Helldivers is a fun isometric shooter that’s bigger in scope than it first appears – especially if, like me, you accidentally let your PlayStation Plus subscription lapse awaiting a deal that never eventuated and begin playing offline. That’s because Helldivers takes place in a persistent online world in which players’ results influence the shared universe. So playing offline is somewhat pointless.
Set in a dystopian feature, complete with a Super Earth, the human race has taken to flying all over the galaxy to blast the shit out of aliens after pressing some buttons to active a missile system or capture a fort. You know, the usual story of a pristine future in which guns rule supreme against idiot aliens. The story, then, is rather shit, and the objectives are hardly imaginative. But that’s not why you’re here.
You’re a newly recruited Helldiver, one of the soldiers defending Super Earth from alien invasion with a bunch of firearms. From a top down view, the left stick is used for movement, while the right aims the active weapon. You know the drill. Along the way, you’ll call in reinforcements and better weapons, to massacre aliens faster, and unlock new items and abilities while grinding for XP to level up.
The action is split across several days, first introducing the basic mechanics. The action is top notch as a twin-stick shooter, powering co-op missions. But it’s also the source of the game’s blaring weakness for more casual players: the combos.
D-pad combos (left, up, up, down, right, left, down, for example) are an integral mechanic, primarily for calling in supply drops and support attacks, and also to activate most objectives. In the latter instance, they work fine. The prompt is clear and it forces the area to be cleared of enemy combatants before proceeding. However, it detracts from the gunplay, even as early as the tutorial, as a combat mechanic. It’s clearly there to make stratagems more tactical, as they require time to be called, but there’s already a delay in activation, and after not playing for a couple of days, I forgot what the massive strings of combos did. Considering there’s a select number available in each mission, they could have more simply been mapped to single D-pad buttons.
With practice, they become easier to navigate, but they always feel clumsy, especially in the heat of battle, which is all the time. The earlier missions are a trial playing alone, despite lasting only a few minutes. Helldivers gives you an extra respawn for being a Nigel-no-friends, but it’s clearly designed to be played multiplayer. The challenge quickly grows too immense for a single player to navigate alone, especially without levelling up fast enough.
That’s where Helldivers becomes interesting. You’re fighting against three AI controlled alien races, who fight back against Super Earth, in a persistent world where results matter, regardless of if you partake or not. The flight deck of a ship acts as community hub to keep tabs on stats and prepare your custom character, before deploying onto an alien home world where the real battle begins. The ultimate goal is to dominate all three alien worlds, and protect Super Earth, but that’s difficult with the online community forced to work together against ruthless AI.
There isn’t much to objectives, it’s really a case of going to point B to press a button, onwards to point C and then back to point A, but the barrage of wave after wave of powerful enemies is what makes Helldivers horribly addictive or just plain horrible, depending on where you sit. For some, fighting repetitive AI in a challenging shooter while slowly earning XP will sound like paradise, while for others it’s pure hell. And mark my words: it doesn’t get much more repetitive than this.
Helldivers is at its best playing in a team of four where strategy can run deep and players are forced to rely on each other’s abilities. The objectives themselves may not carry much weight, but when it’s a matter of survival, it’s amazing the plans a tight-knit unit can implement. Playing alone just isn’t the same, as it becomes a spam-a-thon with the hope of survival, rather than the calculated team-based shooter it intends to be.
The combat is more natural playing with at least one other person, and bouncing between objectives feels like an accomplishment, rather than an obligation. The challenge is there, either way, ensuring the worlds feel like hostile alien planets on which you’re not welcome, but it doesn’t resonate as a legitimate attack when going solo. The problem is it requires four friends, as random online gamers are the worst type of people. Friendly fire is always on, and it seems anyone I try and play with is happy to obliterate me with firepower. It ruins the fun. Now, I’m not going to judge an entire online community based on a few bad experiences, but I haven’t really had any good ones playing with nobodies, and that’s a problem for a game interwoven with an online world.
Helldivers is an entertaining cosmic shooter, if you’re playing in a dedicated team. It’s an experience that can be had solo, but is intended for a team of four, if those four will actually work together, and in my experience, that can’t happen with randoms online. The objectives are boring playing alone, and while the core twin-stick combat is quality, the support mechanics don’t match. There is plenty of fun to be had here, but to really enjoy at this price point, isometric twin-stick co-op shooters really need to be your thing.