“Watch where you’re aiming that thing, buddy!”
Arrowhead Studios nailed it with Magicka back in 2011, with a fantastic mix of humor and deceptive simplicity. Helldivers is their first foray under their new partnership with Sony and takes the tactical isometric gameplay that made Magicka great, but in the dryer tone of sci-fi.
Helldivers is a dual stick shooter that has you joining up to three other players as they live up to that name, and dive into incredibly challenging combat scenarios set in a dangerous planet inhabited by creatures much akin to the bugs from the Starship Troopers franchise. All maps found in the game are randomly generated, which helped convey the feeling of total isolation and helplessness that permeated during my demo of the game at the show floor.
Death in Helldivers is always close. That’s especially true as you make your way through battles side by side, back to back with your team against waves of foes. That’s right — just like Magicka, all fire is deadly in Helldivers, including the “friendly” variety. Like it weren’t enough getting swarmed by all sorts of brutes and skittering enemies out for your blood, you have to watch for and work together with your allies if you wish to make it far.
Thankfully, much of what made Helldivers such a fun demo was the variety of options at our disposal. Whether or not the fellow who decided to join me halfway through was aware or not, he was in control of an extremely well balanced combo of weapons. These came from a suite of over 30 different options that range from tactical deployment turrets that help you play a more defense heavy approach to the action, or if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably go with explosives, all out.
In terms of missions, there was plenty of different things to do when looking at the objectives screen just before dropping down. I went with a level that had me going in alone at first, at night, in order to secure an outpost that was overrun by bugs. Other missions had similarly interesting possibilities that involved certain targets that needed some due killing, rescues and the tried and true “blown-it-all-up-and-get-out” fan favorite. Still, my nightly incursion resulted in repeated deaths that happened not only thanks to the relentless nature of the swarms but also due to my lack of preparation and my er… unwelcome partner.
Let’s just say he went even more Rambo than even I ever would, and made use of the directional pad-based attack modes that give you area of effect attacks during combat… at all the wrong moments. We were given the option of ordering supplies into the field, which takes a few seconds to show up since they are launched in just like your soldier. To our dismay — or probably just mine — instead of a much welcome cache of ammunition, we got melting death of an orbital strike.
Situations where everything goes wrong were a slice of the chaotic charm in Magicka. That feeling was just as present in my demo session with Helldivers, which in turn made it one of my surprise hits at the show. Not just in that regard, either.
Helldivers has a much bigger scope than any of Arrowhead’s past games. Your game progress is tracked over a global scale. That means that every mission you partake in plays a part in the overall war scenario. Having a potentially vital part in such an ambitious game concept sounds incredible on paper. An active community could turn Helldivers into an online hit, one I would not mind being a part of.
We won’t have to wait too long to find out, as Helldivers is set for release later this year for both Playstation 3 and Playstation 4, as well as the Vita. And who said all the good games were only coming in 2015?