Helldivers Review "Even the rescue ship can kill you"
- Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita (PC version reviewed)
- Players: 1-4 (local and online multiplayer)
- Achievements: YES
- Steam Trading Cards: NO
- Controller Support : Yes
- Retail Price: $19.99
High Level Premise: It's basically Starship Troopers, without the blatant Nazi ties.
Graphics/Style: Top down isometric views. The worlds are beautiful, the rest of the characters move well, and there are nice touches, but aren't terribly detailed.
Music/Soundtrack: The menus have appropriate pseudo-Patriotic music. During the game, there is foreboding music that gets drowned out under all the gunfire.
Story: Protect your home planet SUPER EARTH during the Intergalactic War.
Replay-ability: HELLDIVERS has an extremely inventive way to keep players involved with the ever-changing war. If you get into this game at all, you will want to play it often...for the greater good.
Time Commitment: Early on, some missions can be finished in under 5 minutes. Later ones can get pretty complex, but I've still not seen any that take more than 20 minutes.
Value: I think this game has great value. The unique way in which the game's "story" unfolds means you'll always have new battles to fight.
Favorite Element: Everything, even the rescue ship, can kill you.
HELLDIVERS (yes, it is always capitalized) is a top-down isometric twin-stick shooter set in a universe that borrows heavily from classic sci-fi like Starship Troopers. You live on Super Earth and are at war with three different factions. Your job as a HELLDIVER is to travel to enemy planets, complete objectives, collect artifacts, and liberate the planets.
You start each game on your ship's bridge. This is a general place where you can select your missions, get some never helpful tips from your crew, select your arsenal for the next level etc. Once you set your destination into the computer, you go to a screen that lets you choose the weapons you'll take on your mission. You'll then see a general overhead map of the upcoming level. It shows you where your objectives are and where to find your extract point. You'll get to choose where you wish to deploy. This choice is important. The further away from your objectives you deploy, the longer you'll have to spend in enemy territory. However, it also usually means that the enemy won't be looking too closely for you. Stealth plays a surprising role in this game. I'm not usually a stealth fan, but it is implemented very well here, should you choose to use it. Alternately, you can drop right on top of an objective and go in guns blazing, which is my preferred tactic.
Once you enter your Hellpod, you are sent (rather dramatically) down to the planet where you are to do battle. Playing HELLDIVERS is a handful, but a manageable handful. It is one of those twin-stick shooters where you aim with the right stick, and fire with the right trigger. For the longest time, this setup gave me fits, but I've played enough games that auto-firing weapons on the right stick now feel like cheating.
When you get to your actual objective spots, you'll have to engage in a very brief quick-time event. Usually inputting a code using the D-Pad, or bashing the A button a bunch. Nothing too crazy. As the game goes on, you'll have to engage in multi-part objectives which may mean you'll have to stand around idly waiting for something to mobilize. The longer you stand in one spot, the more likely you'll be attacked. It's tough being a HELLDIVER sometimes.
You do have some help outside of your weapons. On each level, you are allowed to carry four "Stratagems" into battle. These can range from ammo drops to automatic turrets to extra powerful weapons. To activate one, you hold down the left shoulder button (I assume us Steam users are all using XBox 360 controllers, right?), and punch in a code. This gives you a ball that looks like a grenade that you have to toss. You then have to wait for the reinforcements to be delivered much the same way you were to the planet...violently by Hellpod.
This takes my to the PROTIP that everything in the game can kill you. In my very first solo mission, I was in need of more ammo, so I called in the ammo Stratagem. I tossed the ball at my feet, and waited. 5 seconds later I saw a shadow form right over my head. Before I knew what hit me...the Ammo Hellpod did. Splattering my body all around the countryside. Luckily, you do get 1 free respawn in single player mode. So I came back, completed the mission, and signaled the rescue craft. After signaling that ship, you have to survive 90 more seconds. I did so, but due to an enemy attack, I ended up directly on top of the rescue beacon just as the rescue ship was making its dramatic entrance. At this moment, the rescue ship landed on my head, splattering me across the landscape...making me fail the mission. Lesson learned? Stand far away from the beacon when the ship comes in.
What I find most interesting about HELLDIVERS is the way the developers have created a persistent overworld that all players are playing in. If you don't play for a few days, you actually get a briefing about what's happened in the war since your last login. You may even find that the region you were working on has already been liberated, and that it's pretty much pointless for you to go back and finish.
All the missions you complete, whether solo, local multiplayer, or online multiplayer, are tallied on a worldwide scoreboard to show how you are doing in the current fight versus evil. Eventually (roughly every few weeks) a major event takes place. The outcome of these events shape the next phase of the war. So if everyone does well, that may mean we liberate an entire region, and move on to another region. If things don't go well, Super Earth blows up, and an entirely new war will have to begin (which literally just happened minutes before I wrote this). As I am not one to usually enjoy online games, I do appreciate that I am not left out of major events as I would be in most online games.
I quite enjoy HELLDIVERS. It's an action game, but it's not too frantic. It creates an immersive world that is truly different every time you play it. Multiplayer is a blast. It truly feels like Space Gauntlet. Friendly fire is always on. So not only do you have to worry about the enemy robot bugs, ammo pods, and rescue ships killing you; you have to worry about your friends killing you as well.
My only possible hesitation with this game is with the ultimate end game. While you can play solo missions, you are still tied to the overall online war. Inevitably, the number of players will go down. With fewer players, it stand to reason that it'll become less likely that a war can ever be won, or that progress will slow to a point where those special events become rarer.. Will there be a point where the developers just say "OK, no more war" and shut off the game? Will there be an offline campaign mode for people that come to the game years later (especially on the PlayStation side with physical copies out in the wild), or will this become a paperweight? Interesting things to consider for the future, but for right now. I have planets to liberate.