campaign stands out from other Call of Duty campaigns because of the focus on the effects of Mason’s brainwashing. As you go through the story, things are revealed to not be as they seem. Other Call of Duty campaigns have attempted some level of twist for dramatic effect, but nothing along the lines seen here.
Black Ops has turned into one of the most loved games in the Call of Duty franchise for multiple reasons. “Zombies” and “Multiplayer” were excellent modes that pushed the series going forward. Black Ops III had a poor campaign, and the fourth entry in the series completely abandoned a story mode. It’s hard to think of now, but Black Ops used to be one of the best campaigns in all of Call of Duty.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare will always be one of the greatest first-person shooters ever made. Its gameplay and storytelling stand out compared to everything else. The game was revolutionary not only for multiplayer but for the campaign as well. This is why it is the only game in the series to receive a remaster.
In the original Modern Warfare, you play as Soap MacTavish as he joins Task Force 141. The group’s mission is to take down Russian ultranationalist leader Imran Zakhaev. The levels in the campaign set up that grandiose feeling that is second nature to Call of Duty. From trying to outrun a nuclear explosion, to defending yourself against countless waves of explosions in Chernobyl, the stakes always feel high in the game. The difficulty is no cakewalk, either. Playing on “Veteran” can cause some truly stressful situations, but feels rewarding in the end.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare brought shooter games out of World War II. For the longest time, it felt that army games could not exist outside of that period. This game proved that they could do it and excel at it. It may have been the fourth game in the Call of Duty series, but Modern Warfare was a new beginning for an entire genre.