Helldivers Review (Playstation 4)
Enlist in the Helldivers today! Blow up all manners of cyborgs, giant bugs, and unattractive extraterrestrials! Forcefully spread freedom throughout the universe! Spin around while wearing a cape! Helldivers, Arrowhead Studios' new top-down shooter, lets you do all this and more... but not much more.
In Helldivers, you're a member of the eponymous super soldier squadron tasked with protecting Super Earth by spreading the ideals of freedom and democracy vis-a-vis fast-paced, twin-stick shooting action. You'll go on missions, earn experience points, and slowly customize and expand your small arsenal of guns and ordnance drops until they're slightly less small. Missions are randomly-generated, which, in theory, adds to replayability, but in execution leads to most levels feeling kind of the same thanks to lack of variety to enemy types, objectives, or terrain.
After a while you'll stop paying any attention to what you're shooting and where you're doing the shooting, only where the next objective is. Helldivers offers a number of guns, but they're mostly weapons we've seen an infinite number of times before; armaments like a close-ranged shotgun, spray-and-pray assault rifle, or slow-and-steady scoped rifle. The weapons are bland and predictable, and outside of a few exceptions like the flame or arc throwers, play a bit too similarly. The Strategems-- special, cooldown-based ordnance drops-- add much needed variety by letting you use vehicles or summon turrets, but these big abilities can't be used as often as you might like, leaving you occasionally stuck using your standard equipment at inopportune times.
In spite of the repetition there's a wonderfully lively element to Helldivers in the way its multiplayer is executed. Each mission you complete contributes to a larger campaign being worked on by the Helldiver community; between each session you and the community at large will make progress, conquering new planets in the name of liberty and potentially earning new equipment. There's also a ticker at the bottom of the screen constantly displaying random stats and information about the playerbase at large, really making you feel like you're connected to a larger community instead of just being a solo player.
During each mission you can play with up to three additional players, which you should even if you're grouping up with strangers, as things are not well-balanced or especially fun solo. Arrowhead Studios made the interesting choice of heavily emphasizing friendly fire, so it's easy to accidentally gun down, blow up, or accidentally drop an ordnance on, your fellow fighters. It's also pretty easy to revive them, generally, so even if someone does inadvertently kill someone else it's not a big deal. The capacity for potential trolling is pretty high, as players who refuse to move will lock the map in place and prevent other players from making progress, or if you have a malicious streak it's easy to deliberately fail a mission.
This friendly-fire focused style of gameplay helps set Helldivers apart from similar titles. Whether it pays off to create a more controlled gaming experience or leads to a community of trolls will have to be seen. So far, however, the players we encountered were good-natured and objective oriented, always good for a bit of cover fire or cape-spinning, and playing with real friends makes for a destructively solid, albeit shallow, time.
You can lightly customize the appearance of your character, including the option to play as a male or female Helldiver, which is greatly appreciated, but, oddly, you can't really customize your color scheme. Given that Helldivers' camera is always pulled so far back the neat little details of your gear are completely lost, and players all end up looking like the same black/white/yellow humanoid mass. Extra non-cosmetic customization would have been good, too. You level up and earn new equipment very slowly, and with only four Strategem slots and a single primary gun slot, a level one character plays roughly the same as a highly-developed one, greatly diminishing the "carrot on a stick" feeling which motivates gamers to keep grinding out the levels.
Helldivers is at its greatest when playing with friends in short bursts. If played alone, or over long periods of time, weaknesses like the small number of abilities to choose from, repetitive battles and weapons, and overly-similar missions start to show. Thanks its many selling points, like its cheeky writing, brutal gunplay, and easily-accessible, unique multiplayer, Helldivers is well-worth your time if you're looking for something quick, casual, and brutal to be enjoyed in a group; for anything more substantial, look elsewhere.
This review is based on a purchased digital download of Helldivers for Playstation 4.