The RPS Verdict: Helldivers

Adam: Helldiving is hard. I think I am the worst Helldiver.

Alec: Helldiving is AWESOME.

Adam: Helldiving is the act of diving into hell. Where hell is understood to be one of several planets occupied by hostile forces. Mostly, in our experience, bugs. Bugs that tore our starship troopers into pieces.

To be clear about this, Helldivers [official site] is a cooperative game, from the creators of the original Magicka. It involves friendly fire, d-pad combos, mechs dropping from alien skies, ammunition shortages, panic, awesome motorbikes and death. Lots of death. I think I like it rather a lot.

Alec: I am also extremely in favour of ‘helldive’ becoming a verb. The game’s an enormously pleasant surprise anyway, especially one to end the year with. I’d for some reason had it in my end that it was some hyper-precise aeroplane-based shmup, which I think is because the logo looks quite a bit like Luftrausers, so the discovery that it’s sort of Destiny Does Alien Breed was delightful. It’s so Pop! which is exactly what I needed after the year of heavy duty fare like the Witcher 3 and Fallout 4. But it manages to be bloody brutal as well as Pop: the operative term is, as you mention, panic.

It’s about getting yourself into a terrible state then trying to find a desperate way out of it. The consequences are never especially harsh, but the idea that you must win any situation – that you must bring “Managed Democracy” to these various alien worlds is absolute. It is VERY IMPORTANT to emerge triumphant. Especially when it’s impossible.

Adam: From our session earlier today, one sequence around thirty seconds long encapsulated just about everything I like about the game. You’d deployed a mech and were stomping around battering aliens left, right and centre. That’s tricker than it sounds because the mechs turn REALLY slowly, creaking and hissing. They are, as you said at the time, very much like Warhammer 40,000 Dreadnoughts in appearance rather than anything from the Battletech end of the mechtrum.

The mech was soon aflame, having taken loads of damage from a tentacled hellbeast, and it exploded, killing you to bits. I was on foot, surrounded and doomed, but I managed to throw down a turret and keep myself alive long enough to call in reinforcements – which is the game’s way of allowing you to respawn a dead co-op buddy. Almost as soon as the pod with replacement Alec landed, the same beastie that had killed original Alec killed me, and so it went. We were just about capable of surviving long enough to call in reinforcements while fleeing for cover and covering ourselves, but far too doomed to make it out of the situation in one piece.

Smashing. Chaotic and on a knife edge the whole time, but always leaning toward farce rather than being punishing. The weapon and equipment drops are wonderful – they can splatter anything foolish enough to stand in their way as they land, friend or foe. That is a good thing.

Alec: It’s very Unofficial 40K in so many ways, isn’t it? The whole Space Fascists pretending to be righteous plot (though ‘plot’ is probably being too generous), the death toll, the big stompiness, the idea that the ‘heroes’ are as sacrificable and squishy as anything else…. We get so many 40K games that don’t really feel like 40K, but this gets so much closer to hitting the right buttons, even if the irony is probably too overt.

I am sadly aware that, in other players’ hands, our comically inept funtimes would be considered foolish and disastrous, that this is a game you can master if you put your mind to it, that you’ll pursue specific unlocks and have specific strategies for any situation, and that’ll you’ll grind your way to the best stuff. I don’t think I ever want to be playing it like that, though. I want to be screaming and laughing, not tutting and chest-thumping.

How do you feel about the Destiny-esque weapon/power unlock treadmill? Is it in danger of taking over?

Adam: That’s the side of the game I’m least affectionate toward. I like unlocking things if there’s a sense of progression and I’m learning as I go, but that didn’t seem to be the case. I felt like there were a lot of things happening that weren’t meaningful to me – numbers flashing up on screen telling me how the wider global multiplayer war effort was going in particular – and I don’t know which of those things affect me and which I can safely ignore.

I’ve never played Destiny but I wasn’t surprised that you drew the comparison. I should be very specific here – I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the experience levels and unlocks and research points, the whole structure might work fantastically well, but after spending a couple of hours with the game, I saw it as an interruption to the actual fun of Helldiving. As long as I have one shotgun, one assault rifle and one sniper rifle to choose from, I’m not convinced I need too much more background noise and accessorising taking me out of the fight.

