Are you ready to join the HELLDIVERS?
Have you ever wanted to play a cooperative top-down twin-stick shooter that captures the experience of slaying hordes of alien scum in the name of the greater good? Look no further than HELLDIVERS, created by Arrowhead Game Studios (the makers of Magicka) and available on the major systems. In short, the titular HELLDIVERS themselves are spaceborne troops who deploy to the surface of the planets that they invade via orbitally-dispatched pods. Once planetside, the HELLDIVERS pursue objectives such as securing natural resources or destroying alien nests. HELLDIVERS will make you feel like a character from Starship Troopers as you mercilessly rain hell onto aliens while barking orders at your friends.
Spreading Managed Democracy Throughout The Galaxy
The introductory crawl of HELLDIVERS sets the tone for the game. Amidst triumphant music, we learn via a narrator’s explanation that the utopian Super Earth is the home of humanity, and that it champions the values of “prosperity, liberty, and democracy.” Youths and adults in matching uniforms are shown saluting with a raised fist as the narrator explains that Super Earth’s way of life doesn’t come for free, and that citizens have a duty to protect their home. A young man is shown contemplating what the narrator calls “the most important decision of your life”—joining the HELLDIVERS. The narrator exhorts the viewer to join the HELLDIVERS so that they may help to secure the resources necessary to continue Super Earth’s way of life and spread managed democracy throughout the galaxy. The fascist overtones are intentional satire, paying homage to the Starship Troopers series.
The Starship Troopers movie is one that will be familiar to almost everybody. It’s the most basic “space marine” story that’s out there, and is also the original: spacemen from earth laden with high-tech weapons and armor are pitted against godless arachnoid swarming aliens and slaughter them across barren worlds with great zeal. Everyone loves a good us-versus-outsiders film, and Starship Troopers aims to please. The black-clad “Mobile Infantry” are led by a gruff Michael Ironside, known in the film as Lt. Rasczak. [Click to read more…]
Super Earth is accosted by three alien races—the Bugs, the Cyborgs, and the Illuminates. The three enemy races are remarkably different, and are clearly inspired by Starship Troopers. The Bugs, are nearly the exact copies of Starship Troopers’ Bugs, and are characterized by their swarms of heavily armored melee combatants. In contrast, the Cyborgs utilize squads of gun robots that are supported with robotic attack dogs and tanks. The Illuminates, perhaps inspired by the “Skinnies” of the Starship Troopers novel, fight the player using robots which block player movement in order to pin a target for their snipers to shoot. The player can invade the planets held by each of the races, of course.
After the player becomes situated in the universe of HELLDIVERS, it’s time to find three friends and invade some planets. Missions are selected via choosing a “front” to fight on—with one front for each of the three alien races that humanity is at war with—and then choosing a specific planet to invade. Planets have different difficulty levels and rewards which unlock different equipment for the player, ranging from rifles to acid guns and robotic exoskeletons.
Before the invasion, players select their loadouts. Loadouts are comprised of starting equipment as well as “stratagems” which are special abilities which the player can activate via punching in a combination of buttons. Some stratagems call in supplies or weapons while others direct close air support in the form of strafing runs or bombs. New stratagems are awarded after completing several missions on the same planet.
How About a Nice Cup of Liber-tea?
When it’s go time, the players aboard the dropship hop into their “hellpods” and are fired at the planet, arriving at the mission area with a satisfying slam. This is where the real gameplay of HELLDIVERS begins. The players share a single camera view, covering all four players in the same shot. Each mission has a list of seemingly-arbitrary tasks that have to be completed before extraction, requiring the team to run about the mission area while trying to avoid or kill alien scouts and patrols.
The HELLDIVERS are stereotypical space marines, heavily armed and shouting out each of their actions in manly brogues. Frequently the HELLDIVERS break out battlecries such as “say hello to democracy!” and “how about a cup of liber-tea!” while dispatching the aliens. These pieces of flavor keep the game’s tone light and comedic, which helps to ease the immense frustration of being killed by aliens. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to be Johnny Rico, HELLDIVERS will please you.
Completing an objective or calling in supplies typically requires the player to punch in a specific series of buttons that are indicated to them while in the appropriate area. The locals aren’t keen on giving up the objectives, of course. Simple tasks like pressing “up down left right” become extremely difficult when under heavy pressure, and some tasks (such as defusing a mine) will kill the player if executed incorrectly. As aliens swarm and the battle begins to get hectic, frantic hammering of buttons results in mistakes, prolonging the time that the team has to stay in dangerous areas.
On the higher difficulties, good teamwork and player specialization is mandatory. Friendly fire is always on, and many enemies require special tactics to defeat. In order to effectively deal with heavily armored aliens, one of the team must carry a recoilless rifle. The catch is that reloading the recoilless rifle requires an ammunition pack. If the person carrying the recoilless rifle is also carrying the ammunition pack, awkwardly reaching into the pack to grab a new round is slow, necessitating a teammate to carry the ammunition pack and reload the recoilless rifle as needed. Under pressure to kill an enemy tank while being swarmed by smaller enemies, the resulting recoilless rifle team’s teamwork can either look like a well-oiled machine or a tragicomedy that ends up killing the entire squad.
Join the HELLDIVERS Today!
HELLDIVERS is a uniquely enjoyable cooperative game because of its difficulty. If you have friends to regularly play with and like shoot-em-up games, check it out. Don’t expect any more plot or dialogue than the introductory cinematic. The game doesn’t really get going until you start to get to difficulty level 7 or 8 out of 12, though. Be aware that you may become frustrated with your friends if they kill you via friendly fire or fat-finger a critical button combination. That’s just part of being a HELLDIVER.
Featured Images: Courtesy of Arrowhead Game Studios