Before starting this list, I don’t think I have thought about third-person shooters much as being that important to my gaming experience. I had written them off as being all the same for the most part. I honestly don’t know what gave me that impression because this list is even more varied than the top ten first-person shooters list that I did a few months ago.
Third-person shooters have quite a few heavy hitters and a few franchises that I had begun to forget existed (and there’s some that I love that couldn’t even make this list). The third-person view is often criticized by some people as being less immersive, but it allows for the player to experience much grander displays of action around them without having to necessarily take control away from the player.
It’s a trade-off, but there is a reason that a lot of the best action games of the past decade are third person. With that, let’s take a look at the top ten third-person shooters.
Resident Evil 4
Good old Resident Evil 4. It revolutionized not only its franchise but third-person shooters as a whole and is still cited as the inspiration for games today (including a few on this list). One of the only games from the early 2000s that can still make me both terrified and exhilarated to return to.
From the moment you step within the village’s property line, things go from 0 to 100 as you are attacked by a mob of enemies and a chainsaw-wielding maniac.
The game has its quiet moments, but the tension never fades as you wait for the next attack. It always amazed me how little grasp I had on the speed of the enemies too. Look away for one moment, and they seem to have closed the gap between you and them in the blink of an eye. It always made me keep my eyes trained on them less I get my ankles chewed off.
Splinter Cell: Conviction
I was blown away by Conviction when it was first released. I loved the stealth mechanics and the use of black and white to help show the player they were hidden. Before this game, I always thought of stealth elements in games as slow and meandering as you wait to learn enemy patterns and sneak up beside them.
Conviction ditches that philosophy and has you taking out enemies from vents as quickly as you can pull the trigger. It allows you to be as stealthy and quick as you want (or have the skill to be). Plus, I really like the projected objectives and flashbacks that coat the environments in the story.
It always felt like Sam was so focused on his thoughts that they were bleeding into the world (though I don’t know if that was the developer’s intention).
Dead Space 2
I think Dead Space 1 is the best when it comes to the horror elements and storytelling, but Dead Space 2 perfected the combat of the series.
While the actual weapons stay mostly the same with a few fun inclusions, it’s the enemy AI and environments that make this title stand above its predecessor in its alien slaying combat. New enemies such as The Pack and Lurkers will require the player to keep their head on a swivel, waiting for which corner the next enemy will pop from.
Even old foes prove themselves to be just as challenging as before by being slightly more resilient and dynamic in their movements. The environments, which look absolutely beautiful, make the player turn in circles as they move – checking every corner and keeping a work light held up with telekineses, ready for any moving shadows.
Just Cause 3
The Just Cause series is known for big explosions and a grappling hook that make you feel like you are Spider-Man in a Fast and Furious movie. Over the series, the games have built an incredibly fun sandbox to traverse and reak havoc on unsuspecting dictators and leaders.
However, I think the series hit a high point in Just Cause 3 with improved movement options and an expanded arsenal of weapons and vehicles.
The wingsuit combined with the grapple hook effectively makes you able to fly around the map without much trouble, but aerial vehicles are still a ton of fun to use. It’s just great fun, and creating your own action scenes never gets old.
While Sam Fisher’s idea of stealth is a brutal slaughter, Agent 47’s is a little more elegant. HItman gives the player full command to plan out their approach to a situation.
While there are guns in the game, the best way to navigate a government dinner is by sneaking into the kitchen, knocking out the chef, stealing his clothes, and poisoning the main dish.
Its creative approaches like that where Agent 47 doesn’t even need to draw his weapon that make it such an enduring classic and one that is always fun to return to no matter how many times you play it. There is always another way to approach a scenario and that is almost a challenge in itself. How many different ways can I beat this particular contract? It’s extremely gratifying when everything goes according to plan.
Red Dead Redemption
Red Dead Redemption completely surprised the gaming world by making 1800s America fun. John Marston was incredibly likable, and it was easy to fall in with his humble wishes of wanting to rid himself of the past and live on a farm with his family. However, the past isn’t so easily shaken.
Marston will travel across the Wild West on trains, horses, and carriages, showcasing his proficiency with an assortment of guns appropriate for the period.
The shootouts can be pretty memorable as you duck under cover and hear the ping of bullets all around you, popping up every now and then to get a few quick shots in before running to a better vantage point. Red Dead made Westerns cool again, and that’s a feat in and of itself.
Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops: The Line is one of the most impactful shooters of the last decade. Unlike some of the mainstream games out there, Spec Ops makes the player think about the decisions they are making in the heat of battle. What are you really fighting for, and is it worth it? The characters are complicated, and the scenarios are tragic.
While it might seem like any other shooter out of the gate, this is simply to lure you in before it subverts your expectations.
The combat is frenzied, and the AI won’t give you much time for a breather. The only terrible thing about this game is that we will probably never get more of it.
Gears of War
Gears of War redefined what a third-person shooter should be with its snap-to-cover mechanic. It made the combat feel so much more responsive, and while the thousands of knee-high walls in these worlds can be a bit funny at this point, it’s still a really great way to design a cover system.
From the iconic lancer with its chainsaw bayonet to the more eccentric weapons like the torque bow, there are a lot of interesting weapons that help to define Gears’ sandbox.
Not to mention the incredible cast of characters from Delta squad to the infamous enemies like General Raam. One of Gears’ greatest strengths was how it built its world and really made you feel like you were Humanity’s last hope against this mysterious enemy.
There are few games that I can honestly say are underrated, and Vanquish is one of them. This PlatinumGames classic is one of the fastest shooters that I have ever played, with tons of stuff happening on the screen all at once.
While it has a traditional cover system like most of these games, it’s the movement that sets Vanquish so far apart from its peers.
The sliding mechanic allows the player to zip around the map to other vantage points. It feels so good to participate in the combat in this game, more so than almost any other shooter that I have ever played. When I beat this game the first time on the hardest difficulty, I needed to sit back for like 10 minutes and breathe. It was such an intense experience.
I’ve said it once, and I will say it again: Sunset Overdrive is one of the most underrated games of the last generation. While some of the pop culture references are beginning to become lost to time, the combat is fast and still a lot of fun.
Each new weapon that I found made me smile both by their outrageous designs but also how they subtly changed how I approached my own combat style.
The range of enemies combined with the parkour and superhuman abilities of the protagonist make this a game where it’s pure fun to engage in combat. Every moment is a joy, and it’s only made better by a quirky cast of characters that cheer from the sidelines as you cause explosions of guts and energy drinks.
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