I do like that we very quickly managed to create classes of a sort, simply by picking different loadouts though. My first build was a sniper with turrets and personal shields to deploy, and my second had a beefy shotgun and a lumbering great mech. I was crap with both of them, of course, but given how basic the missions actually are, the loadouts did change my approach enough to matter.

Alec: I think I was lucky in that I found a weapon I really liked right off the bat – some kind of laser rifle which you fire in short, controlled bursts and try to prevent it overheating rather than worrying about ammo per se. I’ve learned the rythym of it really quickly. So I’m quite invested in upgrading that, maxing it out rather than having to learn anything else. Same with the mech suit I picked – it’s got dual machineguns for dealing with lighter enemies, whereas yours is the anti-tank one, and you’re running out of ammo quick because, at least at the level we’re playing it, you’re mostly encountering squishy stuff rather than gigant-o-monsters.

This is possibly something I’ve picked up from my limited amount of Destiny play – I kind of know from weapon descriptions and even all those different range/power/etc meters what kind of thing is going to suit my playstyle, whereas before that I just made a beeline for whatever sounded more destructive. But as for what happens once I’ve maxed out my favourite toys, I don’t know. I do worry that Helldivers could becoming diminishing returns pretty quickly if I binged on it, just the pursuit of ever-more-distant upgrade points and getting hung up on all those rankings and bars you mentioned about the wider mutiplayer battle. That’s why I actively want to restrict it to ‘party game’ rather than one I go directly to when I have spare time.

Adam: My favourite mission type, of the few we encountered, was the ordnance disposal. Unexploded mines are scattered across a small area, not even a full screen, and once you arrive in that zone, one Helldiver has to use a metal detector to find the mines and disarm them. It uses all of the game’s systems in one compact area.

There’s the cooperative effort that’s at the heart of the game. While the minesweeper is sweeping, teammates need to provide protection. And the detector has to be called in as a supply drop, which means you need those few seconds to dial in the code and then retrieve the crate. And then there’s the actual defusion process, which requires the player to input a combo on the d-pad – one wrong button press triggers the mine and kills anyone nearby, primarily the person who caused the explosion in the first place.

It’s great fun, especially when you know that even the worst fuck up only means extra work for the survivors, as they attempt to clean up your mess and call you back into action. There’s no such thing as instant failure, even when you’re causing a bomb to explode in your own face.

Alec: You are particularly good at making bombs explode in your own face. But it is, in fairness, partly down to the whole D-pad Simon Says minigame for calling in special power-ups and for certain mission objectives such as bomb defusal. I’m in two minds about that. I don’t object to the concept – because really the concept is “do something really fiddly while you’re swarmed by aliens or robots”, and that’s the heart of much of the excellent drama here – but I feel like maybe there’s a slightly less annoying way they could have done it.

Especially because most people using a gamepad on PC – and gamepad is very much best for Helldivers – are using an Xbox 360 one, on which the d-pad is notoriously awful. I’ve had disasters or cancelled power-ups simply because the pad didn’t quite read my taps right. Maybe it should have been a face buttons combo instead. But a minor issue. Possibly major enough for me to consider dropping funbucks on a better pad, though.

Do you feel like this is going to be a long-term endeavour for you? I’m itching to go back right now, but I suspect if I let the inertia fade that will be that, which is sad.

Adam: I’d definitely play more right now if I could find the time, but I’ve got Horacetide stuffing to prepare and mulled wine to drink. I’m glad that it supports local co-op because I recently hooked my computer up to the big (well, moderately sized) screen in my front room and could feasibly get three people on the couch to play. It seems well-suited to local play, given that heroic saves and accidental shots in the back are regular occurrences. When we were both in our mechs, I was tempted to start a fight just for the hell of it.

On that note, I wish the mechs had melee weapons. Maybe that comes with later upgrades. I wanted a chainsword quite a lot.

I thought it’d feel a lot more like Magicka than it does. There’s the friendly fire, the fumbled combos and the improvised panic, which all seem like trademarks of Arrowhead. But the objectives and concise maps make it far more focused, I thought. I wanted to do well, even though failure was enjoyable enough.

