I’m surrounded by a large group of deadly alien bugs. I’m low on ammo. I’m alone. It’s not looking good. Then luckily a support pod slams down near me. A random player steps out and begins shooting the bugs. We might get out of here. Then the new player who joined threw a grenade the wrong way and killed us both. This is Helldivers, it’s a ton of fun. You will die a lot. It’s still fun.
Helldivers is a top down co-op shooter. At least that’s the simplest and most boring way to describe Helldivers.
What Helldivers ACTUALLY is, and what got me excited about it, is that Helldivers is a Starship Troopers game. Maybe not legally. But the presentation is very similar.
Helldivers are soldiers who protect Super Earth. Everything they do is right and framed in a way to make Super Earth and the Helldivers seem more like diplomatic badasses as opposed to walking murder machines. The Helldivers themselves even yell out things like “Have some Democracy!” or “Do you like the taste of Freedom!” when they are killing and blowing up their enemies. This is a game that has its tongue firmly stuck in its cheek.
A parody of patriotism and imperialism, Helldivers does a good job making you laugh or chuckle. But it never got to a level of annoying or pushing too hard. The jokes and satire are there if you want, but most can be skipped, ignored or go unnoticed.
What can’t be ignored is how much fun Helldivers is to play. The basic gameplay is you along with up to three other Helldivers land on a planet and try to complete a list of objectives before calling in a shuttle and getting the hell out of there. As you try and finish your objectives you will face a large number of enemies. The Bugs are the easiest and will tend to swarm you or use their more powerful and bigger units to destroy your turrets. The Cyborgs are harder and have more varied units. They will try to not only swarm you but will also use armored units that take more powerful weaponry to defeat, weapons you might not always have. Finally, there is the Illuminates. These aliens are strange and very powerful. They move fast and have snipers who can shoot you from off screen. They also have a strong enemy who can mind control you and make you run into directions you don’t want to. Which can be a very bad thing.
That’s because in Helldivers everything can kill you. Your friends, the enemy grunts, shuttle landings, supply pods, turrets, vehicles, melee attacks and more. You never feel truly safe in the game. Even with three other players I felt like I was barely surviving. It demands your full attention and if you lose focus for just a second you could kill yourself or even your whole team.
Luckily, Helldivers does a lot to make sure you can at least try and work together. The screen always shows all players. Try to separate too much and you will find yourself at the edge of the screen, afraid of what you can’t see. This design choice means that at all times you can see everyone and know where they are, even if they don’t have a mic. The game also lets you give some basic commands and whenever you look at the map or call a support drop in the other players can easily see this. It lets you work together regardless if you have a mic or not. Though having verbal communication is a great advantage, it is not needed to enjoy Helldivers.
The final piece of the Helldivers formula is stratagems. These are basically support drops that you can call in via a series of d-pad inputs, like up, down, down, right, left. These stratagems can be turrets, ammo, mechs, respawns or even drones. Using a nice variety of stratagems is key to making though some harder sections of the game. Having a mech or two, along with a scouting drone and large gatling gun can make life a whole lot easier as a Helldiver. But you always have to be careful. When the support pods land they do so with a violent amount of speed and can easily kill your teammates or blowup any gear in the area.
Helldivers gives you the tools for success, but those tools can quickly kill you or your team.
In between missions you can upgrade weapons and gear, making them more powerful or faster etc. These upgrades never felt like a huge part of game, but I enjoyed the added level of customization. Attaching a bayonet to my rifle allowed me to melee faster and with more range, which was helpful when I was swarmed by a group of bugs.
As well as upgrading weapons between missions you can also check out a large galactic map. This map shows you the different areas and planets under your control and which ones need to be shown some more democracy. This larger meta game of everyone working towards one large goal made each mission feel more important and I was always excited to see what had happened since I had last logged in. When I saw that we had defeated the bugs and wiped out their homeworld I was excited that I had been a part of that. But also nervous as it meant I would have to take on even harder Cyborg and Illuminate missions.
The only real issue I have had with Helldivers is some wonky online issues. Sometimes I can't join a friend's game and sometimes I can't even see if they are playing. I also ran into a few framerate drop, which was disappointing. But they never caused me to die or make a mistake. There was also an issue where if your controller died you could lose all your progress. THAT is a bit crazy and it has been fixed. Still that doesn't excuse it. Luckily I never had that happen to me, but in 2015 that seems like a ridiculous thing to overlook.
Helldivers is great game. Playing with three friends or with a few strangers, I was always having fun. The amount of ways that you can die and how easy it can happen means that you are always alert and every small success feels earned. Every victory feels hard fought and every loss feels deserved. The story and world of Helldivers is funny and seems like a great setup for this type of harsh and deadly co-op shooter.
I had a fantastic time with Helldivers. Spreading democracy one bullet at a time and accidentally crushing friends until late in the night. If you have a PS4 you should check out this game.
Come help us protect Super Earth.