Helldivers Review: Super Earth Needs You!

Helldivers review
out of 5

Calling all able-bodied citizens. The universe just got smaller and settlements are being attacked and overrun by bugs, cyborgs and the celestial-like Illuminates. Pick up a weapon, go through the training, and join the fight as a Helldiver!

Helldivers, from developer Arrowhead and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, is a top-down, twin stick shooter exclusively for the PlayStation family of game systems. All of them. The cross-play feature allows for players to play together via the PSN, no matter which PlayStation they are on. Even the Vita.

Helldivers War

Helldivers borrows it’s story from Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (both the classic novel and the Paul Verhoeven film). Humanity has evolved to a “super earth,” and the rest of the galaxy is not happy about it. A war breaks out and players are tasked with fighting that war over three theaters to bring “freedom” and to spread “managed democracy.”

The server-based, asynchronous war is constantly being fought, even when you aren’t actually participating. Kill totals constantly climb (over 100,000,000 enemies were killed in the first three days after release), as well as the totals for Helldiver deaths and even “accidental” deaths, as friendly fire is a possibility.

Helldivers character screen

Each player starts the game with a primary and a secondary weapon (both of which can be switched out and upgraded), a handful of grenades, and certain perks are unlocked as the player climbs in levels. Stratagems, which are incredibly helpful in missions, are also unlockable and upgradable. Stratagems include ammo drops, sentry guns (a true life saver early on), strafing runs and more powerful weapons — including a heavily-armed mechsuit, and there are even vehicles like four-seat APVs and tanks.

Helldivers Snow Tank

Helldivers is broken up into the three theaters of war: bugs, cyborgs and illuminates. Each race has to be eradicated for the war to be won. Once a theater is selected, the player can then choose missions to tackle. Completing all of the missions unlocks the planet. Once the planet is unlocked, community points are added to the pool that every other Helldiver is working to add to. Once the theater’s war meter is sufficiently filled, a massive battle on the enemies home world begins and winning that massive battle causes that race is eradicated. Once all three races are wiped out, the war ends and a new one starts. Obviously, Helldivers is still in its first war, as it was released just last week, though we Helldivers have made a huge dent in the Bug theater of war in the short time since release.

Even if territories are won by the Helldivers, the enemy can mount an offensive and take them back. Humanity can lose this war, especially if the Helldivers get pushed back to Super Earth. The war campaigns are designed to last four to six weeks in real time. That’s a lot of war to be fought.

Missions consist of objectives, like capturing a settlement, activating heavy weaponry, or destroying a hive. Later on, in higher-level missions, escort missions and even assassinations come into play. The maps are relatively small in the beginning and grow larger as the game progresses. They are also randomly generated, so no two maps are alike, even if the objectives are the same. It is impossible to kill every enemy on the map, as the enemies just keep coming. Sneaking and stealth are two very real skills to use, though all-out assaults will occur. Ammo conservation is always concern, even with supply drops, which come with cool downs. Nothing sucks more than waiting for extraction after completing your objectives and then running out of ammo with your supply drop still a minute away from cooling down.

Helldivers Objectives

The true bread and butter of Helldivers comes from the multiplayer, both local and online. Up to three friends can join you on missions, and on higher-level planets, the help is definitely needed. With a foursome working together, objectives can be split up, or roles can be assigned to knock them out one by one. How a mission is completed is entirely up to the team. The player-created Helldivers don’t have pre-defined classes. Weapon load outs can be adjusted to suit a players role, but it’s not a holistic character class, like choosing to be a medic or support, but there is some player input to how the character performs and how it works within the team dynamic.

Helldivers Desert War

Arrowhead’s matchmaking is pretty spot on, with even teams being created so low-level players aren’t teamed with higher-level players, which keeps the thrill of discovery on a new planet or theater intact.

Helldivers is not an easy or simple game, but the learning curve is smooth and players will be hitting higher levels — and harder missions — in no time. I’ve died. A lot. And I’ve failed missions, which hurts the overall war effort. But very quickly, and naturally, my abilities have reached a level where I can take on the some of the biggest, hardest enemies and not feel like I’m out of my depth or being nerfed with enemies that are too easy.

The graphics in Helldivers are gorgeous, and the limited voice acting is well-done. The music, however, is simply incredible. We’re talking sweeping scores that change with the action and create a near-perfect sci-fi soundtrack for the action on the screen and even the downtime on your ships bridge. In fact, I cannot believe that this is only a $20 PSN game. The presentation, gameplay, and breadth of the mythology is well worth a full $60 release. So the fact that Helldivers is only $20 is a veritable steal.

Helldivers is one of those games that catches gamers off guard by how good it is. It seems simple at first, but as the war drags on, the subtle nuances that make up the greater mythology of the Helldivers universe begin to show themselves. There is a sense of community with other players, as we are all fighting to win the war. Whether alone or with a team of friends or strangers, the goal is the same: to take the fight to our enemies and spread controlled democracy and freedom to lesser beings. And much like Heinlein’s book, the political subtext of warmongering and imperialism, two real-world issues that have plagued humanity for centuries, is presented in a tongue-in-cheek way. And that may be the best part of all.

The war is raging. You’re being called on to join the fight to protect your loved ones. Will you answer the call? Will you become a Helldiver!?

Helldivers is available now in the Playstation store for the Playstation 3, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. This review was made possible by a review code provided by Sony and was played on both the PS4 and PS Vita systems.

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