Helldivers is an isometric, twin-stick, co-op shooter developed by Arrowhead Studios and published by Sony Entertainment. Originally exclusive to Sony’s consoles, with little hope of coming to PC, but to the delight of many of us, made its way to Steam towards the last quarter of 2015.
The game introduces itself with a series of slide-show like cutscenes and a training level full of humor and satire. Right from the start you should easily figure out that Helldivers doesn’t take its story seriously. You are a member of an elite corp of military units with the sole goal of spreading democracy through the galaxy and protecting Super Earth. You will face three main factions of aliens: The Cyborgs, The Illuminate and The Bugs. All of them with their own unique units and tactics.
Helldivers shares some similarities with a small, favorite game of mine called Magicka. Of course, that isn’t a surprising considering Arrowhead made both of those games. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
I recommend getting the Deluxe edition if you’re thinking about getting the game. Half of the good items in the game are sadly DLCs, and if you decide to buy the regular one and end up liking the game I can assure you that you’ll regret not getting the Deluxe version as the DLCs bought separately cost significantly more.
Helldivers does a fairly good job of explaining the different mechanics to the player. Upon completing the tutorial you’ll be given your own ship. Don’t get your hopes up though, it just acts as a main hub, you don’t actually get to fly it. You’ll be able to invite friends, customize your character and start missions from your ship.
The first major thing you should notice is the galactic map. From there you’ll be able to choose a planet and start your first mission. Each sector of the galaxy offers different planets (varying in difficulty) with different environments which impact the gameplay directly. An interesting thing to know is that the community has to work together to reach the game’s bosses. Each completed successful mission will raise the community’s influence in the region you’re in, depending on difficulty it will be increased by more or less points. When the community reaches a certain milestone the galactic sector’s boss is unlocked for a limited time.
The more you play, the more things you unlock, each planet has its rewards, which come in the forms of weapons, bonuses, cosmetics etc. You also have a player rank, and each time you rank up, you’ll unlock something in addition to the planetary rewards.
The basic gameplay mechanics are really satisfying. Shooting is spot on, gameplay is fast, although tactical. Movement feels responsive and has weight to it, so you can’t instantly turn around. The game offers a pretty big selection of weapons, perks and a little something called “Stratagems”. This is where you’ll start noticing the similarities with Magicka I mentioned earlier. Stratagems are the most unique thing about Helldivers and essentially work the same way as magickas in Magicka. You pull up their menu and input a combination of keys to deploy them. They vary from support drops, vehicles and weapons to different kinds of airstrikes, perks and equipment. Stratagems are essential to the player and game balance.
If you’ve ever heard about Magicka, you know it’s famous for its brutal friendly fire, well this time around friendly fire has even more emphasis and can be the cause of some hilarious moments, especially for newbies. You’ll need to coordinate with your teammates all the time and learn to apply different combat formations and tactics in order to survive your own squad members among the other various threats. Friendly fire cannot be turned off and for good reason, it is a crucial part of the game’s difficulty and adds a level of strategy. If you don’t communicate well it’s relatively easy to get in the line of fire or summon a stratagem drop on top of one of your teammates.
Let’s discuss difficulty, different planets, objectives and how missions work. Before each mission you get to customize your perks, weapons and stratagems. When you land on a planet the enemies aren’t automatically alerted, instead you see random patrols which can raise an alarm and summon new enemies if not dealt with quickly. On harder difficulties it’s really important to avoid alerts as much as possible, and in the case of one, I advise you to deal with enemies swiftly.
Each region has different planets which are ordered by difficulty, as the difficulty increases enemies don’t get bulkier or harder to kill, instead the higher the difficulty, the more enemy types you encounter, and the more enemies spawn. Missions are composed of objectives, in order to complete a mission you must do all primary objectives (the number depends on difficulty) and call a shuttle to extract you. Each map is randomly generated before you land, so missions usually don’t feel the same. Objectives are pretty fun and have decent variation. They don’t feel generic even though some of them are widely used in other games. In other words, Helldivers just manages to do them in a fun way. I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll let you see them on your own, but I really enjoy most of them, if not all.
Unlike Magicka, Helldivers can be really challenging and you’ll need to play a solid amount of time before you actually get good. The difficulty ranges from 1 to 12. From personal experience I can assure that 12 feels like hell on earth, and even the best players will fail a lot. Keep in mind that Helldivers is most fun with friends, to truly experience the full glory of this beautiful game you will want to play it online, it supports up to 4 players and even if you don’t have any friends (and are still living in your mother’s basement) you can still play with random people online.
Graphics And Sound
The graphics and art direction are really good. Animations are superb, effects are spectacular and the UI is clean and displays only what needs to be on screen. The landscapes the maps have to offer are wide and varied with effects to the environment itself, adding to the sense of uncertainty throughout the mission. From lava spewing holes to muddy slow-moving swamps.
The sounds of Helldivers are absolutely stunning, and I often found myself actually listening for enemies around the environment for optimal sneaking performance in case I didn’t want things to get too hairy. The music itself is suspenseful, adding to the energy of the game and especially the final moments of a mission as you are waiting to be transported away from the war zone. Absolutely nothing to complain about, regarding graphics, music or sound.
Performance And Port
The port is downright amazing. Performance-wise, the game runs phenomenally. It should run perfectly fine even on older or weaker machines without any problems, and yes, even your potato should be able to handle it. The PC version offers standard graphical settings, without giving you too much room for customization, but that isn’t really important since, as I mentioned, it is pretty well optimized. Disappointingly though, it doesn’t support some ultra-wide resolutions.
The controls work pretty well with mouse and keyboard setups and the in-game interface displays PC bindings accordingly, instead of just using the gamepad layout like a lot of ports nowadays do, but if you insist, you could still use a gamepad, if you own one. Everything is fully rebindable and relatively easy to get used to.
Multiplayer has full Steam integration and it couldn’t be easier getting into lobbies with either stangers, or friends. The game has full Steam Cloud support, so you won’t have to worry about losing your precious save files, and Steam achievements are there as well, of course.
The game runs well, plays well, and is incredibly fun. Gameplay is really fast, but remains tactical and requires a lot of coordination with your teammates. Playing by yourself is definitely a viable option, but is no match to the amount of fun you’ll have with friends, and can get really frustrating on harder difficulties.
The graphics, sounds, effects and music are all amazing, and the story manages to be casual and full of humor and satire. Helldivers is easy to jump into, but can put up a decent challenge on harder difficulties, if that’s what you’re looking for. If you want to grab this game, be sure to get the Deluxe edition as it features all the DLCs and isn’t that much more expensive.
Beside lacking some graphical options, the port is outright amazing and the game runs perfectly fine even on weaker setups. It has full Steam integration as well. Overall, Helldivers is one of my favorite games of 2015 and I will surely continue playing it for a long time. It’s definitely among the best, if not the best top-down shooter I’ve ever played.