There are many swappable skins to wear in Call of Duty, and believe it or not, some of them contain characters. While most of the game’s protagonists have been emotionless floating cameras, some of the people around them—shouting instructions, carrying out animated takedowns—have been far more memorable. From the jovial war criminals to the sentient killing machines, here are the ones that have stuck in our heads over the years, for better or worse.
Side note: every one of these characters can be referred to in just one or two syllables, because COD’s that sort of game. You can’t shout a double-barreled surname over gunfire.
Captain Price shouldn’t be likeable. As a British citizen, I find the idea of cockney men flying around the world torturing in my name, without my consent, legitimately horrifying. He’s played by a former soap opera serial killer. Somehow, though, Price exudes the demeanour of an endearingly drunk uncle. He’s a simulated family Christmas in a pandemic year.
You might argue that Treyarch got a little carried away with Reznov’s story—this onetime veteran of the Siege of Stalingrad has taken on a Rasputin-like aura of near-immortality. But he’s buoyed by Gary Oldman’s charisma, and was the first COD character to endorse an anti-nationalist worldview—not east against west, but the wronged versus the authorities who used them.
On the quiet, Shepherd is the most subversive character in COD. He joins Modern Warfare as a straightforwardly gruff US general—one of many in the series—and so his betrayal comes as a genuine shock. His motivation is relatable, too: like all of us, he’s traumatised by the nuke scene in Modern Warfare. Voiced by Lance Henriksen, for extra action movie credit.
The star of Warzone’s current season, Farah finally put a face to the Middle Eastern perspective Modern Warfare had been missing. It’s cathartic to see a COD protagonist peel off the damning label of ‘terrorist’ and place it on invading European forces, and her unbending moral code makes for a striking contrast in the company of Captain Price.
A pair of mirrored sunglasses sum up Black Ops regular Hudson: he’s going to be watching you closely, and won’t allow you to reciprocate. Initially played by Ed Harris, effectively resuming his role as a Pentagon handler in A Beautiful Mind, Hudson is a black box representing every paranoid fear about the CIA and its methods of control. He needs to know, and you don’t.
In the future of Infinite Warfare, roboticists have determined that combat performance is contingent on camaraderie. For that reason, they’ve programmed bants into their AI soldier, E3N, knowing that fellow space soldiers are more likely to watch his back if he can have a laugh. “I carry the brain of a human farmer,” he tells one gullible comrade, but turns out to be taking the mick.
Park and Lazar
These two come as a pair, since—despite coming from different intelligence agencies on opposite sides of the world—they’re inseparable in Cold War’s safehouse. MI6 and Mossad have trained them both to leave important information unsaid, which makes for a series of strange and sweet conversations over the course of the campaign. They might be romantically involved, they might not—as with everything else in Black Ops, it’s deniable.
I’ve a real soft spot for the Modern Warfare reboot’s CIA operative. While a pretty boy American might not shake up the formula fundamentally, he travels along a deeply satisfying arc during a short campaign. After spending his life fighting in whatever war suits his shadowy masters that year, Alex defies orders and sacrifices himself for a cause he actually cares about. Infinity Ward dampened the effect somewhat by retconning his death for multiplayer, but that’s live service games for you.
Ghost is not a character. He is a mute mannequin wearing a balaclava with a skull on it. Ghost’s backstory is something about kissing a snake? I thoroughly recommend never reading his wiki entry. At a certain point, Infinity Ward decided that Ghost was conceptually strong enough to build a whole game around. Call of Duty: Ghosts was the worst received game in the series.