It was around my ninth or tenth hour in when it finally dawned on me: two of my teammates were down, I was sprinting around in a giant circle desperately counting down the seconds until the drop ship arrived; my auto-turrets had long ago been reduced to rubble just seconds after I called them in; the voices of my team mates were barking order after order through my headset as victory clung on by just a finger.
In the midst of all this craziness, I realized this is probably what Arrowhead Studios had planned all along, and with only a few minor faults, they succeeded in crafting one of the most addicting and entertaining cooperative games in recent years with Helldivers.
On the surface the set-up is deceptively simple: a multiplayer twin-stick shooter that sends you and your teammates across the galaxy, delivering ‘managed democracy,’ all for the glory of your home world Super Earth. You fight a war against three other races: the Starship Troopers look-a-like arachnids, the technologically advanced illuminate, and the cyborgs, who have combined metal with flesh.
Every online match feeds into this three-pronged war, with each front’s greatest contributors honored with an ever-present leaderboard. As you and your teammates retake planets by completing mission, the war will eventually push to the alien home world, or to your own if not enough people aren’t doing their part. Either situation leads to a timed special event were all players are called on to make one final push. It’s a smart system that gives each mission a greater sense of purpose.
Helldivers’ one-two punch of deep strategy coupled with intense combat is so good that it often overshadows much of the drollness from repetitive dull missions. It is most satisfying to play on a team of four, all relying on each other to survive while executing carefully planned strategies. Playing the game solo is possible, but it doesn’t offer anywhere near the same experience.
At the start of each mission, the team can decided what pieces of equipment to call down and what objectives to complete first. Equipment can vary and includes options from a UAV that call out threats on the map, to additional ammunition, heavy machine guns, or auto turrets. Upgrades and new machines are unlocked when battles on certain planets are completed with more equipment being offered as a reward. The enemies you face can also affect your game plan. The arachnids, for example, are plated in thick shells and charge at you with massive claws. Due to their speed, it’s wiser to come equipped with longer range rifles than crowd-controlling shotguns or slower-paced sniper rifles.
Helldivers is easy to pick up and play, but even if you’re used to the style, you will find that the game has many deeper elements for you to bear in mind during each mission. Chief among them is the difficulty, which requires every player to be at the best of their ability, as one mistake can mean mission failure. Friendly fire is a huge concern, as it is always on and cannot be disabled. Ammo conservation is also important, as reloading will discard any unused rounds, and calling in more clips takes precious seconds away from an already hectic round.
Besides simple mission design and a forgettable story, there are some issues. You are able to customize the look of your helldiver, but the options are pretty much black or very dark grey color schemes. The camera can float off at a distance from the action, so it’s easy to confuse one solider for an ally, often resulting in someone firing a weapon into a fellow player. When trying to join a friend’s lobby, I frequently was denied entry due to the server’s frustratingly slow refresh rate. I would often have to jump out of the game completely and re-enter before finally connecting with my teammates and starting a mission.
Minor grievances aside, Helldivers keeps me coming back day after day for more intense action and entertainment. As one of the most exhilarating games on the PSN, it’s worth far more than the $20 price tag and is undoubtedly one of the best of Sony’s exclusives. No joke.