Helldivers Review: What the hell man!?

Helldivers is the epitome of what an online co-op experience should be. It didn’t matter if I played online by literally dropping into a stranger’s game or on my couch with a couple good friends. I had an absolute blast.
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You're probably familiar with these controls...

Allow me to walk you through what exactly diving into hell entails. You have probably played a game like this before, it is a rather typical twin stick shooter. Move with the left, aim with the right stick. Pull one trigger to shoot and another to toss a grenade. If you have played any shooter in the last fifteen years, you’ll instinctively know how to play.

It is safe to say that Helldivers wears its influences like a badge of honor. The story is shades of Starship Troopers: You, fighting for Super Earth, freedom and liberty, against the endless hordes (including bugs). It all seems so derivative but that’s not to say that it's uninspired as a couple things set the game apart. 

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See those turrets? Bad idea.

The first thing is how deadly your mistakes become. Everything in this game can potentially kill both you and your teammates. Friendly fire is always on, without an option to turn it off. Call in some ammo and risk crushing your team with the airdrop, aim a grenade poorly and you’ll be picking up the pieces (of both your team and your friendship), or get too excited with that fancy new shotgun and your partners end up crumpled up in a pile.

Your teammates may be deadly, but your enemies are even more so. Three varieties of bad guys can be found in Helldivers; we’ve got bugs, cyborgs, and super high tech aliens. Each of these races is comprised of multiple units. The most deadly will only rear their heads in higher difficulties however.  If that sounds like science fiction’s greatest hits to you, you wouldn’t be wrong.

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Spawn killing taken to a whole new extreme.

From the onset you only have access to a basic assault rifle, hand grenades, and essential Stratagems, the game's title for ammo, turrets, and other pieces of equipment you can deploy. As you begin to earn XP, level up, and complete missions, you will obtain more interesting weapons and Stratagems. Weapon selection may seem underwhelming initially, but later weapons are more nuanced. The shotgun can easily eviscerate teammates and must be used with caution. A laser cannon can be used without limit or needing to reload; so long as you don’t make the weapon overheat.

The Stratagems system is the most standout aspect of your arsenal. To receive any type of support you must press the L1 button to pull out an 80’s style cell phone and basically input a 90’s era cheat code. All of your Stratagems are assigned a fixed d-pad button combo (which can be memorized for convenience). All take a specific length of time to activate once selected and most are beacons that are thrown much like grenades. Running out of ammo is a reality, and there is a surprising amount of strategy that emerges from proper Stratagem use.

The Stratagems become equally unique as well. Mech suits and 4-seater APCs can make traveling in snow or sand a breeze, but prove unwieldy in tight quarters. Massive airstrikes can decimate large groups of enemies or more massive monsters, but also run the risk of annihilating your entire team if poorly placed. Add in specialized items like anti-armor rockets, land mines, portable ammo boxes, and repair tools and you can build a highly effective killing machine. Beyond initially obtaining these weapons and stratagems, all can be upgraded using points found within missions. Needless to say, there is a cornucopia of carnage to be unlocked and mastered in repeat playthroughs.

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Real Helldivers know when not to walk.

Playing frequently isn’t going to be an issue either, even if you don’t have friends available to play locally. The online functions in Helldivers are expertly integrated and uniquely clever in some ways. The basics are still covered though. The pause menu can set your game to private, public and friends only, which allows you control of who you play with. Beyond that you can literally drop into anyone’s (publicly) open game, and I do mean literally. Just like with respawns, joining a game can carry potentially disastrous results. Every combination of local and online play is supported. 4 local, 4 online and anywhere in-between. All games, local or online, also feature super smooth drop in and drop out functionally as well.

Especially impressive was when I dropped from a local game to make a sandwich. Three online players joined and ran a mission with my friend while I ate. One of the newcomers bailed on the game and I was right back in with a single button press. This may not seem impressive but no menus were involved and it all occurred seamlessly without loading. While voice communication is recommended, it isn’t completely necessary thanks to a very basic emote/command system. A simple “move” is generally understood as “don’t get hit by my incoming junk”.

There is also a neat feature in which the entire community is working toward conquering the enemy’s home worlds. Upon starting back into the game, you are given an update as to the current state of the war. There are real-time feeds of how many allies have died, enemies have been killed and unfortunate team killings have occurred. To go along with this persistent war idea, there are occasional defense events in which players can participle, that are in a different settings than the usual missions.

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This map updates daily to inform players of the status of the ongoing war.

All said and done, Helldivers is an excellent co-op game (both online and off). It is impressively detailed for a top-down shooter. There are a plethora of missions to complete, weapons and equipment to acquire, teammates to save (or accidentally murder), and strategies to employ. Given the nature of the persistent war that the game is presenting, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a significant update with more content being added in the future. 

I found myself somewhat torn in the process of playing Helldivers and I feel the need to end my assessment of the game with this: I typically hate playing online with strangers. Helldivers is fun, hard, and chaotic. I recommend it immensely for local co-op games but the online functionality is exemplary (thus a suitable substitution for a room full of friends). I plan on revisiting Helldivers fairly frequently for quite a while longer.

The copy of Helldivers reviewed was purchased with personal funds for personal use.