Dare to be different
Ever since the original Team Fortress set the standard, class-based shooters have followed a pretty simple formula. Your choice of specialized roles usually corresponds to where you want to be in a shootout: on the frontlines as an assault trooper, right behind them as a supporting medic, bringing up the rear as an engineer or anti-vehicle expert, taking potshots from afar as a sniper, or infiltrating enemy territory as a stealthy spy. It's nice that you can find the niche that best suits you - but wouldn't it be even cooler to play as a soldier that really stands apart from the usual archetypes?
As with the most unique RPG classes, I'm fascinated by the stranger, more unique concepts that some multiplayer shooters have to offer. It's not rewarding enough to just point and shoot at anything that moves - you've got to score kills and capture objectives with your own distinct style. So, for your enjoyment, I present a list of the misfit classes that merrily defy the traditional class structure. You might die in the line of duty, but you'll be ten times more memorable than yet another humdrum Assault soldier.
Evolve requires you to bring a Medic along in your hunting party, but at least prospective healers get three options to choose from. While Val has the standard healing-beam and Caira wields an unconventional health-restoring grenade launcher, Lazarus is by far the strangest of the bunch. Why? He's a healing class who will watch unflinchingly while you die at his feet.
This Rasputin-looking physician does have the ability to heal his allies, but only in very limited bursts. His real power comes from his ability to instantly revive downed or dead teammates, paired with his personal Cloaking Device. A good Lazarus knows to wait patiently and invisibly from the shadows, keeping an eye out for timely revives instead of providing direct, continuous support. He'll gladly watch you get mauled to death, but only with the team's best interests at heart.
Spy (Team Fortress 2)
Frankly, every TF2 class has a ludicrously wide range of utility and possibilities within its prescribed playstyles. But if I have to pick one standout, it's got to be that ever-dapper Frenchman, the Spy. Plenty of shooters have a class that's meant to sneak behind enemy lines with temporary cloaking or disguises - but it's the Spy's methods that make him so distinct.
At launch, most players had a tough time spotting fake teammates intent on stabbing their tender back-meat. And just when people started to adapt to the Spy's subtle behavior patterns, new items gave him the tools to outsmart enemies once more - particularly the Dead Ringer, which lets you feign death to slip by defenders unnoticed. Succeeding as the Spy means thinking like your enemy, and blending in without being blatantly inconspicuous. Yes, that's an oxymoron, but TF2 vets know exactly what I mean.
The Deputy (Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West)
Lead and Gold's playerbase has gone the way of the dodo - which is a shame, because it has some pretty distinct characters. I almost gave the nod to the Trapper, a lady with a coonskin cap, bear traps, and a sniper rifle - but the Deputy class (pictured front and center here) and his vigilant team leadership is too nuanced not to pick.
The Deputy can tag up to two enemies as targets, making them fully visible to his teammates (even through walls). Here's the catch: he can also remove those same tags from allies if they've been marked by an opposing Deputy. The juggling act of providing your team with built-in wallhacks while denying them from your enemy is key, giving the Deputy the power to control the flow of kills in a match without actually scoring them himself.
Fragtrap (Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel)
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel finally lets you play as everyone's favorite / most hated robot pal Claptrap. So how does one capture the essence of this delightfully / annoyingly chipper companion as a playable mercenary? Simple: by screwing with your teammates at every available opportunity. But in a productive way!
Claptr - sorry, Fragtrap's signature ability is VaultHunter.EXE, which lets you morph into different forms every 40 seconds (i.e. incredibly often). Thing is, the effects of this seemingly random transformation can also apply to your allies - and some are more disruptive than others. Your teammates might start cursing you out when they're suddenly bouncing around or uncontrollably firing off their entire clip in the middle of a heated firefight. That's when you shrug, wink, and sheepishly say "I was just trying to help!"
