Propaganda is a powerful tool for people to use, especially during war times. Books like George Orwell’s 1984 and Starship Troopers (and the movies) highlight propagnada and in subtle and overt ways. Video games are not new to this method of storytelling as we’ve seen it in games like Killzone 2, and now in Helldivers.
The opening scene is a video montage of the heroic Helldivers and how every man, woman and child needs to assist in winning a war against different alien species. It’s clearly a propaganda video and it makes complete sense. You are basically just a pawn in this war against races you barely know or understand. A tool that the world’s government uses with wreckless abandon.
You, as you’d expect, are a Helldiver, a member of the Super Earth army. Your job is to kill all alien life in the galaxy. Simple. There’s no story to be told as you’re really just a minion working his or her way up the army’s food chain, well, more like shooting their way up the ranks.
It’s a twin-stick shooter with loads of action. The controls are very simple and follows a similar button map to games in the same vein. Left and right analogue sticks control movement and aiming. R2 to shoot, R1 to reload, etc. The main difference is the stratagem system, which is almost like a set of abilities. To use them, you open up the menu with the L1 button and insert the required shortcode using the D-pad. After a successful attempt, you must toss a little ball thing on the ground, which will transmit a signal to your ship, which sends the stratagem more or less where you threw the ball. Proper use of these tools is vital for survival and even more important when you tackle the harder planets.
When you look at it as a whole, the game ticks off many good boxes and even makes death entertaining (unless you’re the one dying all the time). It constantly reminds you that every human in this war is basically cannon fodder. You can die from almost anything – aliens, friendly fire, your own turrets, landing stratagems, grenades, the evacuation shuttle and falling off a cliff. Even your accidental death count is added to the Galaxy Death counter.
You will face three enemy races, the Bugs, Cyborgs and the Illuminate. Unlocking access to each galaxy is a bit of a mystery to me. When I got to fight the others, it just sort of ‘happened’. I think it’s after you’ve rescued a certain number of planets or achieved a high enough community score. Selecting a match is also simple, you select a galaxy, say the bugs, then a planet and then a mission. Each mission contains objectives, the higher the danger, the more objectives. Once you complete all missions, the planet is cleared and the galaxy is slightly safer.
The planets are procedurally generated, so you’ll never see the same map, however, the locations are very similar, so it’ll all feel the same at some point. A new planet replaces the one you’ve just freed – that’s what gives the game its longevity. Once you’ve leveled up, you’ll unlock at least 12 worlds, each a notch tougher than the other. There are 12 difficulties in all, one for each planet. The first five are the only difficulties I can manage to do solo, after that, you’re going to have to play with other people.
Fortunately, the co-op is stupid fun, unless you have some dumbass that can’t aim or use his or her stratagems properly. I will admit that I have hurt a few people before, but it’s not my fault that people want to walk really close to the metal Mech I’m piloting…
People can also be commended or reported for their behaviour.
Like I mentioned before, the main objective of the game is to eliminate the alien threat. As the online community grows, the overall world score, called community score, will grow. When it reaches its maximum, you’ll be able to tackle the enemy home world and kill them for good (until the war begins anew). I haven’t seen this since I started playing, and I suspect I won’t for some time. The same can happen to Super Earth. The aliens can attack back, which will initiate an emergency mission calling all Helldivers to protect the planet. I’ve also not seen this yet. I think the concept is great, but I can’t critique the execution just yet.
Visually, the game isn’t pushing any PS4 boundaries, but the creative team did a swell job in making it look great within their own limitations. It’s clear and smooth, and I haven’t noticed any screen tears or drops in framerate. It does, however, come to life when all the shooting starts. The manic terror and pretty lights are a lot more visible when playing the tougher levels, so they tend to look prettier and show off what the game is meant to look and feel like.
Fortunately, it’s not just the bullets that look cool. The enemies look great and their design really emphasizes their uniqueness. The Illuminate are more technologically advanced than the bugs and look the part. The bugs, much like insects, are far more problematic when there are hundreds of them around – they also don’t look smart and plays really well with their design.
The one thing that brings the game down is the sense that you’re doing the same thing over and over again. There are different objectives, but once you’ve done them 20 times, it tends to get a little boring when you’re playing solo. For that reason, the length of the game really depends on how well you play with others. Another small problem I have is that the viewing size of the screen is really small. It’s hard to see some enemies, which makes it difficult to eliminate them before they can alert other aliens.
I had a few issues with my online connection, but I suspect that it’s my line and not the game, but I can’t say it will 100% certainty. I won’t knock the game for it, but be cognizant if you’re keen to play this game. Another thing I should mention is that your score and time played only reflects when you host a game, so if you join another person, you don’t technically earn community points, beat planets or increase your time spent fighting aliens.
After spending quite a number of hours – I can’t pinpoint an exact number, but I’ve definitely played more than 8 hours – I am hooked. I’m so hooked that I’ll probably play until I see the community actually win a fight against an alien race. It’s definitely a game to play if you like co-op and sci-fi. If you’ve enjoyed other twin-stick shooter games in the past, then you’ll probably love this one. Also, it’s part of the cross-buy feature, so you’ll have access to it on all the PlayStation platforms.