September 2016 Update: We’ve added quite a bit more games to this list and moved some things around. Check it out.
3rd person shooter games aren’t as numerous as their first person counterparts, but they remain no less visceral despite the detachment from the character’s point of view. If anything, the third person viewpoint lends more familiarity to the characters under your control—by giving you a tangible character with whom to relate.
In a third person shooter, you see your character from over the shoulder, directing their movement from a viewpoint outside of their own. The perspective allows players to have a full view of the character’s surroundings and works particularly well for games in which stealth is a key element, and any game with climbing or platforming. It’s a lot less disorienting to watch a character scale a wall from behind than it is to view something like that in first person, where all you can see is the wall directly in front of you.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the greatest games in the third person shooter genre of all time.
Upcoming: Crackdown 3
Crackdown 3 promises to be everything the previous game in the series wasn’t. It offers fully destructible environments and devastation on a level like no other game before it. Entire structures can come collapsing down in a way that we haven’t seen since Red Faction Guerrilla, which is also further up on this list.
2016 Entry: Mafia 3
Take on the role of a Vietnam war veteran, who returns from the war only to find his hometown of New Bordeaux in control of the mob, as he picks up a gun and rises through the ranks of his own “family,” eradicating all of the gangsters in his way and plunging the city into the worst chaos it’s ever seen.
2016 Entry: Gears of War 4
Gears of War 4 is the fourth main installment of the series. Rod Fergusson, head of The Coalition, has stated that Gears of War 4 will take players back to the feeling and tone of the original Gears of War video game. Developers are also playing around with a more morally ambiguous narrative where the world in Gears of War 4 isn’t just black and white. Choices will be available allowing players to decide their own interpretations of right and wrong. Gamers can get their hands on Gears of War 4 sometime during the holiday season of 2016.
2016 Entry: Quantum Break
Quantum Break by development team Remedy Entertainment is part third-person shooter and part live-action series. The story of Quantum Break revolves around a fictional university within the United States. After a time travel experiment goes awry three present witnesses become stricken with time manipulating abilities. Their abilities provide them with The Matrix-like bullet time. We think it looks neat.
2016 Entry: Tom Clancy’s The Division
Tom Clancy’s The Division from Ubisoft is promising to take the third person shooter genre to new heights by introducing MMO role-playing game mechanics into the whole set up, in very much the same way how Bungie and Activision’s Destiny did so with the FPS genre. As an online RPG and third person shooter, The Division promises high octane gun battles and a leveling system that’ll encourage players to invest their time in their characters while playing online with friends.
Ghost Recon Future Soldier
The Tom Clancy gaming series has a problem and that problem is called “Call of Duty” who successfully out-Tom-Clancy’d Tom Clancy. With Future Soldier, Ubisoft is trying their best to get back at the big guns from Activision, and well they do manage to get closer at least. Future Soldier is a solid squad based military shooter that has a little simulation aroma added for taste without being too heavy on it really.
It works quite well though. Sneak towards the enemy positions, scout out the area ahead with an UAV drone, mark enemies and overwhelm them quickly without a big firefight. It’s a surprisingly well working formula most of the time. Also it’s a pretty game with a lot of different environments and the obligatory russian extremists that want to re-ignite the cold war. Every military action game seems to need those these days, though I hear the new trend goes towards South American tyrants in the coming season.
Well look what the cat dragged in. Lara Croft. Long time no see. Well actually that’s not true, there were a lot of Tomb Raider games over the years. This one is just the first that goes for a full makeover and oh my what a makeover that is. The new Tomb Raider is structurally more reminiscent of Batman’s first stint at Arkham, as in that there is a relatively large, relatively open environment of which new sections can be explored with new gear. Also this game is rightly featured as a third person shooter, because that’s most of what Lara does now. Shooting dudes with bow and arrow.
And she’s very good at it, the game is a great reinterpretation of what Tomb Raider can be. There could have been a few more actual tombs to raid, but let’s not get picky. It’s one of the best games of last year, and also the best selling Tomb Raider game to date. The latter of which is of course no indicator of inherent quality, but it is a really fun third person manshoot. With not a single endangered animal harmed this time around.
Saints Row 4
The antithesis to last year’s uber epic GTA entry was Saints Row 4. Where Rockstar takes their series closer and closer to interactive movies, Volition takes the things that GTA lacks mostly, namely every mechanical video game trope ever invented, and put them into their games.
Sadly the character customization is no longer quite as powerful as it was with Saints Row 2. But still it’s quite a lot of fun to create your gangster. Also the head of the Saints is now the President of the United States. Until aliens arrive and abduct the president with all staff and trap everyone in a virtual world and uh yeah the story is irrelevant, it’s all about gameplay. Open world superheroic gangster goodness. This is the proper sequel that Crackdown never got, and that is damn high praise coming from me.
