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Horror Elements in Call of Duty

Credit – @cod.zomb1es on Instagram]

After tons of hype, a sequel to Call of Duty: Ghosts may finally become a reality. Game developer Infinity Ward is reportedly working on ‘Project Devilwood,’ which is speculated for a 2026 release. Although nothing has been officially announced, long-time fans are excited to see the potential Ghosts 2 title.

That’s not the only ghost that may be returning to the fold, either. A new Black Ops may be in the pipeline, with previous Black Ops releases being the most successful in the series. While the Stalker task force is a friendly faction players can control, plenty of terrifying elements often steer Call of Duty (COD) dangerously close to horror game territory. With so many variations and missions to explore, you’d be surprised how much creepiness you can find when plumbing the depths of COD’s thrilling history.

Calls of Duty over time

The call of duty never rings just once, so players are looped in time and again for new wars to face. The first Call of Duty was released in 2003, immediately cementing itself as the icon for military first-person shooters (FPS). Since that glorious first title, the series has had a new release every year.

These games have never shied away from the terrors of war, largely receiving acclaim for their insistence on pushing squad-based efforts during a time that primarily saw solo protagonists in FPSs. The franchise has seen many changes during its run, not just in graphical and technical improvements.

Starting with the first Modern Warfare title in 2007, the realm of military video games would undoubtedly be changed forever. At this point, COD was already breaking records in sales. In 2022, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II made over $800 million in its first weekend alone.

Today, it continues to up the ante and is the bestselling FPS series in video game history. This Call of Duty also notes that Modern Warfare 3 (the 2023 version) continues the trend of peak viewership for global tournaments. It introduced open-combat operations and open-world missions while remastering maps from its popular predecessor. With the hype surrounding the new release, experts note that the growing prize pools for competitive games will see no signs of slowing down. More than 200 tournaments have been held, and a prize total exceeding $33.6 million has been accumulated.

It should be noted that the latest releases are part of a reboot series that completely reimagines the originals. So, while these games share a name and worldbuilding, they should not be taken as direct story sequels. The series has successfully kept its place in the market by keeping the gameplay fresh. With its already gritty bones, it’s been easy for the developers to lean into the exciting horror elements most apparent in its specialized missions and DLC:

World at War

Even without special missions dedicated to scares, the COD series has pinned down how to get under players’ skin. World at War is often touted as the creepiest entry in the mainline games. War is already dark territory, but this title takes it to the next level by depicting the cruelty and consequences of armed conflict. From the opening sequence alone, this entry throws players into the most uncomfortable aspects of the frontline. It also offers up the first Zombies experience.

Naturally, this game comes with the high-intensity gameplay the series is known for. Although it isn’t necessarily the most acclaimed title in the series, it remains a favorite because of its compelling narrative and satisfying campaign.

Endless zombies

Credit – @cod.zomb1es on Instagram]

Ask any COD fan, and they’ll know just how iconic Zombies mode is. It was introduced in Call of Duty: World at War and immediately became a fan favorite. In this first iteration, players had to defend their base against waves of zombies. It was an interesting shift from the main campaign and involved barrier repairs in addition to shooting down enemies.

Despite its simple mechanics, there is already a dark undertone from the very first map. In Nacht der Untoten, the zombies look distinctly more human than later variants. The creep factor starts to settle once you consider that the playable characters are four isolated soldiers who must face off against the enemies they had already sentenced to death. The sole comfort is that these were Reich soldiers who didn’t necessarily invite warmth and empathy for their cause.

Its popularity made it a go-to mode in subsequent games, including the entire Black Ops series and the new Modern Warfare 3. Later formats introduced new mechanics and objectives, adding a challenge that made you feel more uneasy as you traverse a limited map filled with increasingly sophisticated zombies. Aside from enemies, maps like Verruckt and Tranzit can fill players with dread thanks to their atmosphere, design choices, and expert use of unnerving sounds.

Haunting hellscapes

As if having bullets whizzing past you wasn’t scary enough, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War also introduced the Haunting event. This introduced the Ghostface operator, inspired by the quintessential serial killer of Scream fame. To amp up the horror, multiplayer maps and assets were redesigned to fit the spooky season. In a list of the best-selling , Cold War stands as one of the most successful in the series, with 30 million copies sold.

Its successful Haunting campaign trickled over to the next games, with Haunting events becoming recurring limited releases every late October to early November. One of the Haunting events also introduced the Nuketown Halloween map, which featured a dedicated playlist and special modes themed around the featured killers.

Verdansk, an already death-filled map in Warzone and Modern Warfare, also got the extra horror treatment with the Haunting of Verdansk event. The new mode bathed the entire place in moonlight and added, you guessed it, ghostly apparitions. Supply boxes were also spread across the map to give players a few treats amidst all the tricks.

The Alone mission

For the most part, COD rewards players by being forgiving in the campaign if they display some level of strategy. You’re also lulled into a sense of safety as you work with fellow soldiers, whether AI-controlled bots or other players. It’s all the more of a whiplash when you are suddenly thrown into the thirteenth mission in Modern Warfare 2’s single-player campaign, aptly called “Alone.”

Here, you must sneak and craft past enemies without a trusty rifle on your hip. Scavenging for usable items, being vastly outnumbered, and falling prey to traps and jump scares that abound — it’s a recipe built to frighten even the most seasoned COD players.

A new call to gamers

Credit – @callofdutymobile on Instagram]

Because of the series’ popularity, a spinoff for mobile phones was released in 2019. Call of Duty Mobile is free-to-play while still making over $470 million with in-game currency and perks. It still receives constant updates and maintains a highly active player base of more than 50 million players monthly.

Feats like this are impressive, considering the market is leaning toward more immersive gaming experiences. A new campaign on Kickstarter is even changing tabletop gaming with Mother of Frankenstein. It mixes interactive theater elements and escape room gameplay to pull players into the challenge and atmosphere of the game. It’s a clear sign that innovation is what drives gaming forward.

Despite the risk of oversaturation, avid fans are hotly anticipating the release of Black Ops 6. Some leaks show that the game will reintroduce old favorites in a way that breathes new life into the series. Unlike former titles, this upcoming release has been developing for four years. With that much time to maximize gameplay and campaign elements, much hype is built around how much more immersive this next-gen COD will be.

Perhaps most exciting for those who enjoy the times COD dips into horror is the confirmation that round-based Zombies will return in 2024. Consoles and PCs have gotten so powerful that the refreshed game mode will likely capitalize on their rendering capability. As such, it’s safe to expect more gore, detail, and cold-blooded hits by the time you hear the next call of duty.

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