WITH all its chatter of “managed democracy” and “terrorist invasions”, Helldivers tips its hat to military-industrial satires such as Starship Troopers.
Initially, it appears the gameplay isn’t far off the bughunt of Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 movie either. It starts out just like a humble twin-stick, top-down shooter. You land on a planet and attempt to complete simple objectives (fetch, destroy, escort, etc) while fending off the natives.
In practice, Helldivers conceals strategic depth just beneath its skin, something you quickly realise when the enemies overwhelm you for the umpteenth time.
Even before you get down to a planet, you face a choice of loadouts, including a limited number of “specials” – gear drops such as an automated turret or a strafe bombing. Ignore the power of the specials and you can kiss your ass goodbye.
The enemies are drawn from three races – bugs, cyborgs and robots. They hit hard and often. While stealth may appeal as a viable strategy, the enemy factions are aggressive and persistent enough to follow you around the maps.
You come to rely then on your specials – and, much more likely, your fellow Helldivers, up to three of who can join your game in co-op at any time. Hilariously, though, friendly fire poses a constant threat. The developer’s blog noted this week that approximately one-quarter of player deaths since launch can be attributed to co-op pals and summoned gear accidentally killing a friendly.
It sounds like a nightmare but in truth there are many other ways to die in Helldivers such that friendly fire is just another hazard to negotiate. Even your gear drops can squish you as they plummet from the sky. My own speciality is to get killed by the evac ship that punctuates every mission. In short, the game is fairly merciless and unforgiving of mistakes.
Despite the pleasing variety of terrain on which you wage war, each level is randomly generated, paradoxically leading to a certain sameyness about some missions. But a steady drip-feed of weapons and specials unlocked through levelling up and research keeps the tedium at bay.
Frustrating at times for its sheer difficulty and lacking in the beauty stakes (particularly on PS4), Helldivers nonetheless rewards those who persevere with rich stories of complex battles. It’s a cross-buy (and cross-save) title, which means your €20 on the PSN store gets you a version for PS4, PS3 and PS Vita.