With the red-hot popularity of recent hits like Apex Legends and the continued success of Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege, hero shooters have effectively evolved the concept of the class-based shooter. Giving everyone a unique ability and toolkit, letting them specialize their playstyle within the larger framework of 'kill your enemies on sight,' has always been a powerful motivator to master your favorite shooter. Beyond a hero or classes' look or personality, their design can completely alter the flow of a firefight and open up all kinds of strategic possibilities that make both you and your enemies rethink the best approach.
As with the most unique RPG classes, I'm always 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 flair. These one-of-a-kind heroes and classes defy the conventions we've come to expect in shooters, and their presence is a boon to anyone who's ever wanted some invigorating variety in their running-and-gunning experience. With respects to Lawbreakers, Paladins, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, and yes, even Battleborn, none of their heroes made the cut - so let's see who did.
Bloodhound (Apex Legends)
The 'technological tracker' of Respawn's battle royale FPS, Bloodhound's ability to track down enemies in the giant expanses of King's Canyon is invaluable to your squad's survival. In a game like Apex Legends, where team communication is made so much easier by the ingenious ping system, it still takes some expertise to properly convey the information that only Bloodhound and their raven familiar can see. Calling out an enemy's fresh footprints or relaying nearby items picked up by a sweep from your Eye of the Allfather ability can decide the outcome of an ambush before it's even begun. Bloodhound also has the rare distinction of being a non-binary human character, and that kind of inclusion can go a very long way in such a popular, thriving FPS.
If you told someone in a pre-Overwatch world that you specialized as a support sniper, they would've scoffed at such a mismatched role. But Ana's ally-healing, enemy-damaging Biotic Rifle, paired with her excellent set of life-preserving abilities, make her the sniper healer dream come true. Whereas most healing classes have a symbiotic relationship with the frontline forces, sticking to them wherever they go and always being targeted as a result, Ana can be just as effective when offering backup while hiding at a distance in a role that rewards precision aim like few support classes can. When enemies do get in close, Ana players are again rewarded for sharp reflexes with a shot of her stunning Sleep Dart. And with the team-buffing powers of Ana's Biotic Grenades and Nano Boost ultimate, she's just as useful for all-in pushes as any classic support archetype.
Slash (Quake Champions)
It's amazing that, in a series known for its kinetic movement and brutally fast pace, Slash still stands out for her unique ability to dart around the map like a bolt of anarchic lightning. Quake Champions' resident rollerblader uses her futuristic skates to cruise around at extremely high speeds, using a technique called the 'crouch slide' that has entire tutorials and guides dedicated to learning it. This method of sliding is actually a recreation of the dominant movement technique in Quake 4's multiplayer, so in essence, Slash is a crystallized version of a metagame from a completely different era in shooting. Her Plasma Trail ultimate ability further rewards those with a knack for crouch sliding by leaving a damaging energy stream in her way, so you can literally kill opponents by running circles around them.
Mira (Rainbow Six Siege)
Rainbow Six Siege is one of the most strategic, lethal shooters out there, where planning your team's approach to Attack and Defense is critical. And in a game where map knowledge is essential, Mira is an Operator who can force her opponents to completely rethink or abandon their plans. Her Black Mirror gadget, which can embed a one-way mirror into any wall, alters the flow of a map even if Mira herself isn't around. As soon as an enemy spots it, they have to assume that someone's watching them from behind that mysterious mirror, ready to blast them through when they get close. But counterplay is entirely possible, as the presence of a Black Mirror wall gives away that position as a key chokepoint relative to the objective, and enemies that get behind the frontlines can use that same wall as cover to against Mira and her allies. It's an amazingly well-balanced and map-altering ability that's unlike anything else in shooters.
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.
Evolve requires you to bring a Medic along in your hunting party, and Lazarus is by far the strangest of the bunch. 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 rather than providing direct, continuous support. He'll gladly watch you get mauled to death, but only with the team's best interests at heart.
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. 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, as 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 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 a highly influential role.
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.
Stay frosty - 10 more unique shooter classes await you on the next page!