On the surface, Helldivers is a twin stick, top down shooter – the sort of title that one might consider to be of the ‘when you’ve played one, you’ve played them all’ variety. Helldivers, however, is able to more than stand out from the pack. This is largely thanks to the fact that it has a great sense of humour and is laced with fabulous satire.
Arrowhead Game Studios have produced a game that has some biting political humour throughout. It starts as soon as the player learns that they are a ‘vital’ part of the defence of ‘Super Earth,’ part of a deliberately sanctimonious introductory expose which sets the tone with an undisguised disdain for all enemies. Helldivers isn’t trying to be subtle, it isn’t trying to keep its funnier moments flying under the radar. It is brash, outlandish and enjoyably trashy.
Platforms: PC, PS4, PS Vita
The influence of Starship Troopers is blatantly obvious but it doesn’t feel like a rip off. Instead it feels like tribute, unashamedly brimming with an over-the-top jingoistic tone. The hyper-zealous flag-waving is so entertainingly ridiculous because it is completely meaningless – just like the life of each and every soldier the player will send to the ends of the universe in defence of Super Earth, democracy, patriotism and whatever else those evil alien bugs might possibly threaten from their evil alien planets. Those aliens must be stopped, slaughtered and vanquished, and the player must do their part for the cause (whatever that cause might be).
Call in the troops.
The player is never encouraged to grow attached to the ‘squaddies’ controlled in combat. Part of the dark humour that Helldivers prides itself in is most evident in the game’s unflinchingly brutal friendly fire: it’s always on, it will almost certainly cause more than a few deaths (sometimes in the most ridiculous of ways). Indeed, the death of squaddies is often portrayed as a giant inconvenience, as you have to wait for the reinforcement respawn. The player can die from various environmental hazards, from being shot to pieces having accidentally wandered into a teammate’s line of fire, or from being flattened by a supply drop that got called in. This can frequently all take place before the enemy is even encountered – and of course, the enemy will hunt and kill relentlessly, too. Communication, therefore, is key.
Gameplay wise, it’s amusingly ironic that the most effective combat strategy will often directly contradict the chest-thumping propaganda spouted by Super Earth’s powers that be: usually running from a fight is the best way to survive each mission, as opposed to engaging the enemy. It is very easy to get quickly overwhelmed, should the player choose to hold their ground and fight.
As such, Helldivers’ ‘strategems’ are often the key to success. Strategems, just like supplies and reinforcements, are called in via D-Pad inputs. There’s a lot to choose from, especially once the player has ranked up, and both offensive and defensive options are available. However, only four can be equipped at once, so planning certain tactics in advance of dropping in to any mission is advisable.
A healthy amount of content is available to be unlocked via levelling up, including perks, weapons, upgrades and strategems. Alongside the open-ended nature of individual missions which encourage a variety of co-operative strategic approaches, Helldivers’ ever-present online world also provides a great opportunity for replay value.
The only downside to Helldivers is the obvious repetitiveness of the missions; something that quickly becomes apparent. This is a consequence of their randomly-generated nature but it can sometimes be a little frustrating.
The game is also quite difficult, but not to the point of being inaccessible. The design encourages strategy and co-operative play. If something fails then the player is encouraged to go back to the drawing board tactically and work it out with teammates. That said, playing solo does make the game much tougher.
Helldivers is held back from an even higher score by the fact that it is, ultimately, fairly isolating for the solo player. However, Arrowhead Game Studios have still created a wonderfully entertaining game here; one that performs best when its brilliant cooperative elements are fully embraced.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.