Missing out on Helldivers is like shooting yourself in the foot - something you may actually do once or twice whilst playing this game by Arrowhead Studios, which finally debuted on PC following its initial bow on PlayStation.
Granted, the storyline is simple. In the year 2084, all countries on planet Earth merged together, creating Super Earth. On their quest to "spread democracy", you play as a Helldiver - an elite soldier trained to set out to distant planets in order to 'liberate' them. In doing so, three different alien races (Illuminats, Cyborgs, and a crustacean-like species simply known as Bugs) are discovered. As the name 'Super Earth' might suggest, there is no room for negotiation - these aliens are to be eliminated and enemy planets liberated!
After a short introduction, you're thrown into Helldiver boot camp. Here the snazzy Instructor Bot 84 (who reminded us of the Portal turrets, only less hostile) will teach you the basics of the game. Besides the obvious walking, running and shooting, Helldivers also brings something else to the table: Stratagems. Stratagems are power-ups which can be called in to battle, ranging from an automated machine gun to a devastating volley of fire from an orbiting gunship.
Completing your training doesn't take very long, so you'll be able to jump into the action fast. Now a real Helldiver, you set out in your spaceship where you get to pick a planet to liberate. Every planet will provide you with information about the difficulty level and which objectives you must complete before your mission is considered successful. These objectives range from escort missions to taking down alien structures. Simple as that may sound, Helldivers forces the player to think out strategies on how to complete each mission - with their cooldowns, Stratagems aren't something you can solely rely on. You'll have to sneak, run, shoot, dodge, and above all watch your step! Running off a cliff means instant death and standing in lava may even result in a quicker death than enemy fire.
If alien enemies and a hostile environment isn't enough, in Helldivers you can be your own worst enemy as well. An automated machine gun that you've set up yourself will mow you down just as easily as it mows down your targets. Even after successfully completing a mission there is still chance to mess it all up by simply getting squashed by your own spaceship landing on your head. Since you only get three respawns before your mission gets classified as failed, you'll find yourself getting more focused and continuously thinking out better strategies for each mission.
Each stage rewards you with experience and points you can spend on upgrading armour, stratagems and perks. Gradually you'll be able to pick more difficult planets with more challenging objectives to complete. Of course, a successfully completed mission will grant the most rewards, but even failed missions will at least give you some experience points.
After opening the menu to upgrade armour, we discovered the option to change to a female character. Male soldiers in Helldivers are covered from head to toe in armour, and surprisingly so are female soldiers. The only noticeable differences between male and female Helldivers are their voices and slight armour changes. With one simple click in the armoury, you can effortlessly change sexes however many times you like. Besides the armoury, you will also find an encyclopaedia on your spaceship that gives you some background information about topics such as the alien species you're fighting - and perhaps even makes you question if 'spreading democracy' is the real intention of Super Earth's government!
Whilst you are able to play solo, you will notice missions get gradually harder (if not ultimately impossible) to complete on your own. In a game where every second counts, the time it takes to simply reload your gun could mean your demise. Luckily there is a multiplayer option in Helldivers, and without a doubt this is the game's real strength.
You can play with up to four players in Helldivers, be that friends or random players. With your squad defending each other, the seconds it takes to use Stratagems or reload your gun won't mean instant death anymore. However, enemies scale to the amount of players, meaning it doesn't get any easier.
Perhaps a bigger obstacle than your enemies is your own squad - with friendly fire being just as lethal as enemy fire, you must be careful where you aim! Killing your own team doesn't grant any rewards and with an added option to report players who deliberately shoot their own squad, the developers have succeeded at keeping intentionally uncooperative players at a low (and if anyone has played their previous games - Magicka and The Showdown Effect - you'll know that they're partial to a bit of friendly fire).
Whenever you're playing Helldivers, you automatically join in a massive galaxy-wide tug of war known as the 'Galactic Campaign'. Every planet that gets conquered will gain you Influence, which gets registered and contributes to the Galactic Campaign. Gaining enough Influence against each enemy allows the entire community to gradually conquer sectors of the Galaxy map until the enemy's home world is reached. There, a special 'Attack Event' is triggered in which players can complete missions on the enemy's home planet during a period of 48 hours. By gaining enough Influence within 48 hours, the enemy will be defeated and the war is over.
Failing to accumulate enough Influence allows the enemy to conquer our sectors of the Galaxy map, pushing the battle towards Super Earth. This will trigger a 'Defend Event', which also lasts for 48 hours. If unsuccessfully defended, Super Earth will be destroyed and the war is over.
Wars mostly last around twenty to thirty days and the challenge of each campaign is dependent on the community's performance during the previous one. When a faction is eliminated, it isn't possible to fight them for the remainder of the Galactic Campaign. Once a war is won (or lost), a new campaign will start and all factions become available to fight again.
Helldivers is the sort of game that may get easily overlooked as it carries all its strength in the little details. With your character blurting out one-liners such as "taste democracy!" and the sometimes-questionable motives from a government that renamed the planet 'Super Earth', Helldivers contains a good dose of subtle humour without trying too hard to be funny. Keeping the storyline simple yet the missions challenging proves to be a good combination. With the duration of missions ranging from five to ten minutes, you may find yourself easily tempted to sneak in a mission or two in-between playing other games.
The fact you can get killed by running off cliffs or friendly fire, or by getting squashed if your ride home lands on you, and because female characters aren't running around extremely hostile planets in metal bikinis, it all adds authenticity to the experience. The multiplayer mode is without question the flagship feature, with the Galactic Campaign strongly tying the whole community together. As such we highly recommend Helldivers to anyone who likes fast-paced action and who isn't afraid of a challenge - or a spaceship (or two) landing on your head.
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