Whether I would enjoy Helldivers was a question that lasted the fifteen seconds it took me to deploy from my ship to a mission. I inexpertly chose to helldive in the middle of an objective – a SAM site I had to reactivate in order to help the war effort against the Bugs – and what that meant was the moment I came out of my pod I was swarmed by crawling insects, desperately trying to bludgeon and fire my way away from them before activating. I survived, because democracy must be brought to everyone.
Helldivers is a game version of Starship Troopers, to explain the sentence above. You are a highly armed, entirely disposable marine from Super Earth, whose job is to spread freedom and democracy to the melee-centered Bugs (yes, that’s how they’re called), the tech-heavy, shield-using Illuminate and the also heavily armed Cyborgs. You do this by killing them by the thousands with guns aptly named ‘Double Freedom’ and ‘Patriot’, all the while screaming one-liners like “FREEEEDOM!”. Other references to Starship Troopers abound in the introductory cinematic and the dialogue you can have with the other military personnel aboard your ship, though there’s no plot-depth to speak of – there’s a war and you need to win it.
From your hub you will upgrade your weapons and stratagems, change your perks and, of course, customize your clothes (Helldivers evidently wear capes, because why not), and once all that is done you can choose which enemy you’ll face and what planet you’ll helldive onto. The war effort is essentially a cooperative one, as each of your and other helldivers’ actions on a front add points to a bar that, once full, will allow you to besiege the enemy’s home planet and terminate him for the remainder of the war period (or if you allow them to push the front, they will besiege your capital planet and you shall need to defend it).
The missions themselves can be carried out by one to four people, with more helldivers equaling more and tougher enemies, and get increasingly hectic with both amount of players and mission difficulty. Arrowhead’s past with Magicka is clearly here: from the frequent friendly fire – you’ll often shoot your friends to death or deploy exosuits and turrets on top of them, spelling their demise, though they won’t be stuck in boredom for too long, as you can quickly and easily re-deploy them – to the key combinations that you’ll use to call in a wide range of stratagems, from fly-by shootings and tactical nukes to shoulder-mounted flamethrowers and motorcycles.
The objectives of each mission are varied and intuitive, and you’ll see yourself having to use your abilities in different ways as you defend an area for a set amount of time, escort a group of friendlies to an extraction point or search a small field for ordnance you need to disarm. The means to carry out these missions also increases greatly as you gain experience and research points, not only unlocking new weapons, stratagems and perks but improving said weapons and stratagems to further flesh out their uniqueness. I found the progression system to be particularly good, as I never felt like I was playing to progress, but rather progressing as a consequence of playing – the variety of enemies, planets and their hazards (from frozen wastelands and boggy swamps that slow you down to volcanic regions that spew fire) and tools to deal with them means you have to alter your loadout according to necessity, as each faction plays differently and is susceptible to certain tactics and weapons.
While it isn’t particularly good-looking, with relatively simplistic graphics implemented (likely due to its presence on the PSVita), Helldivers is far from an eye-sore, and once you’re in motion – deploying bombs and in gunfights – the lack of detail becomes hard to notice. The sound design, on the other hand, is superb: meaty sound effects and visceral noises play appropriately according to who you shoot and what you shoot them with, each weapon having a distinctive and recognizable sound that ramps up according to its firepower.
Helldivers is a simple game, but what it does it does well. With little down-time within and between missions you’ll constantly be in the thick of combat, praying that neither foe nor friend kill you, laying down democracy at whatever rate of fire your weapon has. A quick to join and easy to use multiplayer interface means your friends and strangers can easily drop in and out of your games, no hassle involved, and while you can certainly enjoy it alone Helldivers shines when you’re shouting at your friend for deploying his tank on your head you and your buddies help each other, frantically trying to stave off hordes of enemies before making a heroic escape on the dropship. And remember: it doesn’t matter if you’re panicking, don’t fucking friendly-fire me with your rocket launcher.