Helldivers 2 Review

Helldivers 2

by Matt Kamen |
Published on

Platforms: PS5, PC

Quick – would you rather face an endless horde of Starship Troopers' ravenous bugs, or an invasion of Terminator-style killer robots? Actually, don't answer – in Helldivers 2, you'll be throwing down against both. Mercifully though, as a multiplayer shooter, you'll rarely be doing so alone.

There's no doubt that developer Arrowhead Game Studios is more influenced by the former piece of classic sci-fi though – between the designs of the vicious Terminid insectoids and a satirically propagandistic tone exemplifying the glory of Super Earth (yes, really), this is clearly channelling Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film. The set-up is simple: an expansionist human race in a nebulous future is stymied in its interplanetary colonisation efforts thanks to other races already existing. Cue military top brass deciding the best solution is to drop highly indoctrinated and heavily-armed space soldiers from orbit – hence Helldivers – bringing "Managed Democracy" to savage frontier worlds by slaughtering everything in their path.

Helldivers 2

Each mission sees you kitting out your Helldiver with a host of weapons, gear, and stratagems – more on those in a moment – and stepping into a "hellpod" to be flung down to the surface. Once planetside, you may have to simply clear out a nest of bugs, reactivate comms networks, or raise a flag to the glory of Super Earth, then make it to an extraction point and survive the wait for the shuttle. Early on, these missions are as simple as they sound, but as you unlock ever-tougher difficulty levels, the complexity increases and even the more basic objectives become devilishly challenging, requiring an incredible sense of situational awareness, skilled gunplay, and canny use of abilities. With control over different sectors of space changing in real time as players liberate or defend planets, there's a genuine sense that each operation matters, too.

Beyond being a team-based shooter, Helldivers 2 is also packed with smart tricks.

As a shooter, Helldivers 2's gunplay is excellent. From the well-aimed pellets of a hand pistol to the chunky recoil of each round from a shotgun, or the manically powerful but tough-to-aim spray from machine guns, each weapon feels unique, allowing players to really hone in on what works for them and their preferred play style. If you're playing on PS5 (version tested), the arsenal feels even more distinct thanks to incredible use of the DualSense controller's advanced haptics – some of the best to yet grace the console.

Helldivers 2

But it's those stratagems that really seal the deal – a suite of, essentially, special moves that can be mixed and matched to give you the edge in combat. There's a huge variety to choose from, ranging from orbital strikes courtesy of your overhead destroyer to support drops of automated weapons turrets or defensive tools, all of which can turn the tide. Carefully choosing which stratagems to equip as a team, and when to deploy them, is the crux of the game's most tactical considerations. While you'll only have access to a scant few stratagems at the start, there are dozens to eventually unlock, purchased with a rapidly accrued in-game currency that helps make each mission feel like a step forwards.

Rather brilliantly though, these stratagems can’t be activated at will, instead requiring you to successfully input a series of commands on the controller's D-pad, in real time, typically while you're under heavy assault from enemies. It's another way Arrowhead keeps players on their toes, constantly having to react to the environment around them. Awareness is key here, too – while there's no PVP, friendly fire is in effect, and it's all too easy to run into an ally's line of fire while trying to dodge whichever monstrosity is bearing down on you. If you're really unlucky, you might even get crushed under a support drop you just requested.

Helldivers 2

However, beyond being a team-based shooter, Helldivers 2 is also packed with smart tricks, such as being able to target your hellpod when respawning, smashing into the very enemy that (probably) just killed you like a giant bullet from space. Very few of these tricks are ever explained, instead left as rewards for inventive players to discover through experimentation in their pursuit of Managed Democracy.

Although the game can be played solo, in practice that just means rocketing down to a planet's surface and taking on the bugs or bots without backup. There's no story to follow here, just the constant ebb and flow of fighting for galactic territory, and the ongoing grind of improving your loadouts for the next battle. The multiplayer nature also means a PS+ subscription is mandatory for PS5 play, while the PC version comes with the controversial anti-cheat software nProtect GameGuard which, at time of writing, has reportedly caused problems with legitimate software such as game capture tools, and prevents Helldivers II from running on Steam Deck at all.

The other downside to the multiplayer-only model is that, unless you're playing exclusively with a squad of friends, there's a tendency for others to head to the extraction zone and call for the escape shuttle immediately upon completion of a primary objective. While this might seem like the obvious choice, Helldivers 2's maps are cleverly packed with secondary objectives, hidden points of interest, and usually several caches of valuable collectibles necessary to upgrade your ship's modules, which in turn can enhance those all-important stratagems. Hopefully, as the player base develops, more will learn not to gun and run quite so quickly, as it feels as though there's far more to discover on Helldivers 2's worlds. Failing that, you could have your voice communication settings open, so you can desperately plead with allies not to flee quite so quickly.

As a live service game, Helldivers 2 is off to a strong start on the whole, and if some of the rougher edges – for instance, missions on bot-infested worlds currently feel significantly tougher than those on bug hive planets, even on the same difficulty levels – can be finessed, we'll all be championing the glory of Super Earth for a long time to come.

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