Game ReviewsGamingPC / MacPS5Sony

Helldivers 2, Review (it’s awesome!)

In recent months I have struggled to find a game that really gels with me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played a number of titles recently that I’ve enjoyed. But it’s been a while since something’s really grabbed me- since I’ve played a game that I think about even when I’m not playing. Then, Helldivers 2 released.

Helldivers 1 was great fun back in 2015, with its Starship Troopers aesthetic and awesome gunplay, but it was niche. Helldivers was an isometric, 4player co-op mission-based shooter, where you called in heavy weapons, airstrikes and orbital strikes using “stratagems”. Organised chaos was at its core. It was a well-made ‘indie’, with addictive top-down twin stick shooting. 

Helldivers 2 is that same co-op shooter DNA …just much, much bigger and better! In fact, I love that the developers have used “aggressive iteration” for this new outing for Helldivers. The bones of the original wee ‘indie’ title remain largely unchanged; it’s just been “levelled-up”. Arrowhead Studio knew they had a great idea, it just needed to mature into a proper AAA game.

If it ain’t broke, just make it more shiny.

The two main differences between the indie version and the AAA version, is the change to an over the shoulder, 3rd person shooter perspective, and the massive graphical upgrade. Sure, there are new systems, enemies, and weaponry, but the core of the game identity is largely unchanged. This includes the fantastic political satire, which is delivered with wit and cutting humour, a rare commodity in action games. 

The set-up is that you are a “Helldiver”. Basically, a pseudo Halo ODST with a sexy cape, who fights to protect Super-Earth from the Bug and Robot scourge in neighbouring galaxies. Matchmake or play solo, equip weapons and the all-important “Stratagems”, and drop into hell to complete missions on a hostile planet. Complete the tasks, collect XP and resources to unlock better gear and on it goes. Difficulty is the main equaliser here, as you can choose anything from a sedate low risk, low reward mission to complete chaos. Clear out a base, set up artillery emplacements, recover lab samples….all sorts of busy work that isn’t really important.

It’s just an excuse to shoot monsters with mates.

The change to a 3rd person camera has ramped up the tension. The claustrophobic feeling of being swarmed by enemies adds to the feeling of chaos. Shooting is 3rd person, but clicking the stick brings up iron sights or scopes. Shooting also feels great, with unique guns and realistic ammo limitation, meaning you have to make every shot count. But the real game-changers are the Stratagems – special abilities or powers in the form of airstrikes or emplacements, deployed from orbit. But there’s a catch – if you want to call a stratagem in, you need to enter its code via the d-pad.

Picture this, in the middle of a firefight an airstrike is needed to hold the enemy back. Holding in a bumper prompts various d-pad inputs to unlock the ability.

For example: “←←↑↑↓→↑→→

Entering all those buttons all while trying to survive seems mundane and arduous, certainly not fun….but it is! It brings the stress of the combat to the fray, while trying to concentrate on a totally new micro task. The push and pull of doing a mundane button prompt in the midst of all hell breaking loose is such a clever mechanic. Even more fun when you are running for your life and trying to call in drops while the bugs are at your heels.

Then there’s the Macro game.

But its not all just mindless chaos, as there is a galactic war effort you contribute to with every mission. The whole community needs to clear out planets to 100%, which opens up the next wave of planets that need ‘enforced democracy’. Working together pushes back the alien scourge and provides extra credits to put towards unlocks and new stratagems. 

The drop in drop out co-op is flawless (granted some launch day hiccups are still about as the servers groan under the massive load of popularity) and the game is engineered to work with or without mics. So with mates, all on mics, working together and talking shit is fantastic fun. But the ping and contextual prompt system is great too. So, playing with 3 randoms is borderline flawless as well. Arrowhead studios have put huge effort into these systems, meaning Helldivers 2 is just as much fun to play with total strangers, mic free. XP, loot and resources are all shared evenly which is important. The only objective is to complete the mission and extract as a team. Who does what just doesn’t matter. 

Helldivers 2: Laugh with friends and blow shit up.

I laughed aloud many times while playing this game. Akin to Starship Troopers, the satirical undercurrents in Helldivers 2 are hilarious. When mowing down countless bugs with a machine gun, my Helldiver will suddenly yell….”SAY HELLO TO DEMOCRACY!!” or “FREEDOM NEVER SLEEPS!!” or even “HOW ABOUT AND NICE CUP OF LIBER-TEA!!” on a grenade toss. Hilarious. All the dialogue from the helldivers, radio communications or briefings from the ship staff are all done with tongue firmly inserted in cheek. It’s great. Humour in games, particularly Political humour, is very tough, but here, it has been nailed. 

This game is another example of how these small-ish developers have a lot to teach the ‘big boys’ of the game development world. And brave choices, great game systems and smart design ideas have been rewarded by gamers. Helldivers 2 has launched on PC and PS5 and on both platforms has been a smash-hit. There is a reason for that. It’s unique, beautifully made, and massive amounts of fun!