I know that we’ve been talking a bit about The Division Beta and Destiny‘s future lately, but the game that I’ve been playing the most over the last month or so has been Call of Duty: Black Ops III. And that’s had me thinking – is it the best Call of Duty since the modern era of CoD games started? So with that in mind, let’s rank the modern games and find out. By modern games I mean any Call of Duty console/PC release since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, mainly because it completely changed the formula for the series.
Before we hit the rankings, there is one little caveat to get out of the way. I can’t put Call of Duty: World at War on the list because I’ve never actually played it. It came out while I was still playing a whole lot of Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4, among other games. In hindsight I do wish that I had picked it up when it was relevant, but oh well. With that said, let’s move on to the Official Infinite Lives Call of Duty Rankings.
At the bottom of the list, I’m going with Advanced Warfare. Yes, it’s Sledgehammer Games’ first full Call of Duty game, but the formula for what makes a CoD game work isn’t exactly a secret. Advanced Warfare just didn’t really pull it off – the campaign was forgettable, the co-op experience was pretty threadbare and the multiplayer had a weapon meta that never really got balanced. The problem really is that there were two or three weapons that were just head and shoulders above the rest – the BAL, ASM1 and Tac-19 all were essentially required to have a shot at performing well. The movement changes were a step in the right direction, but now that we’ve seen Black Ops III take them further, I think it’s kinda evident that that was what Advanced Warfare should have done; regardless of the Titanfall comparisons. I do think that Sledgehammer can make a real good CoD title, but Advanced Warfare just wasn’t it.
Moving a little up the list, we get to the last Infinity Ward developed title: Call of Duty: Ghosts. This one hurts a little because it was so, so close to being great. The campaign, while predictable, was fun the whole way through. The Extinction mode was fantastic, in truth it was my favorite part of the game. What killed the game for me was, much like AW, a broken online meta. The Honey Badger was just too powerful in any engagement, and IW never really addressed it in a way that fixed the problem. There’s a reason that it was banned from competitive play. What kinda blows my mind though is how with the DLC season, IW kept moving in that direction with map-specific killstreaks that were just insanely powerful. Michael Myers and The Predator totally broke any semblance of balance in matches, even with Honey Badgers all over the place. Since Infinity Ward is putting out this year’s game, and I would expect to see Ghosts 2 (despite reports I’ve seen to the contrary – it just makes too much sense not to), I really hope that they look at what works with their style games and what the community has embraced with the last two titles.
Next up, I’m going with a somewhat unpopular opinion here – Call of Duty: Black Ops. Since I’ve been playing the new BO title, I’ve been keeping an eye on Reddit as well. I can’t tell you how many posts I’ve seen with comments putting the first Black Ops title up on a pedestal. I am very much not one of those people. And I think I can explain why – I was the only one in my group of friends I play with that had Black Ops. That meant no Zombies mode for me, which I think is the strength of the first game. The campaign was really good – something that Treyarch is great with across the whole BO series. The multiplayer was solid. There was one weapon – the Commando – that was a little stronger, but in general it was fine. My problem looking back was that the maps really weren’t that memorable. Aside from Nuketown, and arguable Firing Range, I really don’t think there were any amazing maps there. Considering that it had to pull me away from Halo Reach and Modern Warfare 2, I just never got to that same level of love for the game. Still a good title, just not my favorite.
Moving up the list, another Infinity Ward title, Modern Warfare 3. A game that is near and dear to me, as it was one of the few titles I actually was able to create content for G4tv.com for, I can’t really put it higher up the list. I think the best way to really describe the game is just plain solid. Everything in the game was good, and arguably great, but the game as a whole just didn’t blow me away. The campaign should have been this huge blow off to the story that was told over three games. Instead, it felt like those huge set-pieces were forced in, along with the big twist with Yuri and Makarov. The multiplayer did something different with the Call of Duty: Elite system to deliver the DLC. And that DLC was actually pretty strong – a good mix of new maps and classics, along with a whole new Face-Off mode for small matches. I played it for about a full year, and enjoyed it all the way through – it was the first Call of Duty that I actually wanted to stick with to hit Prestige 10. I just think that compared with the four remaining games, it’s not quite as strong across the board.
One step up the list, the previous game in Infinity Ward’s lineup – Modern Warfare 2. This one is a little tricky for me. I love this game – in truth I think it’s my favorite of the series. I had more fun playing this game than just about any other Call of Duty. But looking back at it, it absolutely had its flaws. Not having a really fleshed out co-op aside from Spec Ops missions I think now seems like a big miss. The multiplayer had its fair share of relatively major issues – the Javelin glitch, One Man Army abuse, Marathon-Lightweight-Commando knifers, infinite care-packages and care-package marker speed boosts all contributed to some frustrating moments. But IW was good about fixing them as best they could. Add in that the map selection was phenomenal, made for really fun games. Increasing the customization options to players with Callsigns and Emblems tied to challenges helped push the players to actually try to do challenges that maybe they wouldn’t have normally. It’s still a game that I look back on and get the itch to load up from time to time – I actually did play a few games of it last summer.
Pulling the bronze medal on my list, I’m going to go with Black Ops II. Treyarch is really good at crafting a story mode that is actually worth playing through. In this case, they really stepped it up with branching paths that could impact the ending of the game. That not only shows that Treyarch was taking something, a campaign, that a lot of players brushed off really seriously; but it also added replayability to something that typically doesn’t really have it. Zombies mode – which again I didn’t really play – took the formula and cranked it up to 10. The Easter Eggs were super in-depth, with multiple demanding steps to unlock them. And the meat of the game – the multiplayer – was just as solid as ever. I think this is the game where Treyarch really nailed their style of multiplayer. It’s not as fast paced as Infinity Ward’s, with a little slower time to kill and more focus of simple map design with little flairs to try and control. Sure there were powerful weapons – the M8A1 in particular – but they weren’t game breaking ones. It’s the first game that I felt compelled to complete gold camo challenges for entire weapon classes – diamond camo will do that. After how lukewarm I felt about Black Ops, this game was a complete 180 for me – I really enjoy the hell out of this one.
Finally, I’m going to take a bit of a cop-out. There are two games left to look at – Modern Warfare and Black Ops III – fitting since that was the question that I really set out to look at. And here’s the thing – I don’t really know that I have the answer. From a content standpoint, Black Ops III is way ahead of Modern Warfare – as well it should be. Modern Warfare is almost ten years old at this point. Mechanics-wise, again, Black Ops III shows ten years of development learning. But there’s still something really special about Modern Warfare. It was a landmark game in FPS progression. It was a seismic shift for a franchise that dates back to the early 2000’s. It showed that modern set games could be just as gripping as World War Two shooters. But most importantly, it gave us the blueprint for the way multiplayer shooters would evolve and grow into. We’re still playing games that borrow, sometimes directly, from that first Modern Warfare. Black Ops III is, I think, the peak of that evolution. It takes everything that Infinity Ward put out, spins it forward those ten years, and makes it all work with the extra moving parts we’ve come to expect. Is it the best Call of Duty game in the franchise? I think it’s the best Call of Duty that we can have right now – it is the perfect combination of all three phases: Campaign, Co-op, and Multiplayer. The question I’m looking at now is what Infinity Ward, the original guys on the franchise, can do to continue evolving the franchise this year.