PlayStation platforms have seen their share of cooperative games, either local/online or both, but the latest title from Arrowhead Game Studios takes this concept to new heights. The creators of the Magicka series, Arrowhead has developed a hardcore twin-stick cooperative shooter set in the year 2084 as humanity protects and spreads democracy (freedom doesn't bleed) throughout the galaxy. Players take control of the titular Helldivers, locked in a struggle along three separate fronts against unique alien species. Spread democracy, fight for humanity, become a Helldiver today!
The initial reveal for the game featured one of the three different species: the Bugs, showing the game's major influence, Starship Troopers. Upon playing the final release build, this still holds true even more than I thought, and that's not a bad thing. Whether locally or online, up to four players can join together with drop in/drop out support. First and foremost, the game supports every iteration of "cross" that you can think of. Helldivers is a cross-play title, allowing players on any of the three pillars of Playstation to play together. As long as you are connected online, your Helldiver is saved online, so no matter what platform you boot up, your character will be waiting and able to chat with anyone in-game. $20 may seem like a high price point for a digital only title, but the game also supports cross-buy, so you only have to buy Helldivers once to have all three versions. For all those trophy hunters, Helldivers features a platinum trophy.
Helping to push the envelope of a hardcore cooperative experience, Helldivers features full friendly fire with no options to turn it off. With a full squad of four players firing in all directions, things quickly erupt in chaos and you'll easily find yourself crawling along the ground close to death due to one of your buddies firing like a madman. Coordinating is key, and even without using voice chat, players are quick to embrace the concept by playing strategically without running into anyone's line of sight. By completing missions, earned experience allows characters to earn 25 different ranks. Each rank rewards you with new weapons, perks, or customization options. Character appearance isn't tied to any stats, so altering a Helldiver's helmet, body, cape or gender will have no bearing on gameplay.
Helldivers features a global meta campaign where every player connected online will influence the war outcome. Arrowhead estimates that each war will take roughly 4-6 weeks, but will solely be dependent on the performance of the community as a whole. The campaign is broken out by the three enemy factions, with multiple regions between the alien homeworlds and Super Earth (our future home). Each region is broken up by planets of varying difficulty and rewards. Planets are procedurally-generated, broken up by two or three different missions, giving the illusion that no two missions will be the same. Completing all the missions on a planet will earn influence for the region. Once the influence bar is full, the next region opens up until your reach the Bug, Cyborg or Illuminate Homeworld. The Homeworlds are more difficult than any of the prior regions and include a time limit for players to earn enough influence. Occasionally the enemy will launch a counterattack, spawning events across the galaxy These events yield double experience rewards. If the planet is not defended, the entire region will be lost, so timing will play a major factor for the community.
After selecting a planet and a mission, the Helldivers are dropped by a hellpod to the chosen drop point. Being closer to an objective has its obvious benefits, but there is a greater risk of being detected by enemy patrols. Objectives vary, as specified points must be captured, survivors escorted across the harsh environments, briefcases transferred to secure locations, and more. Upon completion of the objectives, evac shuttles must be hailed, requiring players create a defended position around the location as the shuttle takes a couple mins to show up.
Helldivers come equipped with two weapons: a primary weapon and a secondary handgun, as well as two grenades and a handful of Stratagems. When reloading (there is no automatic reloading), you lose any ammo left in the clip, so those that have a habit of reloading constantly will be in trouble. This is where Stratagems come into play, allowing you to call for weapon, vehicle, and gear drops from obit. One of the first and most useful includes additional ammunition. Each time you call for an item, it will have a timer on when it will be available. A word of advice: do not stand around the location of an incoming drop, or shuttle, for that matter. I've seen squads decimated by poorly placed drop locations as you pinpoint where you want the drop. Others are just as useful, including support weapons, which is the only time you'll carry three firearms. The support weapons include a flamethrower or machinegun, a powerful walking mech or even launching an airstrike blanketing an area in hellfire. Turrets are useful to defend while waiting for the shuttle, but depending on the location it could wipe out your squad. For this reason, Helldivers includes a specified prone button, allowing you to dive under incoming fire.
Research points are earned with every rank or through collecting 10 alien samples, which are highlighted objects hidden throughout the planets. These points are used to further advance your weaponry, or stratagems, depending on your style of play. Only one perk can be used at a time, and if you feel confident removing the default laser sight perk, you can experience an increase in armor, faster stratagem launch times, stun grenades and even incendiary grenades.
Being available across all three of the PlayStation platforms, Helldivers allows anyone to play together regardless of platform. The content of the game is the same regardless if you are playing the console or Vita version, with the visuals being the key difference. The Vita version features lower resolution environmental and character model textures, horrendous aliasing, and is missing many of the small details that are in the console versions.
With support across three different platforms, Helldivers may be the most important title to launch this year for PlayStation. Arrowhead is betting on the additive hardcore nature of the gameplay to provide enough sustenance for the online community to keep the game afloat. Unique events and surprises for the player base could keep each war from feeling stagnated. I have high hopes for humanity force-feeding democracy throughout the galaxy in Helldivers; just be careful where my hellpod lands.
Note: The Helldivers review is based on a digital PS4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher. The PS3 and VIta versions were playtested and feature the exact content as the PS4 version.