Review: Helldivers (PS4)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3
  • PlayStation Vita

Cross Platform Information:

  • Cross-Buy Yes
  • Cross-Save Yes
  • Cross-Chat Yes
Title: Helldivers
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3 GB)
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: T
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Super Earth is under attack and only the mighty Helldivers can save it from the enemies of the universe. That’s the plot of the new PSN title Helldivers. Helldivers are the elite soldiers of Super Earth tasked with protecting their home world from three enemy forces: the Bugs, Cyborgs, and Illuminate. The story of Helldivers is not as serious as the plotline seems. The game has a tongue in cheek approach through Starship Troopers-esque news reports. An example of the humor is Super Earth being the center of the universe and its inhabitants acting as such. They attack to “defend” themselves from the other worlds using irrational fear and jealousy as justification for their actions. The game does not take itself seriously and that becomes apparent the more you talk to soldiers on your ship and read through reports.

Helldivers is a challenging twin stick shooter that is best played with others either through offline or online co-op with two to four players. The soldiers are decked out with one primary weapon, a sidearm, and an arsenal of equipment that is called in through supply drops called Stratagems. Stratagems are equipment drops that vary from extra ammo to turrets to nuclear blasts. These are called down through D-pad combinations that get longer based on how powerful the Stratagem is.

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The process of calling down Stratagems adds a great deal of strategy to each level since they each have a cooldown and the game does not stop while you call them in, meaning you can easily die while waiting until the last second to call in some help. The D-pad combination element adds a bit of cheap tension as you rush through the combination as quickly as possible before you or your squad become overwhelmed by the enemies. I call it cheap tension because in my opinion it is clearly there specifically to build tension. But despite that it works and is very effective when you mess up a combo and have to restart or retreat to a safe location to call it in.

… This game was meant to be played with others …

There are a great deal of weapons, perks, and Stratagems available in the game with most being unlocked through leveling up your characters and spending Research Points that are earned by leveling up or by finding “samples” scattered throughout each level. Samples are collectibles scattered throughout each level and they are spread out extremely well to the point where if you just go straight to the mission it is possible to not come across any samples at all. The unlock tree is pretty straightforward with weapons and Stratagems having simple upgrade paths that increase their usefulness. Despite the straightforwardness of the unlocks the amount of unlockable items easily make up for it.

How missions are structured is simple as you bounce from planet to planet clearing them by completing various mission types that include old standards like searching for objects, disabling enemy defenses, escorting hostages to safety, and so on. The objectives needed to complete a planet are simple and the challenge comes from dealing with the swarms of enemies and the strategy in trying to figure out how best to tackle an enemy situation.

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Enemy types range from the standard grunts to more complex enemies with different attacking methods. With three enemy races, the variety of creatures is refreshing. To add more tension on top of the D-pad combination, once all of the objects have been completed the players must rendezvous at a designated area and call for a shuttle. Here they are forced to wait until a ship can pick them up while battling the final waves of enemies before completing the level. All in all the different aspects come together in the the end to make a pretty compelling game.

Visuals:
While twin-stick shooters have a harder time to show off visually in comparison with third and first person shooters, Helldivers does find ways to look great on the PlayStation 4 with fantastic dust and wind effects. From the snowy or sand filled winds, to the debris caused from an explosion, it all looks sharp. The game features three distinct environments: snow, desert, and forest worlds. The galaxy is filled with these and each environment type looks and acts differently from the others which helps keep the game from feeling repetitive despite the actual layouts of maps not differing too much.

I am happy to report that the game ran at a steady frame rate even when I tried to cause as much chaos as possible with bombs, grenades, and exo mech suits while playing with some random people online. Also, spinning capes are always fun and look great.

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Audio:
From the triumphant music to the pops of the guns, the audio design is spectacular. The game features some voice work, but the game is less about story and more about the pure action and fun that is had in co-op. That being the case it is nice that the audio design keeps it simple and focuses on the sounds of the fight. Another nice design element is the sound that comes from the DualShock 4’s speaker. There is a wonderful empty clip ‘ting’ when your ammo is low as well as other small audio cues sent through the controller.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game was meant to be played with others either through two player couch co-op or four player online co-op. I played the game both locally and online and it works fantastic in both cases. During my time online I did not come across any hiccups, but the sample size of people available was obviously smaller than it will be after launch. Regardless, the game worked and players were able to drop in and out of my game and vice versa with no issue and I played a couple hours with three other players online without any interruptions using the in-game chat.

… the Starship Troopers game we deserve …

The four player online experience was hectic and a blast. The game on harder difficulties means the screen is covered with enemies. Adding three other players to the mix means many deaths were had, but it was all in good fun. A big reason there were deaths aplenty was due to the fact that the friendly fire was a constant threat and there is no option to turn it off. This might be problematic in some cases, but once you grasp the concept of friendly fire and your co-op partners do too it is manageable and a fun element. If a player does go down you can either help them up if they are bleeding out or if they have already passed you can use a Stratagem to bring them back into the action. Coordination between partners really becomes essential to success especially since some of the tougher worlds appear to require co-op partners.

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All the Helldivers play into a community aspect where the game breaks down into three regions and the community plays them until the enemy is wiped out from that area. So each victory or loss will have an impact on the entire war. It is an interesting idea and I look forward to seeing it play out fully when the game launches.

The game is advertised as being Cross-Play with Cross-Chat between the PS4, PS3, and Vita, but I was unable to test that before writing my review due to not knowing what systems the random people I was playing with online were on.

Conclusion:
Helldivers is an entertaining ride and a great co-op experience. The amount of unlockables and the solid core mechanics should keep players coming back. There are other twin-stick top-down shooters on the PS4 and more are coming, but the added strategy and challenge that comes with Helldivers sets it apart. It’s the Starship Troopers game we deserve. If you are craving a new co-op game, Helldivers deserves your time and attention. And remember the only good bug is a dead bug so do your part and pick up a controller.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Check out a full hour of gameplay below:

 

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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