A new Call of Duty is upon us, and it looks like this iteration could be a return to form after a few shaky years of not quite being up to the high level of quality that the series has previously set the standard at. Whenever a new title emerges in something that has a lineage like COD, a period of reflection is usually born upon its release, where you ruminate on whether it reaches the dizzying highs of some of your favorite games in the series. We bask in that period now, where today we look back at some of the most memorable levels from one of the most popular video game series in the world. A quick side note, there are many memorable levels in the Call of Duty games, but I’ve tried to pick an objective list that stuck out in the mind for whatever reason and showcased the definitive moments for the series as a whole.
Also a tiny message, there’s some spoilers in here for people who haven’t played some of the games in the Call of Duty series. You have been warned.
Karma (Call of Duty Black Ops II)
Call of Duty missions that feature different elements like stealth and infiltration always rank higher in my book as they break up the constant furor of box office action. They also just allow you to do something different in a series that has been known to sometimes lacking in the variety department, which is why I’ve included Mason and Harper’s covert operation on here.
The mission involves posing as repairmen for a luxurious off-shore hotel to find a hacker with the codename “Karma” who could be a valuable asset in the fight against Menendez. The assignment starts with a stealth section, disabling security systems and hacking in to camera feeds to find Karma with a remote control bug. After the bug is discovered, Mason and Harper fight their way down to a club in the resort and a great cinematic fire fight breaks out that’s set to a fitting dubstep track, combining the confusion and mayhem of the situation with intense music. DeFalco, one of Menendez’s associates, tries to escape with the hacker and a chase section closes out the level. Black Ops II’s branching story paths adds drive to the pursuit as you can fail the encounter by not reaching DeFalco before he gets to his transport, so there’s real pressure on your speed and proficiency.
“Karma” has a good amount of diversity to it with a high cinematic feel without being too gamey, not filling the action with cut-scenes or quick time events. The stealth elements, shoot outs, and chase ending all provide a healthy mix to some of the best action available in a futuristic Call of Duty.
Dust to Dust (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3)
The finale players had been waiting for since 2007, this mission was the final bow of the Modern Warfare series and, at least for now, the completion of that particular story arc.
The mission involves an all-out attack on the Hotel Oasis in Dubai where Makarov, elusive leader of the Russian Ultranationalists, had taken refuge after peace had been reached between the U.S. and Russia after the recovery of both presidents. Tactics, stealth, and infiltration are nowhere to be found in this mission as you storm the building with Captain Price and Yuri donned in Juggernaut outfits and packing a fully loaded LMG. Losing the protective gear after a helicopter crash sets them on fire, Price and Yuri have only four minutes to race to the roof before Makarov escapes. Following a dramatic lunge from Price, he manages to bring down Makarov’s getaway chopper and, during an ensuing fight between the two, Yuri is fatally shot by a distracted Makarov who Price gets the drop on and finally puts the terrorist down by strangling him with a cable. An exhausted Price lights a cigar to notion that the war is finally over for him.
The mission has all the drama, spectacle, and action that you’d expect from a military crescendo, but it’s not just the fact that it closes out the game. It was a satisfying finish to a story that spanned a trilogy of games and that players were invested in. As much as this wasn’t the greatest final mission in a single player campaign ever, the whole experience was a cathartic release for fans of the series who were left with no ambiguities or doubts about the closing chapter of this branch of the franchise.
No Russian (Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2)
A mission that was the center of controversy upon the release of MW2, this level shed a public spotlight on Call of Duty in the same vein that games like Grand Theft Auto and Manhunt had been examined for their graphic and violent content.
For those that are unaware, the op involved the player being deep undercover in Makarov’s organization and staging a callous shooting on civilians at a Russian airport. At the very end of the mission, the player is shot and killed by Makarov, left to be discovered by Russian authorities and the thought to be Western planned attack sparks a third world war. The entire mission has an uncomfortable feel about it, with the pace that the player moves at (only capable of walking), being able to shoot pedestrians that are writhing in pain, the lack of remorse from any of your comrades having to slaughter their own people—it all plays in to a melting pot that I’m sure the developers knew would hit a nerve with parents, critics, politicians and the multitude of other parties that the ripples of their creation would eventually permeate.