Shooting faceless dudes in the face gets old quick, which is why Binary Domain pits the player against faceless robots to shoot. Many many faceless robots to shoot in their faceless metal faceplates. It’s a great game with great shooting and very satisfying scrap metal simulation mechanics where you can shoot the robots figuratively to bits.
Tactical dismemberment is the name of the game. Shoot their legs of, and they slowly crawl towards you. Shoot their heads off, and they start shooting each other. Oh and the story is also pretty neat, there’s a French gentleman robot sidekick and huge bossfights and nothing that’s not to like really.
Max Payne 3
Poor Max. Lost in Brazil where few people speak his language, he’s tasked with protecting a rich guys daughter and fails terribly and then does what he does best. Hitting the bottle hard. And then what he does second best: Going on a big ass rampage all through beautiful Sao Paolo.
What makes Max Payne 3 interesting is the stunning presentation. Rockstar outdid themselves with detailed environments and sound design, the soundtrack by LA indie noise band “Health” is spot on and the number of bullets zipping through the air still puts all John Woo movies to shame. While the mechanics can feel a bit outdated at times, it is still a perfect modern addition to the venerated series.
Released in 1999 on the Sony Playstation, many will tell you that Syphon Filter is their favorite game of all-time. While it is labeled as a stealth game, the actual ‘stealth’ part of it seems to fall to the wayside as the action starts to take over throughout the course of the game.
Red Faction: Guerrilla
Guerrilla is on this list for two reasons: Bringing destructibility and absolute fun to consoles. ‘Strategic destruction’ is what sets this game apart; Being able to put explosives in one part of a building and watch it crumble because of your expert placement is more fun than you know. Oh – The story is good too. Hah.
One of the few launch titles that the Playstation 3 can say it had, Warhawk was a multiplayer-only fragfest. Anyone who tells you they have picked up a controller, played this game with three other people, and not had a marginally good time is lying – right through their teeth.
Lost Planet: Extreme Condition
The first of the series, Extreme Condition did not score that impressively from a critical standpoint; However, that did not stop it from selling a large amount of copies and delivering one of the more visceral experiences on platforms to date. Not only was the combat fast-paced and action-oriented, but the graphics were above par for its time.
Players take on the role of Aiden Pierce in the story of Watch Dogs. Set in the near future and in the city of Chicago, Watch Dogs is a story about a highly skilled ‘grey hat’ hacker who can hack into any device within the city, taking hold of the entire city’s infrastructure, and using it to his own ends to perform vigilante actions and stop the criminal element that hurt his family.
SOCOM: 2 U.S. Navy Seals
Perhaps one of the most innovative games on this list, SOCOM 2 brought use of the headset to single player and in essence – to multiplayer as well. Issuing commands through the headset and not having to interface with the controller created a new level of immersion between gamer and game. While the first game did all of this as well, the second did it all better.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter
Advanced Warfighter ushered in a new era of video games in and of itself. Raising the bar far above its competitions’ heads, this game was and will always be seen as Tom Clancy’s medal among medals. Since then, the franchise has evolved into one of the largest in the industry.
Another game held in the lineage of John Woo, 2007 saw the return of what we thought was a dying breed: Bullet-time shooters. Endless amounts of enemies, bullet-time power, and gunplay all attribute to why this game is simply too fun to be ignored. Next generation technology plus slow-motion bullets equal an awesome experience.
Jet Force Gemini
Jet Force Gemini was released back in 1999 on the Nintendo 64. With its release the spark igniting third-person shooters into mainstream media was created. While not as popular as Rare’s other games of the era, Jet Force Gemini did just as much for the industry as games like Banjo Kazooie or Goldeneye 007.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
While there are two predecessors to this third installment in the series, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory was the iteration that pushed the franchise into international acclaim. With an almost unbelievable amount of positive reviews and innovation of the stealth genre in nearly every aspect backing it, this game will go down in history as one of the very best.
Though more of a third-person martial arts game than an actual shooter, this action game belongs on this list namely because it’s just that good, and there was nowhere else to put it . The game puts you in the role of Shen, an undercover cop gone rogue criminal agent who rises through the ranks of the Triads as he takes down the Chinese mob.
Just Cause 2
Developed by Avalanche Studios, Just Cause 2 is an open world third person shooter in which players take on the role of Rico Rodriguez, a super secret agent with an arsenal of gadgets and weapons at his disposal. His mission is to take out the dictator of a fictional South East Asian island nation and blow up a whole mess of things while he’s at it.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica
Resident Evil: Code Veronica went above and beyond what fans came to expect from the RE series. Set after the events of Resident Evil 2, Code Veronica centers on the story of Claire Redfield, who continues her search for her missing brother, Chris. It is arguably one of the best titles in the RE series, thanks to its logical puzzles and polished gameplay.