Oppressor (Enemy Territory: Quake Wars)
Despite all their freaky, incredibly invasive body modifications, the Strogg aren't so different from us. That's if Quake Wars is to be believed, since all the human classes have analogous counterparts on the Strogg side. Whereas the Global Defense Force has the Fields Ops role, a support class that can deploy turrets, call in airstrikes, and drop ammo for teammates, the Strogg can deploy the functionally identical Oppressor. Or rather, it would be identical if not for one crucial difference.
The Oppressor - great name for a cyborg alien soldier, by the way - isn't able to resupply his allies with extra ammo. Instead, he gets the ability to plant tactical shields around the map, creating temporary cover for his teammates where there was none before. In the hands of a tactical mastermind, the Oppressor's power to transform the battlefield by creating new chokepoints or offensive bulwarks makes him one of the most influential shooter classes ever created.
Imagine staring down an entire legion of Oddjobs. Now give them luscious beards. That's Shadowrun's Dwarfs in a nutshell - short in stature, but no less lethal for it. Instead of a class system, this cyberpunk shooter lets you pick a soldier from one of four races and equip them with whatever magic or tech you like. Succeeding as a Dwarf is a matter of tricky resource management: your spell-casting energy regenerates at a snail's pace, so you need to drain essence from your enemies - or leech off your teammates, oddly - to stay useful.
But here's the weirdest part: scoring a headshot on a Dwarf is meaningless, because unlike the other races, it won't inflict increased damage. As with the Necromorphs in Dead Space, defending yourself against these fighters goes against the cardinal rule you learned in every other shooter.
Pioneer (Halo 4)
Halo 4 doesn't have classes in the traditional sense, but it does have specialized loadouts. Once you've hit level 50 in the Spartan Rank progression system, you're given a choice from eight distinct classes, which have to be leveled up individually if you want their respective rewards. The most tasty carrots on this stick are the perk-like buffs you get for maxing out each class, but they also come with a spiffy suit of unique Spartan armor.
All of the Support Upgrade and Tactical Package rewards are functionally useful; Operators make vehicles more resilient, Rogues have steadier aim, and Wetwork operatives get quieter footsteps. But there's one oddball: Pioneer, the Neon Genesis Evangelion-looking commando you see above. His signature ability? Gain more XP after a match. That's it. In a group of specializations that provide tangible benefits during gameplay, the Pioneer offers you exactly nothing in the heat of a firefight. In essence, the Pioneer only exists to grant a perk that unlocks other, more useful classes slightly quicker.
Commander (Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad)
Typically, if your teammates are screaming that you're the one to blame for a loss, they're just a bunch of whiny babies who can't understand the concept of collaborative effort. But in the case of Red Orchestra 2, that blame-throwing might actually be appropriate. Like any real fighting force, teams in this WW2 shooter have a handful of Squad Leaders, but only one Commander. Playing as the Commander is a critical responsibility, since you and you alone have access to the Radio, a tool that facilitates airstrikes, aerial recon, and ally-respawning reinforcements.
Because RO2 servers support up to 64 players, that means you might have 31 other people relying on you to make the right calls. Your tactical insight - or idiocy - can lead your team to organized victory or disgraceful, discombobulated defeat. If you're not prepared to do some extensive voice-chatting, or take serious heat when you make a blunder, the Commander is certainly not the class for you.
Riot Control (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)
Unless you're a Call of Duty vet, you might be unfamiliar with the concept of TTK. Short for Time To Kill, it's the measure of any given weapon's lethality, reducing all that twitch shooting to cold, hard math. Being pro at CoD means obsessing over your TTK, since you want to be racking up headshots and calling in killstreaks as quickly as possible. That's what makes the Riot Shield such a strange, typically undesirable choice for your primary slot: it's a slow, clunky means of self-defense in a series that's all about frenzied killing.
And yet, the Riot Control loadout, which revolves around the use of the Riot Shield, is one of the preset builds provided in both Modern Warfare 2 and Ghosts. Seeing as Riot Control is presented to new players as one of a few default class options, it seems bizarre to promote a playstyle that runs counter to everything CoD stands for. Then again, the general public's unfamiliarity with how to fight against these shield-wielders could be the perfect edge.