Welcome to Hell, in a good way…
Helldivers is an action-packed three-fourths (semi-top-down) perspective shooter, set in a futuristic world where you find yourself amidst a war between humans, bugs, cyborgs, and robots. There isn’t too much of a story in the game if that’s something you’re craving, however they do have a bit of a humorous narrative (that’s quite enjoyable) and a ton of bad-ass gameplay.
In-game, you play as what they call an elite soldier; your job being to go out to planets inhabited by aliens and stop them from pushing you back to your home, “Super Earth”. You go to each of the alien-occupied planets and complete objectives to beat the mission set out for you, and in turn push the aliens back towards their home planets. By doing this you can then move to eliminate them from the war, which would mean that you wouldn’t have to participate in missions against that race again until you’ve reached a conclusion (by either losing or winning the overall conflict).
As I opened with, Helldivers may not be a game full of story – but it is most definitely a game full of strong gameplay. Being very similar to Dead Nation in design – where you use the right analog stick to aim, and shoot to take out enemies closing in – it’s a concept that many can easily jump into, but few can master without practice. The game offers you an aim assist feature, but I found myself turning that off instantly as it seemed to mess me up even more. That said, I had my worries going into a game relying heavily on perfect aiming – and while I do occasionally miss my shots, I found that more often than not I was getting better accuracy than people playing on other consoles.
To this end – and since the Vita is missing a few buttons its console brothers have – the developers have instead implemented some rear-touch controls in the Vita version. By swiping down on the left side of the rear-touch it will cause you to toss a grenade, with the right side being a reload weapon command. At times I did find myself accidentally throwing grenades which have ended in the worst possible outcome and that’s because the one key (seriously, pay attention here) thing to remember is that ‘Friendly Fire’ is always on.
After getting used to the placement of your fingers you should be good to avoid most accidental murder sprees, but it is an annoying thing to have happen and it definitely will happen at first. That said, even though killing your teammates is all but bound to happen at some point doing the game, it’s nice to know you have a way at getting them back – and you do, by means of the stratagems.
Stratagems are a form of supply drop that can deliver items such as ammunition, a barrage of missiles, or a vehicle; but can also deliver your teammates back to you upon death. For them to deliver to you however, you must call one – and to do that you enter a code using the directional pad while holding the left trigger. If you input the code correctly, you then simply need to throw down the beacon – the object which marks a general location for the supply drop to target. It’s best to throw it away from anyone you don’t want squished to death, as a landing from a heavy object is pretty much an instant death.
All stratagems are decided before setting off on your mission, and your choices will stick with you ’til the end of said mission. In the loadout screen you have the ability to change your weapon, perks (laser sight, smoke grenade, heavy armor, etc), and your four stratagems – with special note to the fact that you’re able to equip the same stratagems, and that some are one use only. There are also ones that you will have automatically; re-spawn teammates, nuke [mission specific], and S.O.S – with the latter of those being a unique stratagem that prioritizes your game for other people playing online to join. It’s actually a really good way of calling for help when you don’t have a full game of four divers, and may be one of the most useful perks in the game.
As for character progression, Helldivers uses a leveling up system to increase your ability to upgrade your equipment. Every time you level up or find ten samples within the planet you are given a research point, which can either be used on guns or stratagems. By upgrading your guns you can increase certain aspects or even add a new effect, while upgrading stratagems can quicken deployment onto the battlefield, or just help you be more effective at what you’re doing. Due to the nature of the game’s difficulty, guns can feel at one moment very powerful and another very weak. Due to this, some of the enemies can’t be taken down by your guns alone – but by using certain stratagems quickly you can succeed where else you may fail. This really makes Helldivers feel like an action packed strategy game at times; giving you little to no time to think of what to do, and the constant reminder that one mistake can end it all.
Upgrades are dealt with in the Helldiver Starship. Here you have the ability to change your character’s armor appearance (which is only aesthetic), upgrade stratagems/guns, read up on enemies and general information about the galaxy, and of course pick a mission to deploy into.
Now at this point you may be wondering why you’d want to spend $20 to shoot aliens with your friends, and while sometimes you do just that, there are also a few objectives to clear. These objectives vary from mission to mission; and while you’ll end up doing a lot of similar missions at the start, further along you start getting harder and more unique missions. Some basic missions include capturing a point, defending a missile launch, or delivering a package to a certain location – but it’s when you get into the harder missions that things become more intense, as you may see yourself assassinating a specific alien, escorting survivors, or enabling S.A.M. sites – all while being attacked by angry aliens who do not like you being there. It can get pretty crazy.
Thankfully, to help you gauge that craziness, Helldivers missions are ranked from one to twelve – with twelve being the hardest. Also, the smaller the planet the easier they are to complete. When you first select a planet from the Galactic Campaign, you are then given two or three missions which can be completed to finish the planet. A completed planet is replaced by a new randomly generated planet, and by doing this the game can deliver a completely new experience every time you dive into your next planet (even if it’s the same difficulty level)
One thing I’d like to note (as we move past all the basics) is that this game is focused around multiplayer, and that fact makes it tough to recommend the game to anyone that likes to play games as a single player experience. That said, if you still happen to be curious about single player it is possible to play the game that way… but around difficulty level 8 it becomes rather challenging to advance any further.
With regards to multiplayer, one of the best features of the game is the fact that there’s cross-play. What this means is that anyone playing on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, or Vita can all play together – and because the gameplay is so solid and everything runs so smooth, you really have no idea who’s playing on what system. To that effect, I’ve noticed that there haven’t been very many issues during multiplayer matches – only encountering the occasional stutter here and there, though I suspect connection quality played a large part in that.
Helldivers may not be the most graphically impressive game to grace the Vita’s great screen, but it’s not the ugliest either. That’s about as good as of a compliment I can give it. The game is pretty muddy looking which it seems was done to make sure the gameplay stays just as solid as the console versions. Personally the graphics don’t matter as long as the gameplay is great, and as you read above the gameplay is just that.
That said, outside the graphical downgrade one of the other errors I’ve encountered would be that – no matter the mode – if your Vita goes to sleep, you will be instantly kicked back to the main menu. To get around this you can either go into airplane mode or turn off the WiFi, but that’s only really a half measure to what can be an annoying problem.
Being as you’re travelling across the universe you’d expect to see many different environments, and you do – with three different types of planets to explore. You have the snow world, desert world, and jungle world; they all look very unique, and some have environmental effects to weather on your character. In the snow you walk slower, and in the swamps you get the same effect. Being wary of your surroundings can mean the difference between life or death, the only problem being that the Vita version is cut down in the graphic department and can feel a bit empty in some areas.
The game’s sound can be very useful as well, with the ability to use the D-pad to call out voice commands an especially useful feature. You can communicate with your teammates without actually using the built in chat, and while it’s a little limited as to what you can say it can be very helpful in organizing your team. Aside from that, the guns, stratagem drops, and alien noises all put you right into the action and chaos that is planet invasion – helping you to feel what it is to truly be a Helldiver.
On that note, we come to the bit where I tell you if you should want to be a Helldiver, and my answer is hell yes. Helldivers is a game full of team killing, bug squashing, and multiplayer madness. With great gameplay, intense multiplayer co-op, and a lot of replay value, it’s my opinion that Helldivers is on the must have list of all Vita owners. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a story heavy and graphically impressive experience then maybe this one just isn’t for you.