What do you get when you mix a healthy dose of Starship Troopers, a dash of Mass Effect, a small pinch of Killzone: Liberation, and a nice helping of Starcraft, and lay it down over a four-player co-op system? You get Arrowhead Studios’ latest offering, Helldivers.Super Earth is the future of our planet, and the surrounding galaxy is full of threats from hostile alien races. The only way to fight back and ensure the survival of Super Earth and its people is through spreading ‘managed democracy’ throughout the universe, through the means of the Helldivers; Super Earth’s military combat unit. Tasked with pushing back the enemy forces, retrieving technology and expanding resources for consumption, the Helldivers spread across the galaxy, forcing the democracy of Super Earth to the outer limits of the known universe. Enlist in the corps to provide a future for Super Earth. Join the Helldivers!
Choosing a top-down perspective works wonders for Helldivers, as there is less of a need to focus on minute details with character modeling. Having said that, the game still looks great; every planet is unique and procedurally-generated, and the environments really capture the isolation and expansiveness of each world. The game suffers slightly when comparing from the Vita to the PS4, but even the Vita’s graphics aren’t too shabby, just less detailed. Battles are intensely graphic; bullets illuminate walls, enemy weapons have different effects, blood splatters, and everything feels as though you’re playing a single-player Starcraft campaign. Each of the three species of enemy (Illuminate, Cyborg and Bugs) has multiple detailed units, each with their own forms of attack which are also hightly detailed and awesome to see.The sound design of the game is fantastic as well. The musical score is at times over the top, but always seems to suit what is happening; for instance, the theme on the jumpship is reminiscent of 90s schlock sci-fi, whereas the heavy orchestral themes in the midst of battle manage to get excitement levels up and really immerse the player in the game. Each race has their own unique sounds, from the screeches of the Bugs, the technological zaps of the Illuminate, and the yelling and robotic noises of the Cyborgs, each piece comes together and creates a truly rewarding experience for every battle that takes place. Even the player characters get their chance, yelling one-liners in the heat of the moment (“Say hello to democracy!” and “How about a nice cup of liber-tea!”), when blasting away enemies and striving to survive. The limited voice acting is quite corny, but rather than take away from the game, it adds to it; really placing the player in a game that feels like it has come fresh from the 1980s and 1990s sci-fi genre. This is also clearly referenced in the story; which, while not being too deep, harks back to films such as Starship Troopers and Aliens, with a sense of camaraderie and tongue-in-cheek humour devoid from modern-day science fiction.
Helldivers revolves around a pretty simple mechanic – drop to a planet, complete objectives, and get picked up at the end. This revolves around the simplistic plot of the game – to spread out and push back the other races of the galaxy and to spread Super Earth’s ‘managed democracy’ through means of force. Each mission revolves around multiple objectives, and the more that are completed, the higher a player’s score is at the end of the round. Objectives such as capturing areas, destroying enemy nests/bases, rescuing crash survivors, and deploying ‘truth transmitters’ all tally up, unlocking the final task of activating the extraction beacon to be saved from the planet. These feats are by no means easy – enemy encounters are consistent and they do not let up at any chance, and particular enemies will send out alerts to bring in reinforcements, often swarming the area with targets.
The game employs the use of tactical ‘Stratagems’ – items that can change the flow of a battle in an instant. Additional weapons can be dropped mid-battle, or things such as APCs and artillery mechs can be deployed to aid in the fight. Turrets, strafing runs and bombs are also accessible, and each stratagem can mean the difference between life and death. Each stratagem calls up a signal beacon which raises the likelihood of enemy patrols heading to that specific area, which is quite a unique quirk leading to players actually having to think about their next move before they make it. Most stratagems have a limited usage, and all stratagems have a cooldown period if they can be used more than once.One of the greatest things in Helldivers is the fact that at any time (and provided you have an internet connection), a player can throw out a signal beacon to call down other Helldivers who are either looking for a match or playing a similar campaign, leading to comprehensive four-player mayhem. Friendly fire is always switched on, and it becomes a matter of communication in deciding what to do next. These matches become insanely fun and add layers of unpredictable action and chaos to an already-bustling warzone. Players can also choose to join matches in the multiplayer option of the game, and are returned to a single jumpship after each mission.
All of the game’s progress is saved regardless of online or offline play, so playing between versions on Vita and PS4 was an easy feat, provided that you had the chance to update your character before getting on the go. All efforts add to the global tally, which begin to unlock new worlds, new stratagems, and eventually leading to an all-out assault on the home-worlds of the enemy. If these efforts are not maintained, the enemy can attack Super Earth, and players must strive to rectify the situation.Sometimes the controls can be fiddly and annoying – while the stratagems aren’t meant to be extremely easy to activate, the button-pressing combinations can be annoying as a single misplacement of a finger means starting the sequence over again, which can lead to life or death on the battlefield. Especially on the Vita, where some controls are added to the touchscreens, this can get annoying as some touches do not register, whereas others mistakenly do, leading to the wrong thing happening. As the game focuses on teamwork when playing online, those who seek to ignore it effectively disadvantage their team; respawns in multiplayer mode are dependent on surviving squad members, and once all players have died, the mission must start again.
Another flaw of the overeall game is the repetitiveness of the missions; one can only repeat the same actions so many times before the tedium of the game sets in and becomes boring, and not even a round of multiplayer can save it.Make no mistake; Helldivers is one of the greatest games to hit consoles in recent years. A credit to Arrowhead studios for making something so simple, yet so fun; full of pop-culture references to sci-fi classics such as Aliens and Starship Troopers, as well as mixing in elements of recent popular games and laying it over a play-style we haven’t seen done well in a long time. While the story isn’t exactly amazing, the game itself is solid and well-rounded, and can be played either with your friends, with a bunch of strangers online, or even by yourself, giving you a sense of reward and pride for every mission you complete.