Alec: It feels like a game which knows exactly what it wants to be. And like a game which someone really, really wanted to make. It’s in the Invisible Inc category – although an entirely different game of course – in terms of there’s very little visible feature creep, everything seems to serve a purpose, and it’s all about conjuring a specific feeling. Invisible Inc was tension, this is panic. Which is why it doesn’t work anything like so well as a singleplayer game – the drama’s all hung around the last-minute rescues, collaborating on equipment, hating each other for friendly fire or getting landed on by the other’s supply pod. Then laughing about it immediately afterwards.

God, is it too late to change up the RPS Advent Calendar?

Adam: I want to call a mech, have the drop pod land on my head, and then watch as my partner jumps into the mech and tries to avenge my death. The death that was essentially suicide-by-mech. Accidental suicide-by-mech. How many games can that happen in? Not enough.

I think I even like the cheery ‘Liberty And Democracy RAHRAHRAH’ stuff. It’s so bloody obvious but it does give all of the character barks and whatnot much more character than they’d have if they were ever-so-serious space marines.

Nobody should release games in December. It is very annoying when it comes to Calendar creation.

Alec: Bestest Best helldiving of 2015, anyway.

Adam: Bestest Best Helldiving ever.

Alec: Happy Christmas, planet Super Earth.

Helldivers is out now.

42 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “Nobody should release games in December. It is very annoying when it comes to Calendar creation.”

    You realize you could solve this by doing the calendar in January, thus including all games release during the year? But barring that, just put it in next year’s calendar ala Talos Principle :)

    • caff says:

      Nah I quite like the advent calendar approach – lots of reading to enjoy and games to discover that I missed over the Christmas period. It is a shame for quality stuff like this released in December though.

      • April March says:

        I’ve been saying for years that December should be considered part of the next year for Calendar purposes.

  2. Flavour Beans says:

    I just got this game this morning as a Christmas present. Geeeeeeee whiz, what a tense, chaotic, giggle-inducing affair it is. Even playing with parties of randos is still a thrill, and the starting gear is good enough that beginners can still hang around with more experienced players and not be a total deadweight. In addition to what was said about having to punch in inane combos while aliens swarm you, the game is very careful about making sure you can only do so much at a time. Going prone eliminates your ability to do anything, bringing up your radar stops you from doing other things, and so on. It adds a bit of frustration, but it’s frustration that makes the game tick.

    As far as stories go? I did throw a reinforcements beacon, but before it came to a rest to trigger it, I got killed. So, ultimately, I managed to call in my own respawn. I was amused.

  3. P4p3Rc1iP says:

    Helldivers is great fun! I’m not sure what you lot mean with the gamepad being superior though. I’ve tried Keyboard/Mouse, xbox360 pad, Logitech PS3 style pad (with decent d-pad) and the Steam controller. So far, nothing beats the keyboard mouse for aiming precision and ability to do the fiddly radio calling. The mechs are much easier to control, radio beacons and grenades land where you point your cursor, and you really don’t need the laser-sight perk anymore. Only driving the tank feels a little off.

    The only thing that put me off initially with keyboard/mouse was that for some reason the cursor is reset to the center of your character when you release right mouse button (aim), instead of staying where you last left it. This takes some getting used to but is ultimately still much more accurate than any controller. (This problem is also why I can’t get the Steam controller to work properly. Using the right pad as a thumb-stick is just horrible, but the cursor resetting is also very annoying. I’d say it’s one of the few games where the Steam controller is inferior to both keyboard/mouse and regular controller!). Would love it if they patch this out!

  4. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    A absolutely love Helldivers. It flips you from unstoppable badassery to comic ineptitude and back again in seconds. The weapons are all pretty powerful and satisfying to use. It shines in local co-op, but online works well, especially with friends and a microphone.

    The setting manages to out-Starship Troopers Starship Troopers itself, going for blatant jingo-comedy played with a straight face. Defend SUPER-EARTH, and teach those dastardly cyborgs that peaceful coexistence is their only option by killing the hell out of them until their civilisation submits.

    My favourite thing is that the support turrets you call down to defend areas have absolutely no safety features at all. They won’t shoot you, but they’ll happily shoot blazing streams of lead at the enemy standing directly behind your fragile meat-body. This means the end-of-mission extraction objective (stand near the Extraction Beacon and get on the shuttle when it arrives) becomes a terrifying hellstorm of friendly fire in, and from, all directions. There is a button bound to “yell ‘TAKE COVER!’ and hit the dirt”, and you will use it a lot.

