Have You Played… Helldivers?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Helldivers [official site] is probably my favourite cooperative game after Left4Dead. A playable pastiche of Starship Troopers from the developers of Magicka, its procedurally generated missions provide great flexibility for of arranging quick or longer games with friends, while its relentless alien enemies and ridiculous weaponry make for breathless and often hilarious bouts of cooperative shooting.

What I like most about Helldivers, however, is how its satirical portrayal of war works at a systems level as well a narrative one. Stylistically Helldivers unashamedly riffs off Starship Troopers. You’re the jingoistic aggressors in an interstellar war, and the game plays up your heroism as saviours of “Super Earth” when, in truth, you’re just more meat for the grinder in a brutal conquest of alien homeworlds.

But the satire extends to the act of play as well. On any given mission, you and your friends are given access to some fearsome military equipment, ranging from deployable APCs and tanks to, artillery strikes and orbital laser cannons. But anything that can kill your enemies can also kill you, and because the game puts you under such intense pressure, this happens all the time. Accidentally catching your friends in the crossfire, or squashing them into man-jam beneath a drop-pod, is a frequent occurrence.

The bloody farce that plays out on the ground put a pin in the story’s portrayal of the war as this grand and noble adventure, demonstrating that technological superiority is of little use when the war is run and fought by chest-beating fools. Oh, and at the end of a mission, the game shows you how much of an effect your bravery and sacrifice had on its overarching online war, which is nearly always next to none.

I believe the best games are those whose themes are perceptible at a mechanical level, and Helldivers is absolutely one of those games. But if you’re not interested in all that, it’s also a reet larf with your mates as well.

11 Comments

  1. Metalfish says:

    I love helldivers. The way things can go south without warning and then, somehow go, er, souther is strangely enjoyable (like you’re suddenly descending to the planets core or something? Yeah, metaphor saved. Assuming you’re in the northern hemisphere).

  2. Keios says:

    Helldiver, is like Magicka, a game where “co-op” is a nice idea, but ultimately gets lost in the hilarity of murdering your friends in the most silly ways possible. And I love it for it.

  3. Blackcompany says:

    A great game in theory. In fact: A poor implementation that was so hard it was more punishment for buying the game than enjoyment for playing it.

    Pity. I liked the game play well enough…but the obscene difficulty simply wasnt enjoyable AT ALL.

  4. Vesuvius says:

    Helldivers was, for me, utterly unfun even with friends.
    -The maps were large with lots of trudging slowly through big chunks of nothing worthwhile happening.
    -The lack of a real plot or progression made the recycling of the same 3-5 objectives get old very fast
    -While friendly fire was a real possibility, it’s not like in Magicka where you’d accidentally create bizarre combos, instead someone just would get shot. That’s the most crazy it’d get.
    -It played the same single song over and over.
    -SO MANY microtransactions.
    -The levels were not only dull, but ugly. Not just boring, but visually uninteresting.

    I like the company, but there was very little to like in Helldivers beyond the idea of it.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I always want to enjoy these cooperative action games. I love the idea behind an Alien Swarm or a Magicka, and gamez jurnas always seem to coax such exciting war stories out of them. But whenever I play them I find the experience either boringly easy or maddeningly hard.

      I wonder if it’s harder for developers to balance difficulty around a group of players, each with their own skill and experience level, as opposed to just one.

    • Hoot says:

      I went in completely blind and enjoyed 40 hours of co-op fun with people communicating over VOIP. I never met a dickhead. Not a single one, despite accidentally dropping Drop Pods containing mechs on people’s heads, cutting folk in half with lasers and airstriking my allies newly dropped in tanks.

      No idea what the guy is on about regarding microtransactions, I never saw a single one.

    • p2mc28 says:

      I can’t comment to some of your points, but once you reach the higher difficulties, there’s no such thing as “big chunks of nothing.”

      The way my brothers and I describe the game is more akin to a “constant stress inducing panic attack.”

      My personal favorite accomplishment of ours:

      One brother was off in the bathroom (Khuros), a second was just taking a break for a moment (nex), lying on the floor, controller elsewhere not paying attention. Third brother (Blavik) is hanging out with me waiting for the others.

      I start up a mission higher than anything we had attempted yet (I think it was one away from max, but not max). My plan? I just want to see it. I want to just walk around and live while my brothers sort themselves out after their break. But what happens?

      The level starts, Blavik and I start gearing up, calling down drops. Khuros comes back, thinking “oh crap they’re starting” and quickly grabs his controller and preps. Nex realizes something is happening and is like “what? I thought we were stopping for a minute?” and slowly gets off the floor. I’m pretty sure he gets killed during all this, being the slowest to get going, but I can’t say for sure.

      Then lots of “RUN!” and “I’M DOWN” and constant, CONSTANT scrambles to input the reinforcements command as soon as it’s off cooldown. A couple of times, holding the beacon in-hand, waiting to die, so that the thrower can rez after they die. And yet… somehow? We managed to nearly ace the run (minute deaths, of course). I say nearly because during the prep phase, Blavik, knowing I meant this to just be for the two of us to run around in a panic, grenaded some NPCs we were supposed to save, or something. The other mission objectives though, we nailed.

      Aside from the initial “calm” of the startup, I don’t think we ever stopped moving. You just can’t, you’ll get swarmed and stuck forever. And ammo isn’t infinite.

      But we finished the mission and scored that awesome Tank/APC hybrid thing. I love me some tank.

  5. aircool says:

    I did, and I did not care for it. It was returned for a refund.

  6. Synesthesia says:

    The single best couch co-op game, imho. Overcooked is right there, but doesn’t have the longevity. Such a good work.

  7. pentaxis says:

    I loved the concept of the game, but made the mistake of buying the full add-on pack with it during a steam sale. All of the DLC immediately accessible just made the game way too easy. Every time I have purchased a game with all the DLC I have been disappointed that I didn’t play the vanilla game first.

  8. skyst says:

    That’s an issue with getting into a game that has a large amount of DLC available. If you play vanilla are you missing out on the “complete” experience? Or does the DLC implement overpowered, game-breaking stuff?