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.