In fairness to the development team, the player is forewarned that the level is very graphic and is able to be skipped without consequence, also not being required for any achievements or trophies. Taking in to account COD’s immense popularity and almost unending reach around the globe, this is the only real mark on its otherwise unblemished complexion.
All Ghillied Up (Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)
That moment when the patrol walks straight past you…
This was a landmark moment for the series, as it hadn’t done anything quite like this mission before. Before this point, Call of Duty seldom had a quieter, more stealth orientated assassination mission until this level came along.
Your objective in this mission was, as a youthful Lt Price, to make your way across the radiated land of Chernobyl to reach a vantage point to assassinate Imran Zakhaev, an Ultranationalist who seeks to destroy the West. This change of pace suited a campaign by giving the story an interesting swerve and throwback to the origins of Captain Price (or at least this version of Price). The constant tension throughout the mission, being in the dangerous landscape of Chernobyl and being heavily outnumbered, all plays in to the suspense of the player not wanting to put a foot wrong and hanging on the words of mentor MacMillan, making him feel like a real ally in the level rather than just an arbitrary NPC that spews out exposition.
Whether you’re crawling underneath supply trucks or synchronizing shots with your Captain, this mission showed that COD was capable of delivering quality through subtlety and nuance, and became one of, if not the most memorable section of the Call of Duty 4 campaign.
D-Day (Call of Duty 2)
Not only depicting one of the most iconic battles of World War II, this mission does an amazing job of recreating the sense of the chaos, confusion, and fear that the men must have felt on that pivotal day.
This depiction of the Normandy landings opens from the perspective of Corporal Bill Taylor, on-board one of the boats about to face the might of the German defensive position. Even before you gain control of Taylor, pandemonium has already begun with a large majority of soldiers getting slain by the onslaught of machine gun fire before setting foot on the bloody beaches. Your mission is to scale the cliffs of the beach, clear the German infantry from the bunkers and houses, and carve a path for the American offensive to reach the artillery guns. Speed is a key factor in the mission, and your team encourages you to push forward and keep the Germans on the back foot, as hanging around potential mortar targets is never good for your health. I’m no solider and even I know that’s a bad thing to do.
The sound design is a true standout in this mission, with the roaring machine gun fire a constant reminder of how disturbingly close death is, the frantic yells of fellow soldiers all shouting different instructions, and the screech of bombers flying overhead does a sublime job of translating the furious and visceral nature of war.
Heart of the Reich (Call of Duty: World at War)
It couldn’t not be on here right? A mission which lives in infamy in the minds of anyone who’s taken on this COD title on Veteran, Heart of the Reich caused countless hours of shouting profanity at Reznov and numerous broken controllers around the world.
This particular Russian excursion was the penultimate level of the game, pushing forward through a defensive position outside the German parliament in the final blow to crush the Nazi regime. Overall, the op was a fairly standard affair in terms of what it provided and asked of the player: heavy waves of infantry to slowly advance through in an environment where everything exploded at least four times—standard Call of Duty. What made this mission stand out was A) the difficulty of getting through said waves and B) the grenades. Oh the grenades. The joys of being prone behind a fallen pillar, waiting for the perfect moment to leap up and sprint forward to gain just an inch of ground against your enemies, only to have thirty-seven frags illuminate every single compass point on your grenade indicator was, how to say, irksome at the very least.
The mission lives on not because of a spectacular set piece, but because of to the steep gradient of the challenge laid before you. Heart of the Reich was relentless in how it opposed players and will be remembered as one of the toughest tests COD has ever served up along with other notorious levels like Mile High Club, No Fighting in the War Room, and The Mace.
Let us know some of your most memorable Call of Duty moments in the comments.