Helldivers is PS4’s latest, a brutal top-down twin-stick shooter that places you in the role of a space marine serving the mighty Super Earth! Super Earth, obnoxiously bigger in grandeur and populace than, say, “Earth”, finds itself fighting three different wars. On different galactic fronts you will fight bugs, cyborgs and illuminates (which are like robot thing-ys). And there is a reason the game is called Helldivers… Rapture awaits.
The game looks like Destiny and Dead Nation had a lovechild (hopefully it doesn’t inherit Peter Dinklage’s voice). Environments look passable to pretty at best. The character and creature animations are generally better, but the illuminate fall into the category of half-arsed generic robots. The soldier you guide, however, has a really sexy sci fi aesthetic. You really do “look the part”. In addition to this, all helldivers wear capes. Capes are dope.
But thankfully “looking the part” isn’t Helldivers’ sole focus. Gameplay is king. And the gameplay is a sophisticated mess of coordinated co-op and fast paced twitch action. You can play Helldivers alone, but it is really meant to be played with a team. I say team because not just any rabble is going to be sufficient to fight the oncoming space swarm. Working together to play specific roles and avoid friendly fire is integral. A shotgunner with a large spread should target hosts of smaller enemies, leaving the heavily armoured to friends with focussed rifle bursts, and at the same time anticipate his fire and avoid taking the head off his brothers in arms.
In any given scenario you are tasked with a bevy of different objectives: escort civilians from point A to point B, capture a flag, blow up an alien nest. These campaigns work in perfect unison with what makes Helldivers stand out: the innovative progression/inventory system “stratagems”. A stratagem is basically a tool you call down from orbit to assist you. These are unlocked by completing all missions on a given planet. Everything from turrets to jetpacks are available. You will need to punch in a button prompted code with your radio (which is harder than it sounds on a bullet-hell battlefield). If you need to make something explode, call in an airstrike. If your task is to protect a hangar, drop in some automated turrets (which can also kill you) to complement your already overzealously equipped foursome. The possibilities for dynamic gameplay solutions are endless. My favorite stratagems ended up being the mech suit and the four seating, turreted, four wheel drive vehicle.
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Besides a short Starship Troopers-esque animation that plays at the game’s introduction screen, and a tutorial that sees you trained in a recruitment camp, Helldivers doesn’t try to offer an in-depth storyline. The narrative it does tell highlights community participation. When a planet is cleared, “community influence” is awarded. Community influence simultaneously brings Super Earth closer to invading alien homeworlds and slows alien expansion upon our own homeworld. You can see the members of the community who have contributed the most to saving Super Earth. In this sense, leaderboards are cooperative with a competitive element.
Though the true goal in Helldivers is to reach level 25 and to unlock and fully upgrade everything, there is a sort of communal endgame. When your marines or the enemy aliens finally invade a homeworld, you are tasked with attacking or protecting that world. This mixes up gameplay, which might otherwise be too repetitive. The less alien environments of Super Earth are fun to navigate, and a sense of urgency will always drive you in these more desperate campaigns. If the community fails to win enough scenarios in the invasion, the war is over. The process then repeats itself as a new war begins—a circle of life.
Helldivers, in my mind, is the definitive installment in the twin-stick genre for the rising category of gamers who love to be punished. Without coordination, you will often die. With coordination, you will often die (albeit less). Stratagems make the battlefield feel alive as your Helldivers must adapt to the conditions and hopefully live on. The lack of narrative or AAA graphics, though a slight factor, does little to detract from the overall experience. Much like the PacMans and Galagas of old, Helldivers has exceptional core gameplay and style to spare.