Helldivers, Arrowhead Games and Sony’s tactical twin-stick shooter, opens with a cheesy-yet-rousing recruitment broadcast imploring you to sign up and join the Helldivers in their fight to defend “Super Earth” today. Is it worth taking them up, though? Well, yes and no, depending on your situation.
Each Helldiver takes their choice of four “stratagems” into a mission and, you guessed it, they add another strategic layer. Ranging from air strikes to airdrops containing ammo, weapons, vehicles and more, stratagems offer battlefield advantages – but require no less caution in their deployment. If you find yourself under a teammate’s strafing run, in front of your own turret or under any drop-pod, it’s not going to end well for you. Stratagems add something of a tower defence element to Helldivers, only without the luxury of a free-period in which to use them before enemies spawn, and the simplicity of instantly placing defences. Each stratagem requires a different code to be punched into your radio in order to equip it, then it needs to be placed before a further delay occurs as you wait for it to drop. In addition, the action rarely dies down enough for you to formulate considered strategies, deploying stratagems while under friendly and enemy fire. This makes for a more frantic, suspenseful and fun experience than the generic form of tower defence.
It’s a good job it’s frantic, suspenseful and fun, as the game is essentially endless. There’s barely any story, and all players simply fight recurring wars to protect Super Earth against three encroaching alien races – think co-op Planetside 2. Missions are procedurally generated to keep things fresh, although they pull from a small pool of objectives, so despite random sandbox layouts, you’ll be doing the same things within them. Although some wider context would be nice, bypassing a conventional story was ultimately a smart decision: if nobody is ahead of you, you can join any game without worry.
It’s a game that always has you thinking and frantically juggling numerous tasks without the time to complete them all
Variety is injected through tackling the aforementioned alien races. Easiest are the melee-based Bugs, while the heavily weaponised Cyborgs fall somewhere in the middle. The most interesting and difficult of the bunch are the Promethean-esque Illuminate. They’re all fairly bog-standard fare and nothing you haven’t seen before, although the Illuminate can reverse your controls, so it’s always advisable to employ extra caution when facing those. Each race has weaknesses, and the game’s highly customisable and upgradable loadouts come into their own when experimenting and establishing playstyles to best combat them.
Helldivers is a challenging, engaging ride that’ll keep you coming back for more. It’s a game that always has you thinking and frantically juggling numerous tasks without the time to complete them all. It’s best played with friends, although random players generally behave themselves – if you’d rather go solo, however, it’s not a dive you should take.