Helldivers Review – The Road to Hell

Sometimes all you want from a computer game is laughter, chaos and a huge amount of destruction. Helldivers (Arrowhead Game Studios, PS4) delivers all three in bucketloads.

Helldivers is a twin-stick shooter where players cooperate to clear objectives on alien worlds. Each world is populated by one of three main enemy types, Starship Trooper-style bugs, angry cyborgs or the frustratingly sneaky Illuminates, depending on which area of the universe you are currently trying to pacify. Each player will be knitted out with a series of Stratagems; helpful weaponry, vehicles and other useful toys. These are air-dropped into the game using a series of d-pad commands (much like cheat codes from 80s console games), often crushing whatever was too slow to get out of the way. Fallen comrades can be called back into action via the same method.

Logic dictates that a game with limited enemy types and objectives should become stale very quickly. However the tongue-in-cheek feel of the game, combined with the different ways to tackle the randomly generated worlds, make every mission feel fresh.

Objectives include repairing missile silos using similar d-pad commands to the Stratagems, deactivating buried mines and escorting survivors (AKA slow idiots) to a bunker safely. There are about seven or eight different types of objective and each world will have a random generated selection. Once all objectives are complete, or failed miserably, the team need to get to an extraction point and survive an alien onslaught until the ship arrives to transport them safely off planet.

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Logic dictates that a game with limited enemy types and objectives should become stale very quickly. However the tongue-in-cheek feel of the game, combined with the different ways to tackle the randomly generated worlds, make every mission feel fresh.

As the game progresses, and players access heavier weaponry, some interesting strategies emerge. Early games saw our group setting out huge amounts of automated turrets at the extraction zone and then crawling around on the floor until the ship arrived, all of us giggling at the absurdity of the situation. On a later mission, we all donned mech suits and backed up against a large rock, picking off the oncoming waves of bugs with rockets and miniguns. Cowardice very much appears to be our forte.

The barely-stifled giggles when a teammate gets flattened by an ammo drop, or gets stomped by a friendly mech, are what make this game special.

Whilst there is certainly some enjoyment to be had from everyone nailing a mission perfectly, with all members working together like angry cogs in a well-oiled carnage machine, the true enjoyment lies in the times when things go massively wrong. One of the finest design choices in Helldivers is the use of friendly-fire, making your allies just as dangerous, if not more so, than the onrushing enemies. The barely-stifled giggles when a teammate gets flattened by an ammo drop, or gets stomped by a friendly mech, are what make this game special. All cooperative games with friendly-fire tend to lean towards this but Helldivers ramps it up by giving you so many ways to accidentally undo all of your good work.

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You can even play it solo, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

The game truly shines when you play routinely with the same group of friends, but that is not to say that playing with strangers is bad. Having encountered some of the worst behaviour that the internet has to offer in competitive online gaming, I was initially wary of playing the game outside of my social group, however the cooperative nature of the game means that the worst that you’ll probably encounter is someone spamming the ‘Move!’ command.

You can even play it solo, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

My first experience with the game was a couple of solo missions when the game first appeared on the Playstation Store; I uninstalled it straight afterwards and wrote it off as a bad purchase. A real bugbear of mine is games (digital or tabletop) that are designed for a particular number of players but offer up a substandard option to appease a lower player count. Helldivers works brilliantly at 2-4 (in all honesty, I wish it went up to six players) but it just doesn’t work as a solitary experience. Yes, you’re not going to die because an ally set off a nuke without warning, but you’re also not going to die because an ally set off a nuke without warning.

And therein lies the real joy. A friend of mine recently described our group as a fireteam with two Leeroy Jenkins’, if that doesn’t make you want to try out Helldivers then nothing will.

Matt

Matt

Writer, livestream expert, cheese fancier. Enjoys Overwatch, Overwatch and Overwatch.

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