Helldivers Review: A Taste of Lead and Freedom

Helldivers is the latest game developed by Arrowhead Game studios for the PS3, PS4, and Vita. It’s a twin stick, 3rd person shooter with a focus on coordinated team work since players are easily able to kill their own teammates. Solo play is possible, but getting a group of 2-4 is seriously recommended. Offering a large quantity of equipment drops known as stratagems and different weapons, the game easily has enough items for players to unlock. With only 3 species of enemies in a procedurally generated universe does Helldivers give players enough meat to stick around or are we left with grizzle and bone of a game that had potential?

Helldivers doesn’t take much of an effort to develop a story. You, as a Helldiver, are equipped to defend Super Earth (your planet) from 3 invading species. To guarantee the safety of Super Earth you must go throughout the universe and spread freedom and democracy to the home of these retched outsiders. Outside of this very brief synopsis there is really nothing story driven. The people inside your ship are more or less useless giving you small updates that don’t mean anything. After the brief intro the story in no way impacts the play through in any significant way.

Graphically speaking the game is about average. The art style wasn’t amazing,  but I did enjoy the cartoony aspects of it and the environments slightly above average for being computer generated. There were no attempts to make anything really stand out in the environment and character models. Even changing the look of your character graphically doesn’t add much and unless your looking really hard everyone looks fairly similar. Overall, nothing to complain about but also nothing to brag about.

Inside your ship there is a control center where you can pick which species and planet to helldive into. Completing all the missions on a planet results in a reward like a new weapon, stratagem, or more experience. I found the design of unlocking these new items to be rather poor. Once I leveled up sustainably I wanted to start exploring  higher level planets. The problem with this was the multiplayer server had many of those planets only reward experience boosts while lower level planets had item unlocks. This made me go to lower level planets, which were so easy it felt like a waste of time, for unlocks that I might need or want for higher level planets. I thought this design decision could be tweaked some what so that players don’t have to go back to lower level planets to unlock certain items. The console on the left side of your ship lets you upgrade your weapons and stratagems in various ways with research points which are collected from leveling up and finding alien samples on planets. On the right side you can go check out a database of Aliens and things you have seen throughout the various planets. In the back of the ship you can go select a Multiplayer match to join with other players currently online. There are plenty of guns and different stratagems to test and level up and they offer a decent amount of variety options to the gameplay.

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Once on planets players must navigate the surface and complete the given objectives which could include: escorting people, collecting and transporting a black box, capturing an area, etc. These can get a bit repetitive because the same ones are used over and over again. There are no objectives that are really specific to a species or planet which would have been cool to see. Only having 3 available species doesn’t offer a lot of variety when it comes to enemy types. While fighting them is still enjoyable I could see it slightly lowering the replay value seeing that fighting them is literally the only driving force behind the game. On the planet their will be patrols that players can try to avoid or kill. If players are noticed and don’t react quickly enough patrols set off alarms calling for back up which usually consists of sustainably more powerful enemies. After all objectives are complete players must go to the designated location to call a drop ship and wait 90 seconds to complete the mission. During those 90 seconds every little pest and their extended family all the way to their 7th cousin comes out to kill you. These moments is really where the game shines. The screen is cluttered with enemies, bombs raining from the sky, and you and your teammates are unleashing all the lead you have. Watch the video below to see what I mean.

The only thing that really dampens these moments of all out combat is the camera. Full disclosure, this is the first twin stick shooter I’ve ever played and I understand this game requires a bit of coordination. But, seriously the camera can screw you over quite a bit in this game, especially when shit hits the fan. When you have a lot of enemies rushing you or certain enemies use abilities that you have to dodge really quick, if your teammates aren’t close to you and camera can really inhibit you ability to see or even run in a certain direction. If your team is stretched out in a particular fashion enemy patrols can’t be noticed in time because they are 3/4ths off screen and then they call for reinforcements. Add that to when the chaos hits and it can be really annoying because there is no way to stop the stream of enemies from coming. I wasn’t a fan of the camera design but I understand its intention to keep players together instead of having one rush off screaming “MLG!” trying to solo everything. However, if it were a bit more zoomed out that might be able to fix some of the problems. Having good teammates also eliminates most of this problem.

One thing I would have liked to see more of us mini-boss/boss fights. There are technically only 3 boss fights in the game and while they are enjoyable and very challenging it would have been great to see more. It would add more flavor to levels that can feel kind very familiar even if they are all procedurally generated.

The game feels like a satirical take on America’s efforts to spread democracy which was actually pretty funny. While blasting away enemies your character will shout, “Want a cup of liber-tea?!”, “Here’s a taste of freedom!”, “We fight for democracy!”, etc. These are small editions that I found pretty enjoyable. Even the ships commander reminds you that kill all of these species is spreading democracy. The title even screams this satirical note, Helldivers: Democracy Strikes Back!

Overall, Helldivers has some very enjoyable gameplay, especially in the levels of harder difficulty with 2-4 players. It’s lack of story makes it lean heavily on the gameplay but it doesn’t fully make up. A large variety of enemy types/species and more boss battles would have offered it a higher replay ability. Design decisions regarding unlocks and the camera, while not detrimental to the experience, were the most noticeable issues I had with the game.  With a solid team, Helldivers will offer players an enjoyable experience. For how long that experience will  last is a difficult question.

Grade: C+

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