Super Earth is expanding, and it's your job to do the dirty work. The Helldivers are called in to slaughter alien life forms so that mankind can extend its reach across the galaxy, and that means you're going to need a lot of big guns, air support, and explosives. A co-op shooter for up to four players, both locally and online, Helldivers is an absolute blast with the right allies.
The game's built on the core of a twin-stick shooter, as the camera takes a slanted aerial view, and you control your aim with the right analogue stick. On top of this, developer Arrowhead Studios has crafted some neat little role-playing game elements, an addictive mission loop, and a hectic co-op formula. The result is a downloadable title that's extremely hard to put down when you get together with others, but at the same time, it's also designed for quick stints of play.
Being cross-buy, cross-save, and cross-play compatible, Helldivers is perfect if you've been looking for a game that you can make decent progress with –whether you boot it up on the Vita for just a few minutes, or sit down for a longer session on the PlayStation 4. Missions generally only take about ten minutes each, barring the more difficult escapades, and you're rewarded with a constant stream of unlockable weapons, gun mods, upgrade points, and abilities as you level up your soldier.
They aren't terribly in-depth, but the release's RPG mechanics really sew the experience together. After each mission, you'll gain experience, and every time that you reach a new rank, you'll nab an upgrade point. These points can then be spent on – you guessed it – upgrades for your equipment, and there's a whole host of rifles, shotguns, and laser pistols to unlock, each with their own subsequent upgrades. If you like a particular shooter, you can improve things like its stability, damage, and magazine size, and there are enough options to make you feel like you're building your own personalised armoury.
On top of guns, you'll also be developing stratagems. The stratagem system augments Helldivers with a unique flavour, as you activate them on the battlefield to gain an advantage. They're a key component of being successful in the fight against alien scum, and they're all suitably fun to use. By holding down L1, a list of input commands appear on the bottom left of the screen. Not unlike the complex inputs of a technical fighting game like Street Fighter, you'll need to hammer out the sequence on the d-pad whenever you get the opportunity to do so – preferably in between massacring waves of murderous creatures.
It doesn't sound too fun on paper, we admit, but the button prompts add further tension to what can already be a chaotic experience. As a result, tapping the d-pad to call in a much needed aerial bombardment while your allies hold off hordes of foes can be surprisingly exciting. Stratagems add a light tactical layer to proceedings, and set the title apart from similar releases. The best bit, though, is that as you rise through the ranks, you'll unlock more and more interesting stratagems, and although we don't want to spoil too much, we have to go ahead and point out that the heavily armoured mech suit is a thing of beauty.
You'll need stratagems, too, as ammo is in relatively short supply. You only begin each mission with a handful of clips, so you'll either need to be quick in taking out enemy scouts before they call in reinforcements, or you'll have to make clever use of your stratagems. The twist, though, is that stratagems either take time to call into action, or they have a limited amount of uses. For example, if you're desperate for some ammunition, you can call in extra crates of bullets, but they'll take a few seconds to show up, meaning that you'll need to wait around the drop zone and keep an eye out for threats. Because of this, mission structures become quite methodical, as you head from one objective to the next, requesting the resources that the situation demands.
The missions themselves are procedurally generated, and see you complete randomised objectives across relatively small maps, with more difficult planets boasting an increased number of tasks as you progress. Objectives range from capturing specific areas to activating planetary defence systems, and while they're all a bit predictable, the randomisation keeps them from becoming too stale, and their simplicity makes it easy to appreciate how crazy each mission can become – especially if something goes wrong.
And things will definitely go wrong. Billed as a somewhat questionable selling point, there's no way to disable friendly fire while you're out and about with other players. This means that you can be accidentally shot in the back, or crushed by an incoming supply drop. It makes for some pretty comical deaths, that's for sure, and it certainly keeps you on your toes while adding a sense of necessary teamwork – but what happens when you team up with strangers who are only out to harass their would-be allies?
Well, unfortunately, that's when the title's at its worst. For the most part, we reckon that it's a bit naïve of the developer to think that all Helldivers will help out their fellow troops. At the end of a successful mission, a shuttle will come in to extract your squad, but it takes over a minute to arrive. It's safe to say that extraction is the title at its most intense, but that enthralling fight for survival can be ruined by a single stray bullet or grenade from a so-called buddy. Which leads us neatly on to the release's biggest potential flaw: its community.
For the most part, we encountered good-willed and helpful soldiers, but for a game that's so reliant on its community, you have to take the title's lifespan into consideration. Completing missions subsequently adds points to the community's overall progress bar, as every player's success, big or small, feeds into the larger overarching goal of conquering the stars, territory by territory. At launch, we're sure that things will be quite bustling, but with the download priced at a slightly steep $20, it's hard to say how long it'll actually thrive for. As such, we'd definitely recommend setting up a safety net of sorts by grouping with friends if you're eager to see and do everything that the release has to offer.
Future worries aside, however, Helldivers definitely deserves a chance. It's very well designed, from the attractive art style to the accessible menus, and the seamless online functionality. Guns have a nice kick to them, the sound design is great, and all in all, it's just hard to fault such a polished product.
With friends, Helldivers provides a brilliant and addictive co-op experience full of thrills, spills, and hilarious accidental deaths. Gameplay is quick, satisfying, and often chaotic, and the stratagem system gives the action a unique identity. The only question mark here is the one that hangs over the title's community, which must be sustained if the shooter is to realise its impressive potential.