Helldivers Review

By Brandon Fusco,
Super Earth is your home. You love it, so you join the Helldivers, the most beloved of the armed forces, and set out to destroy the various enemies who have their hearts set on the destruction of your world. Why? Because struggling to keep yourself and your teammates alive while completing mission objectives is rewarding.

Helldivers logo

Stating that Arrowhead's new cooperative twin stick shooter Helldivers is fun does a disservice to what makes it stand out from the pack. As satisfying as it is to mow down the bugs, cyborgs, and alien Illuminate that stand against you, the joy of the game comes from the times when the Helldivers have their back against the wall, and a split second decision is the difference between survival and annihilation. In a game that could, on the surface, be described as by the book, the inclusion of well-designed co-op and a diverse set of tools for mayhem give rise to new water cooler moments in almost every match.

Teamwork is key.Teamwork is key.

Much like other twin stick shooters, the combat in the game is fast and twitchy. In the quest to save the galaxy, players have access to a wide variety of weapons, perks, upgrades, and abilities that are unlocked through the game by leveling up or finding research samples. When departing for a mission, each Helldiver can only take a small subset of these with them, requiring that teams work together to have enough supplies and special weapons to make it through their mission.

Progression and unlocking perks is rather satisfying. Some things, such as new weapons, cosmetic gear, and perks are unlocked by leveling up, while others require you to scour the surface of planets during missions for special samples or to liberate an entire planet. These rewards are quite gratifying, such as being able to call in air-dropped mine fields, automated turrets, or APCs in which your team can ride around. After your reach level 12, however, the leveling pace slows down dramatically and reaching the maximum level of 25 could potentially take an average player 30-50 hours of mission play time.

Make sure to put some thought into your loadout.Make sure to put some thought into your loadout.

While the first few missions are easy enough to be completed on your own, the more lucrative missions ramp up the difficulty quickly. With a team found, the fun begins in earnest. Having a well-oiled team can make all the difference when attempting these missions. Sometimes, this means that the team manages to pull off the perfect get away, but in others it just comes down to being able to laugh with your team when the getaway driver accidentally runs over his whole team instead.

Regardless of how the mission goes, having stories to share is integral to the experience, even if playing solo. Unfortunately, this is partly due to the lack of any real story on the part of the game. Aside from a very basic framework that sets you up as a special forces type of team for a perfectly cheesy future government, the game focuses more on telling jokes than stories. This does a great job of setting a fun, jocular tone that helps cut through potentially frustrating situations, but it lets the whole war meta-game fall flat.

Orbital drops incoming!Orbital drops incoming!

As part of the frame work of the game, Super Earth is fighting against three different alien groups. When selecting a mission, you pick from a variety of planets on the frontlines, each one increasing in difficulty. In theory, as you finish all of the missions on a planet, you make progress in the war against that particular race. Conversely, if not enough progress is made, you can lose regions of space to your enemies. Make it to an enemy home world and you can knock them out of the war for good. If they make it to Super Earth and you fail to stop them in the special community event, the war is lost and a new one begins.

All of this sounds rather compelling at first, but as the game goes on, it's hard to tell the difference. Barring success on the most difficult planets, the small gains you make aren't even noticeable on the progress bar. This doesn't just make the progress feel small, it makes contributions seem almost insignificant. A current war has lasted seven days so far, and two of the three regions have only gained about 5% progress each, while there's around 10% progress lost in the third region. The pacing certainly seems to earn the "war" moniker, but it also undermines the desire to participate in the war at all. Hopefully, as players get more experienced and progress is sped up by winning more difficult planets, the pace of the war will be more reasonable. As it stands right now, it's largely relegated to being just an event happening in the background, if it's even noticeable at all.

The war is only having middling success.The war is only having middling success.

Despite all of that, the down sides are only minor things and Helldivers really nails the moment to moment team gameplay. Once other players start joining, the tone of the game shifts from a tense guerilla warfare game to a crazy one-liner ridden power romp. If you don't have people with whom to join up, Helldivers provides a lobby system that can be used to find games in progress. Joining these games can occasionally be hit or miss, though failing to join a game only sets you back a few seconds.

The current lobby system, though effective, could use some work.The current lobby system, though effective, could use some work.

Thankfully, the game supports cross-play between the PS3, PS4, and Vita, boosting the multiplayer numbers. Cross-buy and cross-save are also in place, allowing you to take your game and play with who you like using your character wherever you may go. For the most part, this all works fairly well. The only major hiccup is that syncing saves are all handled automatically with no manual alternative, and the game isn't really clear about when the saves are synced. This can be frustrating when trying to sync a save on your Vita before leaving only to find that nothing you do works and that the data won't be coming with you that day.

Unsurprisingly, with all this cross-functionality, the core gameplay is identical. Aside from slightly different controls, you'll really only notice a difference in the graphics. The PS4 version of the game shines brightest, making good use of the controller speaker and leveraging the extra graphical horsepower. The other two versions both have some minor graphical discrepancies that are unfortunate but don't otherwise negatively impact gameplay. Of particular note is that the Vita version has a serious case of the jaggies, particularly in shadows, and that the PS3 version appears to be a lower resolution stretched out. Playing with a controller certainly feels better, but the blurry quality of the PS3 image can be quite distracting.

Mechs are great, until you catch something or someone friendly in the crossfire.Mechs are great, until you catch something or someone friendly in the crossfire.

Much like the rest of the game, the trophies require some skill, and will likely result in a funny story or two. Some of them are basic and are just a matter of playing a lot or killing enemies. Other trophies require you to perform special tasks like completing a high difficulty mission without alerting any patrols or beating a level while only using airdrops. Others are completely trivial, such as doing a set amount of cape twirls. At the top of the heap are some truly challenging trophies that can be a real mark of accomplishment, such as completing a high difficulty mission without a single death. Regardless, the list hits all of the right spots as long as you're up for the challenge.

Join the Helldivers!Join the Helldivers!

All told, Helldivers is good fun on your own and great fun with friends. Much of the story is only there for chuckles, but that fits perfectly with the cartoony sci-fi mayhem. Joining up with the Helldivers will almost certainly result in a fun story or two to tell your buddies, and potentially some well-deserved bragging rights.

The reviewer played the game for approximately 12 hours and earned 10 of the 31 trophies, attaining the rank of major, and successfully completing a mission at the highest difficulty. The purchase of the Playstation 4 review copy as well as any future "cups of Liber-tea" were made by the reviewer.
Brandon Fusco
Written by Brandon Fusco
Brandon is an Editor and TGN's Host with the Most. The most what? The most opinions, the most understanding wife, and the most *funny cat videos. Previously Host of the Trophy Talk Podcast. (*Not Verified)