    So, Helldivers. A great fun way to spend co-op time, under enemy fire, under friendly fire, and on fire.

  5. therighttoarmbears says:

    This game is really ace! One of my favorites is as follows: I am the last helldiver standing facing multiple (usually small-arms-fire-proof) baddies making a beeline for me. I lob a reinforcement beacon at them, then rush directly at the beasties, essentially challenging them to come for me (a cry of “DEMOCRACY” on my lips). Bait taken, myself and said big beasties are crushed by the arrival of my three fellow patriots who blast a beautiful boatload of Freedom into the remaining communist bugs.

    One question for the masses: I bought the base game – is the DLC pack worth it? I was hoping to just enjoy the standard things for a while and unlock some fun stuff before doing the paid stuff, but maybe get the paid stuff later? Thoughts? Awesome or waste of time?

    • WeeMadAndo says:

      Increased absurdity. There’s a lot of weapons, and stratagems added that are not that different. But there’s nothing that is overwhelmingly powerful, or completely useless.

      Even the death-trap of a motorcycle is great.

      Plus you get a heap more dress up options. Which, let’s face it, is what you really wanted.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I, too, am interested on if people think the Deluxe edition is worth it.

      • Rikstah says:

        There are some bits and pieces of gear that I think have become pretty necessary or hard to live without at higher levels.

        The demolition charges for e.g. is in my opinion the single best anti armour / big enemy weapon.

        The recent all terrain DLC gives you boots that make snow missions a piece of cake.

        • Evil Pancakes says:

          But imo, that stuff kind of makes the game less chaotic/hard, i.e. less fun.

        • Dcp says:

          I’ve been playing with a couple of friends for about 20 hours now, none of us bought the deluxe edition and we’re not missing it.
          Generally speaking I feel like it would detract from the overall experience, probably the reason the unlock system didn’t click with adam and alec is they both have all of this DLC wich starts unlocked from the start. With the basic edition, you unlock things as they become useful, because most unlocks aren’t unlucked based on experience (perks are, but they are much less relevant than equipment), pieces of equipment are unlocked by completing individual planets, each enemy faction having their own pools. This means that as you go up in the dificulty scale you get equipment better suited to deal with the new situations in an organic way, wich is nice.
          About dealing with armoured enemies, well, obviously I can’t know how good the charges are, but the rocket launcher is more than good enough for taking care of these things. It also helps that it’s reload system makes for great tense and comical moments (a missile-filled backpack comes with it, the same player can pick both and reload very slowly, or another player can pick the pack up allowing them to quickly reload if well coordinated, you can’t drop the backpack, so whatever method you choose is the one you’re stuck until one of you dies or picks a different item on the same slot).
          There’s also the alt fire of the basic mech, antitank airstrikes and the various antitank vehicles (I favour the antitank APC).
          And like Evil Pancakes, I think the all terain equipment kind of defeats the game’s purpose.
          Maybe, if we play it for long enough, I’ll cherry pick the better sounding DLCs on a sale, but I can’t see the point before unlocking everything in the base game.

  6. WeeMadAndo says:

    Remapping the dpad to face buttons (which you can do via the in game controls setup – no fancy workaround required) was one of the first things I did.

    Since then, I can only blame my own addled mind, and palsied fingers for my failure to spread democracy.

  7. Guvornator says:

    This is probably a dim question, but does everyone playing online need a copy? I just ask as it seems perfect for being sold in a multipack of some description pack, but isn’t.

    • WeeMadAndo says:

      The devs were on reddit not long after the Steam launch saying they want to do a 4 pack, but it sounded like the publisher may be in the way. But it is something they’re trying to do.

  8. mwoody says:

    Does the game require 4 players to get good, or is it decent for just a two-player affair? I couldn’t tell from the article if they played with other people or just together.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I confirm that two players works. Higher difficulty missions need more, but you can call in random people or stick to the missions you can take on as a duo.

      • Stevostin says:

        Ah so it’s one of those games that needs multi somehow. Off my list then.

