Helldivers marries real-life laughter and video game death better than it should. Within ten minutes of top-down mayhem, my team and I were mauled by a wild praying mantis, trampled by beetles, evaporated by ordinance, and crushed by our own orbital supply pod. And we couldn’t stop laughing along the way.
This absurdly entertaining co-op shooter is coming to PS3, PS4, and PS Vita later this year, courtesy of Swedish developer Arrowhead Games. A brutally difficult experience spritzed with Starship Troopers aesthetics, Helldivers reminds us that some of the best multiplayer still emerges from couch co-op. And a countless array of untimely deaths.
Helldivers establishes its dystopian future with a sly wink. It’s just serious enough to keep players on the battlefield, but only just. The inhabitants of Super Earth — under a “managed democracy” — face a three-pronged attack against a host of dangerous enemies. Deadly bug hordes included.
As a Helldiver, players will drop into procedurally-generated environments in order to drive back the alien menace. Their objectives include destroying bug nests, securing contested zones, and even protecting supply containers as they move from one station to another. And these missions can be handled with four players across local and online connections — or any combination of the two.
Before a sortie, players customize their loadouts on the Helldivers ship, which hovers ominously above world. A whole slew of weapons, explosives, and special support skills can be unlocked through play. Once on-world, the Helldivers are assaulted by baddies from every angle. With friendly fire a constant danger, we soon found ourselves causing more damage to our own team than to the slithering bugs in our way. It takes real coordination to push from objective to objective, but getting blown away by a friendly trooper has its own charm.
Like other top-down shooters, the sticks on DualShock 4 handle movement and aim separately. Players are expected to get comfortable with the setup right away, as Helldivers spares little expense in sending lethal aggression towards the team. Enemies flood the battlefield like a true infestation, and even friendly equipment poses a threat. The aforementioned support abilities call down critical aid to player troops, but can literally crush any unfortunate soldiers meandering underneath (instant hilarity).
These skills are activated by heart-pounding d-pad inputs in the midst of combat, reminiscent of fighting game commands or Konami codes (or, for Final Fantasy enthusiasts, Sabin’s Blitz attacks). When entered correctly, players can call for extra ammo, revive fallen troops, or even place devastating sentry cannons. Friendly note: these sentry guns will not detect a player if he or she is standing between it and enemy bugs. So stay out of the way, or face another gruesome death. And more hilarity.
Missions are fast and fun on their own, but there’s a sort of metagame to be found in the overarching Super Earth conflict. Arrowhead plans to create community-wide wars that last for two real-life months. If players can collectively rise to the task and push back the alien invasion, the difficulty for everyone will rise. If the community fails, the difficulty drops. These massive engagements will allow the global Helldiver populace to decide how future battles will be waged.
Despite how difficult Helldivers is in its early state, this brutal shooter will get players laughing. And that’s a real accomplishment when those players are being eviscerated by giant insects. Think about it.