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20 shooter classes that defy classification

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 whiners who can't understand the concept of collaborative effort. But in the case of Red Orchestra 2, that blame-throwing might actually have some merit. 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, as 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 blundering) 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 wrong move, 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. COD experts obsess over TTK, as 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.

Civilian (Team Fortress Classic)

Meet the mysterious tenth class in the Team Fortress universe. Shooters often include modes where you escort an objective - typically an NPC hostage, or some kind of explosive payload - from point A to point B. But when playing as the Civilian, you are the objective. Caught between a team of Assassins that want to snipe your head off and the Bodyguards attempting to protect you, the outcome of each round in VIP mode hinges directly on whether you live or die. It's the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for players that love being the center of attention - though you won't be doing much shooting yourself, given that the Civilian's only weapon is a plain old umbrella. Will you dazzle everyone on the server by bunny-hopping straight to safety (opens in new tab)? Or will you singlehandedly unbalance the entire game mode by utterly failing at self-preservation? That's really for you to decide.

MAX (PlanetSide 2)

Though this class title reads like a kindergartener proudly writing his name for the first time, it's actually an acronym for Mechanized Assault Exo-suit. Even though you can't deploy as a MAX right from the get-go, it has its own set of customizations to unlock and intricacies to learn just like any other class. For starters, there's no aiming down your sights - the MAX has two giant guns for arms, so pinpoint targeting isn't really an option. You also have to decide if you want to be built to counter infantry, aircraft, or ground vehicles, which presents an interesting quandary. Do you spec yourself to be a godsend in one type of scenario but useless in others? Or do you go with a more adaptable loadout that can deal with anything but excels at nothing? Whatever you go with better be good, since you're spending precious resources every time you don this robo-suit.

Astrek Recluse (Firefall)

If you've ever wanted to play as a perpetually farting mercenary in a class-based shooter, you might've missed your chance if you didn't play the now-deceased Firefall. Everything about the Astrek Recluse brings flatulence to mind, given that this advanced Biotech battleframe (read: subclass) is defined by its use of noxious gas. Biological warfare isn't funny, but watching your souped-up soldier vault away from enemies with a blast of greenish-brown gas really, really is (that move was called Evacuate, by the way). Maybe I'm just immature as all hell, but I would relish every opportunity to brag about killing my enemies when they caught a whiff of my Creeping Death. And not every shooter lets you combat the opposition by creating a whirling tornado of toxic air (opens in new tab) around yourself.

Juggernaut (Tribes: Ascend)

In a game like Tribes, where everyone's soaring around the map like majestic eagles, the Juggernaut feels about as mobile as an overfed pig. But when you pack this kind of heavy firepower, you don't need to be fast. The Juggernaut's Fusion Mortar launches devastating explosive rounds, letting you bombard the enemy base until the flag runners come home. Once you're able to accurately judge the giant arc of your shot, you'll be a one-man airstrike on any stationary fortification. But the true beauty of the Juggernaut class is that moment when an enemy zooms by, and you reflexively launch a fiery emerald mortar bomb over the crest of a nearby hill - not where your prey is now, but where they will be in a few seconds. You'll probably be too far away to even see the resulting kill, but it's as joyous as shooting a swish from half court, or that long-bomb snowball throw from Elf. (opens in new tab)

Wascot (Super Monday Night Combat)

Wascot's the evil doppelganger of Monday Night Combat's smiley mascot Bullseye, and my absolute favorite class from this criminally underplayed shooter. His backstory is perfect: Wascot's an obsessed fan who both adores and wants to murder the foam-headed hypeman of this futuristic bloodsport. But besides his deranged motives, Wascot's playstyle is an absurdly unique take on close-quarters, hit-and-run tactics in shooters. Getting in someone's face is easy thanks to Wascot's Crook Hook, which yanks him directly to his stunned target - and if anyone tries to throw you, activating Shifty Shuffle will automatically counter them (and give you some lifesteal to boot). Instead of killing players directly, Wascot's primary Coin Launcher weapon shoots damaging doubloons that enemies will foolishly try to collect - it's an ingenious take on Mario Kart's decoy item boxes.

Droideka (Star Wars: Battlefront 2)

You probably recognize these pillbug-like automatons from The Phantom Menace, where their firepower was enough to make even trained Jedi run away with their lightsabers between their legs (pretty dangerous, if you ask me). They're called Droidekas, and they're an exclusive asset to the Confederacy of Independent Systems in the old-school Battlefront's massive multiplayer shootouts. It's what you would get if you took a durable, stationary turret, then gave it the power to zip around in spherical form like AiAi from Super Monkey Ball. Anyone foolish enough to stand in your way will be gunned down instantly by your dual laser blasters, and your personal shield emitter gives you the ability to act as a slow-moving blockade. But the trick is knowing where you're needed most, because once you've switched forms, you're pretty much committed until your targets are eradicated or you're a scrap heap on the ground. Overwatch's Wrecking Ball (aka Hammond) owes the Droideka class a great debt.

Everything (Warframe)

Do you play Destiny 2 (opens in new tab) and love the distinct abilities and exclusive armor types worn by your Guardian? Then you absolutely have to try Warframe, because its rich, exotic flavors of player classes make Destiny's trio look like lukewarm vanilla ice cream. Each of the collectible, craftable Warframes acts as both your armor type and your spell selection, and they're all gloriously unique in both form and function. No matter which Warframe suits your fancy, they're all quite capable of excelling in the missions, though by very different means. Maybe you want to teleport around as the backstabbing Ash, zap targets with weaponized lightning as Volt, become a killer sci-fi airbender as Zephyr, or misdirect enemies with clone decoys as Loki. To me, the over-50-and-counting classes feel like rare jewels in a sea of shooter stereotypes. It might cost you a small fortune or years of dedication to unlock them all, but you don't have to play every last Warframe to appreciate their invigorating originality.

If you're looking for more atypical designs that defy normal archetypes, check out these 16 RPG classes that defy classification (opens in new tab).

Lucas Sullivan
Lucas Sullivan

Lucas Sullivan is the former US Managing Editor of GamesRadar+. Lucas spent seven years working for GR, starting as an Associate Editor in 2012 before climbing the ranks. He left us in 2019 to pursue a career path on the other side of the fence, joining 2K Games as a Global Content Manager. Lucas doesn't get to write about games like Borderlands and Mafia anymore, but he does get to help make and market them.