        • Captain Joyless says:

          No, it absolutely does not need multiplayer. It’s perfectly playable with just 1 person. You can solo even the highest difficulty missions.

    • Captain Joyless says:

      It’s wonderful with any number of people, including 1. I’ve played some solo, which makes harder missions more like a puzzle game (be sure you brought all the right Stratagems, etc) and it’s still quite entertaining.

      There are a few vehicles with 4 seats (1 driver, 2 side turrets, and a main turret) which are loads of fun so obviously those are best with 4. But those are totally optional, and there’s also a motorcycle with a sidecar gunner, so that works well for 2 as well.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Solrax says:

    I bought an XBox One controller to replace my XBox 360 controller just for this game, due to the D-Pad horror on the 360 controller.

    I tried mouse and keyboard and for most games I prefer it, but for myself I find the gamepad easiest to play – once I can enter the stratagem codes properly.

  10. suibhne says:

    Looks really fantastic…but WHOA, the devs aren’t doing themselves any favors with that intimidating array of DLC. It creates the impression that some or all of that stuff is “necessary”, and it’s downright daunting to think about where to start.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Well, it’s from the same team that made Magicka a reality. So you’ve got a great teamgame on the one hand, but the horrible practice of DLC on the other (Magicka also offers plenty of stupid DLC packs).

      I’m afraid this game will go the way of Magicka, as in, it’s fun for a few weeks when not playing for hours, but then it’ll get old fast. I really wanna get it though, due to the positive experiences I read everywhere. Oh well, maybe it’ll get discounted yet.

  11. Potocobe says:

    DLC is completely unnecessary. There are capable weapons that deal with everything you need to deal with just fine in the base game. That being said if you want a small amount of variety in all your weapons the DLC is just what you need. For instance I became rather fond of the pulse laser assault rifle thing but never liked the regular laser beam rifle. The DLC is all flavor no filling. Sure you can get some different mechs and other vehicles to die in and new things to accidentally call down to where you need to go but you certainly don’t need any of it for the game to be more fun or for you to be more of a badass. If you have extra dollars and nothing to spend it on then go for it.

  12. Scelous says:

    I bought the game for the Playstation 3 due to the rave reviews it got. I just recently bought the game on Steam as well, although refunded it. Both times I was shocked at how well-received Helldivers is.

    The game seems incredibly simplistic and repetitive, so much so that I don’t understand the appeal. It’s great if people enjoy it (my friends do). It feels incredibly tedious to me, though.

    • Siimon says:

      Kinda agree with you there, even though the game is filled with lots of little “progress” blips it feels like you’re not really making progress and it gets quite repetitive after just over an hour to me.
      Doesn’t help that local co-op doesn’t allow multiple profiles, meaning players 2-4 cant save and have to use what player 1 chooses for upgrades…

  13. Alegis says:

    It looks great, though the immediate availability of a dozen DLC packs is offsetting. Will wait for the goatee bundle sale …

  14. Heliocentric says:

    Why did this WIT not mention Alien Swarm (the brilliant UT2004 mod not the Valve reheat), slaps on the wrist for all of you.

  15. Premium User Badge

    Carra says:

    With a title like that I expected a game based on the Red Rising books. Mine the earth and kill huge worms :)

  16. Dave L. says:

    Dear Horace,
    For Horacetide I would like for there to be a Cool Ghosts/RPS 4-man PC Hellduffers Redux Special.

    Thank you,
    Dave.

  17. RegisteredUser says:

    Here is my personal question: Why did the community for the FREE Alien Swarm die out when now everyone is doing paid 4 player co-op top down shooters again?

    And why isn’t it picked up again and revived and modded over given that its entirely possible AND would still look and play quite nice today?

    • ankh says:

      It’s still on steam and there are loads of maps available for download. I play it all the time with a buddy of mine. Who cares if nobody else is playing?

  18. bonuswavepilot says:

    The Cool Ghosts video series ‘Hellduffers‘ on this game is pretty fun. They go from comical ineptitude, with all manner of accidental deaths, though a period of co-recrimination as they improve and start to resent each-others mistakes, to a focussed and efficient killing duet with their own specialised loadouts.

  19. HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

    Sounds even more awesome than magicka if such a thing is possible.