You’d be forgiven for not remembering Helldivers. Announced two years ago as a PS3/Vita game (it’s now also a PS4 game), Helldivers seemed to fall off of everyone’s radar up until release day. The first game in Sony’s Spring Fever 2015 sale may very well go down as not only it’s finest, but one of the best games to hit the platform this year. From seemingly nowhere to the game people can’t get enough of playing, Helldivers is an absolute must own.
Helldivers is a fun, at times hilariously brutal top-down, dual-stick shooter. Threats can vary from the enemy in front of you to the ally behind you as he opens fire. Friendly fire is a constant threat, but not a particularly frustrating one. Good players will take care to avoid friendly firing lines and spread out to avoid accidental crossfire. If you are killed, by a friendly or otherwise, you have to be revived by an ally using a stratagem. These stratagems require you to press a sequence of directional buttons, like a code or combo. The ease of these depends on the strength of the stratagem, and when under extreme enemy pressure it is easy to make a few mistakes. The stratagems themselves are very diverse both in functionality and application. You can call in an airstrike on a group of flanking enemies, or call in a mech to deal devastating damage throughout the mission, though some have a limited number of calldowns. Weapons have unique qualities such as fire rate and damage that can vary heavily from weapon to weapon.
Between missions you can spend time on your ship upgrading your equipment and stratagems for more effective use during missions. Weapons upgrades are generally aimed at the weapon’s weakness, such as clip size or damage, but they can also apply special effects like armor piercing or stun rounds. Stratagem upgrades, on the other hand, amplify strengths, lower cooldowns, or both. Upgrade points are earned by leveling up, but can be more reliably earned by finding samples when out on missions. Every 10 samples equals one upgrade point, so spending the time to find them is worth it.
The two console versions of Helldivers play similarly, but the Vita version comes in as the biggest surprise, using the rear touch panel to near perfection. All three versions of the game are well worth playing.
Story and Modes:
You are Super Earth’s elite guard, the Helldivers. You spread democracy across the galaxy from the barrel of a gun, because freedom won’t fight for itself. The likes of the Bugs, Cyborgs, and Illuminate are merely minor obstacles on the path toward better lives for the people of Super Earth. While the overarching plot is fairly thin, what exists is used to great effect. Your campaign involves wiping out each enemy faction and cleansing the galaxy of those who threaten humanity. Each objective, map, and planet completed grants influence, which in turn unlocks new zones to conquer. Once all zones have been conquered, you are tasked with attacking and conquering the enemy homeworld, removing that faction from the war entirely. Once all factions have been removed, or if they fight their way to Super Earth and conquer it, the war is finished and a new war begins.
Visuals and Sound:
Helldivers embraces a familiar, but well realized styling. It’s hard to look at the Divers and not compare them to the Guardians from Destiny, or look at the bugs and not think Starship Troopers. In most games, this might be worth criticizing, but Helldiver’s is a game that seems to embrace its inspirations and wears them as a badge of honor. The PlayStation 4 version is certainly the best looking, with a few rough spots here or there, but more importantly it runs at a rock solid 60FPS. The PS3 and Vita versions both look great as well, though the Vita is a tad more impressive, if for no reason other than it is a portable. The game features a fitting, if forgettable score, but it’s less about the music and much more about the dialogue. Character’s yell out ridiculous war cries like, “How about a nice cup of Liber-ty?” or my personal favorite, “FREEEEEEEDOM!” Yelling about freedom and democracy while actively wiping out an entire species is just hilarious. Though the dialogue is repetitive, it stays surprisingly fresh.
The top-down, dual-stick shooter has been around for a long time, but rarely, if ever, has it been so well refined. However, the addition of an end to, and eventual new beginning of the game’s conflict, spices up the formula in a way we have not seen before. While other games have tried this type of format in the past, Helldivers is likely the most approachable of those games and will likely see a lot of success as a result. It’s also nice to see a game embrace friendly fire, and apply it as a mechanism for fun as it is to promote teamwork.
The Big Question:
As with all games that rely on the community to accomplish objectives, will Helldivers be able to keep players coming back for its continuous conflicts? Surely if the playbase dwindles enough we’ll find ourselves unable to continue the good fight of spreading freedom and democracy. What does Arrowhead have in store to make sure that freedom never sleeps? As the year goes on and more big name releases hit the market, this is a question they’ll be increasingly pressured to answer, lest the aliens win.
For $20 you get the PS4, PS3, and PS Vita versions of the game. Not each, all three of them for one $20 purchase. Not only do you get all three copies, but you can play with anyone playing on any of the three platforms, with the same character across all three platforms. Cross-buy, cross-play, and cross-save. That, in an of itself, makes Helldivers a great value for anyone invested in the PlayStation ecosystem. Beyond that, Helldivers is just a damn fun game to play. With 12 difficulty levels, any skill level will find a challenge and knowing that every mission, no matter how small, counts toward something is a huge boost.