Code Veronica flew under the radar of many gamers due to its release on the Dreamcast. Thankfully, the game has since been re-released XBLA and PSN.
Gears of War
If you haven’t heard of Gears by now you have probably been living under a rock. Possibly one of the most controversial titles to be released this generation, Cliff Bleszinski and his band of cohorts at Epic Games have made sure to deliver us one of the most gory, primal, and satisfyingly brutal games to ever hit the market.
When Dead Space was first announced, many did not give it a second look; upon its release however, it turned the horror genre on its head and made everybody ask themselves the question, “What is scary in video games?” While it still suffered from the tank controls synonymous with horror games, the problem was to a much lesser degree than other games.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas
Vegas was considered by many to be a first-person shooter inside a third-person shooter’s body. However, this is not a bad thing; Vegas gave us some of the most engaging third-person gameplay the industry had ever seen. This game is one of the many reasons Tom Clancy still reigns supreme in squad-based military shooters.
Tomb Raider (Original)
While cited for having some minor technical issues, the ways in which this game revolutionized gaming are abundant. In 1996 graphics like this were unheard of, female leads were scarce, and no one had mixed 3D platforming with fun gunplay.
Resident Evil 4
Coming in off an already strong fan base, Resident Evil 4 pleased its then current following and gained popularity with others. While it was criticized by some for the ‘tank controls’, as they have come to be known, the review consensus for the fourth iteration was largely positive.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Don the mantle of the world’s greatest adventuress, Lara Croft, once again, as she seeks to uncover her father’s secrets and discover the ancient relics held deep within the mountainous Caucasus region, where old Soviet bases lie. With a mercenary group hot on her heels, Lara must ensure that they don’t find what she’s looking for, first.
Awesome for a number of reasons, Max Payne could have not been released at a better time. With its emphasis being on bullet-time fighting, the fact that it nailed the formula better than any game to date, and that The Matrix franchise was at an all-time high all contribute to the game’s success.
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
This game was the first out of few to nail the stealth-action category in third-person shooters. Beautifully animated with a great story, this game deserves all the praise it can get. Plus, ‘47’ was a cool change of pace from the bashing of James Bond we were receiving in 2002.
Nathan Drake’s story comes to an explosive conclusion as he reunites with his older brother and uncovers the treasures of the lost pirate colony of Libertalia, the quest that set him on his path to becoming one of the world’s greatest adventurers.
Grand Theft Auto 3
While many would argue that Vice City should be in this spot, the third installment of the series is where it really began to take off. Being the first 3D iteration of the franchise, groundbreaking new sandbox tools, and its breaking of the mold in terms of what is and what isn’t right in video games all contribute to its high status on this list.
The latest iteration of the Hitman series is better than all the previous titles combined. With new-gen graphics and gameplay options that fans requested in each subsequent new version of the franchise, the latest Hitman is everything a would-be digital assasssin could ask for.
Red Dead Redemption
Perhaps the strongest example of classic storyboard work, Red Dead Redemption tells the story of John Marston, a man on the hunt for his wife. With plenty of plot twists, and gameplay that is simply astounding, there is no reason this game should not have won Spike’s annual Game of the Year award for 2010.
Grand Theft Auto V
Three main protagonists, three times the fun. Rockstar’s fifth main installation to the series introduces seamless transitions between three main characters that allow the player to constantly stay in the midst of the action. Also there is everything else you’d expect from a GTA game. Heists, gunfights, fighter jets, the stockmarket, a colorful cast of characters and much more.
Also there is a multiplayer mode powerful enough to provide electricity to a small developing country. And of course the main story which is epic and tragic and funny as ever. And way too much to do, and nobody I know has ever finished it. Or if they say so I refuse to believe them. Whoever finishes GTA games anyway?
Mass Effect 2
The second entry to the wildly popular Mass Effect franchise, this game scooped up Game of the Year awards across the board and scored perfectly at a majority of media outlets. Most often cited for bringing action-packed shooting mechanics to the RPG realm, Mass Effect 2 is a true revolutionary in the gaming world.
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
The end to Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece, MGS4 tied up all the loose ends of the series as well as giving us the strongest iteration of the series to date. While the game received some flak for its focus on cinematics, the amount of gameplay still amounted to a good eight hours – eight hours anyone who has played the game will never forget.
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
MGS V: The Phantom Pain is the fifth main entry in the long-running Metal Gear Solid series of games by Hideo Kojima. The fifth game puts players in the shoes of the Big Boss as he wakes up from a nine-year coma in 1984 to investigate a paramilitary organization known as XOF. It’s the first open-world title in the series, and Kojima’s final contribution to Konami.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Why is this game at the top of the list? Because Nathan Drake and his adventures have given the industry more than just an all-star gameplay experience; He’s given it the definitive cinematic experience as well. From battles held on mobile trains to trekking the Himalayan Mountains, Uncharted 2 never fails to amaze the player.