Helldivers: The fiery explosions of democracy

March 10, 2015


Helldivers does not like you. Every time Arrowhead could have chosen to help you out they chose instead to hamper, and Helldivers is better for it. Buried beneath a Starship Troopers (movie, not book) veneer is a challenging and interesting twin-stick shooter. It is the job of the titular Helldivers to spread managed democracy to the bugs, the cyborgs and the illuminant. Super Earth is at war with all three races, and when they are all vanquished the war simply starts over, but if the bugs are defeated when you play for the first time then you’ll be fighting cyborgs and illuminant.

While Helldivers can be played solo, it really shines with a squad of four. With a full squad of Helldivers, you need to coordinate, plan your shots and call down stratagems that will help your team instead of only the ones that will help you. For example, I’m not the world’s best shot, but I can call down a resupply stratagem while my teammates are mopping up bugs. Then, when we’re securing a capture point, I can be in charge of calling down the auto-turret. Why should it be me? Because knowing that I’m not a great shot, I’ve spent upgrade points on making my turret more accurate and increasing its turn speed which makes it better at taking out enemies for me.


Stratagems are the first game-changer here, and it really drives home that Helldivers comes from the same people as Magicka. Out of ammo? Hold down L1 and then input a four-button sequence on the D-pad. Fifteen seconds later, a couple of ammo containers drop down to the planet in a pod just like you did. Buddies go down? Call in a reinforce stratagem and wait for clones of your comrades to rejoin the fight. Need to capture a building? Call down a big honking machine gun for you, while your friend requests a flame thrower from himself and the random person that just joined calls down a turret.

Then die horribly because it is everybody’s first day and you’re all standing between the turret and the incoming wave of cyborg enemies.

The cyborgs are shooting at you, and the turret is shooting at them. You’re in the way, however, so the turret mows you down while the cyborgs take potshots and the planet remains democratized. Friendly fire is in full effect here, but it never feels unfair: it always feels like if you’d just had your act together a little bit more, you could have pulled it off. Along the way, you’ll get better at dealing with the game continuing while you input stratagem commands or bring a SAM site online. When you pull up the map, it overlays a portion of the screen and prevents you from moving. Enemy patrols keep moving, though. You can also be crushed to death by incoming resupply pods, incoming reinforcements and your evacuation shuttle, so watch out when you call something in. You get XP for your efforts, though, so even missions that end in failure help you to progress.


Helldivers is much more than the sum of its parts. Dual-stick shooters are a dime a dozen, but the Starship Troopers coat of paint, combined with the ever-present “screw you” directed at the player, makes victory that much sweeter to attain. Having good shooting and interesting stratagems would have been enough to make Helldivers a staple for me, but adding local cooperative play elevates it to a whole new level. Being able to shout “watch out, resupply is going to land on you” to my friend as he sits next to me feels a ton better than doing the same over PSN.

Helldivers really embodies teamwork at every turn, and the friendly fire helps with that. It stinks when the bugs kill you, it really stinks when your teammate does it. And when you manage to all avoid killing each other, activate the SAM site, take the capture point and successfully evacuate, it is impossible to not feel like you’ve accomplished something great. And as a reward, you unlock a new gun or stratagem for completing the planet’s missions. I’m after the giant mech suit myself, but until I get it, I’m still having a ball gunning down enemies with my shotgun, sidearm and array of stratagems.

Pros: Numerous weapons and stratagems to unlock, upgrades for both, stratagems are fun to use, success feels significant even in early levels
Cons: Enemies are maybe too quick to sound the alarm

Score: 5/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.