First person shooters aren’t known for striking any emotional chord with the players, other than perhaps the sheer thrill of the fight. But I think if anything in shooters can evoke memories, either good or bad, it is the maps. These are the virtual playgrounds where you win, lose, live, die and where the things that make you love or hate a game happen. Maps are a crucial part of a multiplayer shooter – without fun, well-designed and memorable maps there isn’t as much enjoyment to be had.
One of the things that the Call of Duty series consistently got right was its maps. They were designed in a way that lent the game its’ trademark fast-pace and close-range combat. Many of them had unique landmarks or designs that meant that you could play a very different style of game on a map that you couldn’t on any other. That variety made the games still feel fresh and different even after hundreds and hundreds of times. They also kept with the classic mantra that I think Call of Duty developers had subconsciously when making their games: “Easy to learn, difficult to master”. Finding your way around is never a struggle, but knowing the maps truly, like you’d know a real place, took time and effort. Call of Duty, and its’ maps, had something for everyone.
Of the five Call of Dutys I’ve played it’s hard to narrow down the list of the best maps to just ten, and even harder to start ranking them. Some maps work much better than others for different game modes and with different people’s play styles etc. These aren’t necessarily the best ten maps, but they are my ten favourite.
10. Kowloon (Black Ops)
The only DLC map on the list, Kowloon is a map that I’ll always think of fondly because it’s perhaps the only map where I have a cast-iron rule of which class to select; it has to be the SPAS-12 shotgun on this map. It’s got a centre-point that’s elevated with a building in it that takes serious firepower to assault, so what better weapon to use than the best shotgun in the game? The setting is great too, with the 747 flying overhead at the start of the game and the washing-turned-zip lines criss-crossing the place adding something new to the old Black Ops formula.
9. WMD (Black Ops)
Perhaps another niche choice, but WMD is a map that fits really well with the way I play Black Ops and worked fantastically for my favourite game mode of Domination. There was so much variety in the way you could play the map, from sniping at the back gantry by the A flag, running around the central building or even bossing the game from within it. It suffered a little from the murky filters of Black Ops but on the whole it was a map I really enjoyed playing on.
8. Scrapyard (Modern Warfare 2)
Scrapyard was the competitive player’s darling of the maps in Modern Warfare 2, with the map being small enough that there was no part of the map that wasn’t in play within five to ten seconds of spawning. It was also very balanced, with little in the way of “power positions” where a player could feel invulnerable. It’s a chaotic map, but generally in a fun way. It was perhaps more faithful to CoD4’s design style and was slightly abnormal amongst the Modern Warfare 2 maps that tried to use verticality whenever possible. Although Demolition was a struggle on this map, I can’t think of another game mode that isn’t at its’ best on this map.
7. Highrise (Modern Warfare 2)
It’s perhaps the map that defines Modern Warfare 2’s new style, taking what was essentially Wet Work from CoD4 and opening up the chokepoints to make it much more fun. It features a few positions of power on the map, such as the helipad and the propane tank, but both are well countered by other spots lower down. Aside from that, the setting on the rooftop of a skyscraper may have lost its novelty now but was very cool when the game first released. This is one of the Call of Duty maps where insider knowledge comes in handy the most with so many hidden spots and sight lines that make the map much easier to play. Getting on to the very top of the building is still a struggle even though I’ve done it many a time.
6. Summit (Black Ops)
Summit for me reminds me of two sorts of games: absolute thrashings or extremely close games. The way the map was set up, with an extremely linear set up and very few ways out of the spawn areas meant that a lot of the action you would be involved in in a game would be just as you return to the fray. This made things fairly intense at times, with games where you would rush to flags only to be taken out and back on the run seconds later. Couple this with a snowy backdrop that seemed to make things unsettling to stay in one place and it made for one frantic stadium-esque theatre of online combat.
5. Firing Range (Black Ops)
Firing Range bests Summit as the best Black Ops map in my opinion almost solely because it recreates the same tension but with three possible spawns – meaning your paranoia only increases in wondering which direction the enemy will be coming from. Games on Firing Range were rarely all one-sided, but the few times when they were they were extremely fun to be a part of. The B flag for Domination was one of the hardest to get of all the maps in any Call of Duty, taking co-ordination or sheer brute force to take in close games. With this, the number of games where the match ended with both teams within a few points of each other is too high to remember. It’s one of the most fun maps you’ll find in a Call of Duty game.
4. Cliffside (World at War)
World at War maps were incredible at fusing great gameplay design with settings that were historical but really cool as well. Cliffside was one of the finest examples of this, with the seaside setting of a Japanese island ‘caught’ in the midst of World War II. From the pillboxes to the shrines, there was something eerie about essentially reliving the horrors of what had truly happened in the fights you were simulating. I don’t think any other map in the series managed this quite as well. For that it’s well worth a mention.
3. Makin (World at War)
If World at War was king of settings, then this was the emperor of them all. Makin was set on the beaches of a Japanese island, with wooden huts strewn across the makeshift battlefield all the way through. What’s more is that the map was re-released in a free update with a night-time variant which added another interesting take on the map, with things harder to spot in the night and the tall grass all the more appealing for some. Games never quite played out in the way you’d expect them, with the hotspots on the map changing every time you played on it. Makin was a triumph of both design and setting.
2. Pipeline (Call of Duty 4)
Although it isn’t the archetypical “streets of the Middle East” sort of map that CoD4 is undoubtedly known for most, I think Pipeline is my favourite map in that game. It is about the perfect size for a map and features so many hidden secrets that make those that know them feel like they have a box of tricks at their disposal for any given situation. There were underground tunnels, overground railings, roofs to climb on, machine guns hidden around the place and plenty other little nooks and crannies to explore and exploit. The craftsmanship that went into designing Pipeline was impressive. I didn’t play terribly much Search & Destroy on Pipeline whilst playing CoD4, but I do think it’s where the map shines. With the two bases evenly poised at either end of a foreboding pathway between two warehouses, and a bomb site on either side of them; it set things up beautifully. Pipeline is certainly one of the best maps around in any shooter.
1. Favela (Modern Warfare 2)
Favela might seem like an odd choice for my favourite Call of Duty map, but it’s one that’s stuck in my mind as a favourite ever since my first few trips round the block in Modern Warfare 2. Favela has everything you want in a map. It’s got close-range combat in the middle and in the buildings, but also long sight lines in the streets on either side of the map. It’s got massive height differences which make it easy to get the jump on enemies by going above or below them. It’s big enough that it doesn’t feel like you are spawning and dying the whole time, but action is never too far away. It’s got impenetrable banana leaves. It works well for almost every game mode (maybe not so much CTF). With the best colour palette of any map in Call of Duty history it’s still easy on the eye after playing many times. Favela is a map I almost always enjoy playing, and in Call of Duty that’s saying something. It is without a doubt my pick for the best map in Call of Duty.