Overview - Helldivers Review
+ Adds a new element of strategy and tactics to the twin stick shooter genre
+ Great multiplayer fun
- Little in the way of plot or story, despite the world the game is built within
- It's still just a twin stick shooter
Release Date: August 18, 2015
Developer/Publisher: Arrowhead Game Studios/ Sony Computer Entertainment
Helldivers is one in a long line of recent twin stick shooters, and also one of the best. Helldivers brings an unmatched level of tactics to a genre that had little previously. With a large campaign and tons of unlockable weapons and deployments, Helldivers' Starship Troopers inspired setting combined with the ability for up to four players to team up, set it up as a great experience, especially for the genre.
Story - Helldivers Review
Helldivers has a relatively simple story line and it's definitely not one of the stronger aspects of the game. But, this isn't a genre known for intricate plots, so Helldivers can be forgiven for the lack of one. What Helldivers does do well is create an interesting world in which lends itself to the solar system trotting of each mission. Finding new technology or completing a campaign has the feel of being a part of a bigger world.
There is a slight nod to politics, and whether or not the government in place is a true democracy or just perceived as one. It doesn't do much to add to the game as an attempt at depth, and honestly it hardly changes the gameplay only serving as a device to change up the enemies in a few missions. But again, this is a lot more in the way of plot than say, Zombie Nation, and a lot more focus on telling a story too. Still, the story is completely reasonable to ignore, consciously or not, and still enjoy the game.
Technical - Helldivers Review
Viewed from a top-down perspective, Helldivers doesn't get a chance to show off much. This is a shame, because even from this perspective Helldivers looks great, especially for the genre. There is enough of an isometric perspective to get more than an inkling of the character models and these intricacies, which is especially important given the emphasis on multi-player and discerning the multiple characters. This is made even more critical when the screen becomes full of enemies and projectiles, but Helldivers handles it well. Even as the screen fills with chaos there is never an indication of slow-down. With how important reactions and timing is, this is essential for smooth gameplay and preventing cheap deaths.
Environments are kept simple out of necessity. There is enough to differentiate the different worlds, but each mission within these worlds are similar. It's less about their beauty and more about being simple visual cues. Shiny ground among snow indicates ice, flames obviously indicate fire, rocks and brush litter the stage as obstacles and not scenery. All have a purpose but simplicity is key.
Besides the war torn stages a character traversable hub is used within a spaceship, which is your home base . It's a stark contrast in comparison to the mission levels and is filled with many more details. It's another way in which Helldivers can display it's stylized visuals.
Music - Helldivers Review
The music of Helldivers is, obviously, very militaristic. The beating drums, the horn hits and subtle bass line are very reminiscent of a Harry Gregson-Williams score. While the quality is high, the music is generic. This is ok because it mostly serves the hub, custscenes and pre-mission loading screens, which are not places you spend a large amount of time in.
Overall, music is neither a strength nor a weakness for Helldivers as it mostly stays out of the way, only an accent onto the entire language of the game.
Gameplay - Helldivers Review
Helldivers levels are all procedurally generated, and this includes the mission objectives. giving each player a slightly different experience. Adding even more to the customized experience is the players ability to choose their loadout and their drop zone. It's a surprisingly nice feature being able to choose to touch down right next to one of the objectives versus the traditional drop far away and fight your way there. Sometimes you will get dropped into enemy-rich areas, which usually ends up being a poor strategy.
Before missions, the players select their loadout such as weapons and armor but also something referred to as strategems. Strategems are used by bringing up a menu and following a series of button presses, the faster this is done the quicker they can be dropped onto the battlefield. Entering in the button combos can become frantic when under attack creating an interesting strategy of when to call for them. Besides calling in more ammunition or another weapon, strategems also include vehicles, automatic turrets, landmines or orbital strikes. This really ads variation to the gameplay, even with some trial and error to see which tactics work best, when and where.
Perhaps the most interesting, and original feature of Helldivers' gameplay is that during multiplayer, everything can kill you, including friendly-fire. Multiplayer is the best way to experience Helldivers. Whether co-op with one, two or three other players, Helldivers multiplayer is what truly separates it from other twin stick shooters. Because of the ability to shoot your own teammates this makes battlefield tactics and communication with them more crucial. Even more dangerous are calling in strategems which can kill you or your comrades on impact, even the dropship landing zone needs to be cleared to avoid death.
Luckily, the controls are tight, the physics are solid and it never feels like a mission cannot be completed, even without bigger, better weapons or strategems. The game can still be completed with the right tactics. That's a credit to the game's strength and harkens back to the 16-bit era. There is depth but that's not what makes the game.
Helldivers Review Roundup
Helldivers does a lot very well, it's at the top of heap of the twin stick genre. The gameplay and mechanics are far deeper than any of its contemporaries and even the style and attempt at a narrative are well beyond what any comparative game has to offer. But, it's a twin stick shooter. It's not quite putting lip stick on a pig but it just doesn't compare to the best games of other genres. Helldivers is as good as it can be and for a couple of hours is really fun, but it's easily discarded when the next game comes along.