Helldivers Review – Friendly Fire Fun (PS4/PS3/Vita)
Update: We incorrectly stated in our review that the game could not be played offline. Based on our initial tests on both the PS4 and Vita prior to release, we got stuck in infinite error loops when we had no network connection. After being notified of our error, we tested again and were able to play offline. We apologize to Arrowhead and our readers for the error.
Super Earth. Let that one sink in for a second. Perhaps the coolest name for a planet ever, because it’s more than just Earth. It’s Super Earth. So that’s the foot that we’re starting out on, and Helldivers does the same, with the opening cinematic introducing you to Super Earth and its managed democracy, which takes the complexity out of voting by having computers analyze your views on certain political landscapes in order to select the best candidate. But enough about the political landscape of Super Earth. The point is that there’s a planet called Super Earth, and as the Helldivers, we need to protect it.
Helldivers is a cooperative, isometric twin-stick shooter that controls very similarly to games like Dead Nation. So what’s so special about another space marine shooter in isometric form? It’s the friendly fire. Buddy in trouble? You’ll need to think twice before using your shotgun to take out that bug next to your co-op partner. And don’t even think about spinning that mech around too quickly without telling your team to hit the deck, or they’re going to eat a skull full of Gatling gun. It’s not just the people either. Points you are defending and your own equipment can take damage from your fire which means that this is not a spray-and-pray sort of game.
So Many Ways to Die
You also can’t rely strictly on your guns to get you by either, which is why Super Earth command has provided the Helldivers with unlockable and upgradeable stratagems. These are upgrades and additions to the battlefield that you call in from orbit, such as turrets, vehicles, and more powerful weaponry. And yes, you had better stay out of the way as the equipment is dropped, or you may find yourself little more than a bloody smear underneath a turret. You and your equipment are as much a danger to your team as the enemy is, and it takes strategic play and swift communication to ensure that you are not only completing your objectives, but not killing each other while doing it. It’s easier said than done.
I can’t count the number of times that a mission went bad because one person would throw out a beacon for a mech, and another would wander underneath it. Or maybe I needed to call for more ammo in the heat of battle, and in the confusion, retreated to a place underneath that shadow that meant I was about to become a red stain in the snow. Things can go from excellent to utter crap in mere seconds, and entire missions can be lost easily, but that’s part of the fun. I was never upset when losing. In fact, most of the time we were all laughing hysterically at how quickly things had gone wrong. Helldivers may be the most fun I’ve ever had accidentally shooting my friends.
And then there are the enemies. That’s right, we’ve died so many times already, and I haven’t even gotten to talking about the three forces that threaten Super Earth: Bugs, Cyborgs, and The Illuminate. Bugs are, as expected, bug-like aliens — albeit giant ones — that come at you in hoards and use brute force to try to take the Helldivers down. I was strongly reminded of Starship Troopers as I fought against Bugs, particularly on the desert planets. Cyborgs are humans that have grafted machines to themselves, and while they still hoard you, they hang back a little bit more than Bugs, employing more long range techniques like flamethrowers. The Illuminate use long distance sniping, mind control, and other indirect tactics to ensure that the Helldivers are unsuccessful in any missions against them.
Each enemy grouping requires varying tactical choices to take on. Not only is choosing the right perk, weapon, and Stratagem setup for yourself imperative, it is also crucial to communicate with your team to make sure that each of your setups compliment one another for the best strategic play. This is further impacted by the objectives that you will be tasked with, and which of the three planetary terrains you’ll be playing in. Fortunately you are made aware of all of these things before entering the battlefield, so you can ensure that your setup is perfect for each situation.
Even if your setup is perfect, however, everything will still probably go to Hell, particularly on the higher difficulties. First you choose which region you fight in, which dictates the enemy type. Then you select a procedurally generated planet, with a difficulty numbering one through twelve, one being ‘a dive in the park’ and twelve being ‘Hell dive.’ Sure, difficulty levels one through four may seem easy enough, but start getting into five, six, or even seven and eight? These will prove near impossible to do alone and even present quite a challenge with a team. Nine through twelve? Forget about ’em. I’m sure I’ll be able to complete them one day, but today is not that day.
I keep talking about co-op and team play, and yes, Helldivers is both online and couch co-op, mix and match. However, you will still need an internet connection to even play couch co-op or solo. This is because everything you do contributes to the overall war effort, with every battle either pushing the enemy back to their home planet little by little, or defending the people of Super Earth so that they may fight another day. Sorry offline players, this game isn’t for you. Though based on the fact that this is a PSN title, I would argue that point that any player that could even download it in the first place has internet to be able to play it.
In addition, this cross-platform, cross-buy title is also cross-play and features cross-chat. On all three systems. Yup, whether you are on PS3, PS4, or Vita, you’ll be able to contribute to the same war effort and communicate with team members across any of the three platforms. Granted, for the Vita version you will need to make sure you have an internet connection, so it’s not exactly the ideal ‘on-the-go’ game, but the fact that Helldivers leaves no member of the PlayStation family out is an awesome feature. I mostly use the PS4’s party chat system when playing with friends, but for the sake of this review, we tested the cross-chat and found that it works wonderfully.
There are some minor gripes that I have, such as the battlefield carnage disappearing too quickly, the repetitive lines that the Helldivers use (I can only stand to hear “How about a nice cup of liber-TEA?!?” so many times), and the end-war content within the enemy homeworlds and direct defense of Super Earth not offering events much different from the normal gameplay. I also noticed that stats only saved to the host player’s profile, so though I had Dan and D’yani playing with me for hours some days, their influence to the war and planets completed stats remained at zero while I climbed the leaderboards. We did end up losing that war though, and I’m not sure being the hero of a lost campaign is something to brag about.
But none of these things could overcome the hilarity that ensued every time our Hellpods dropped to the planet surface and we embarked on a quest to see what would go wrong next. We rarely, if ever, executed a planned strike correctly, and something always went wrong, whether it was an obnoxious amount of the large tank bugs spawning, a misplaced supply drop causing an untimely death, or a badly thrown grenade destroying the point we were supposed to be defending.
Helldivers brings a fun and intensity to cooperative play that I have not had in a long time. Single players may want to skip this one, but if you have some friends to sit down with, either on the couch or via the PSN, I highly recommend getting your squad ready to defend Super Earth from impending doom. Just watch out for that turret.
Helldivers review copy was provided by the developer. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.