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Helldivers 2

Geek Review: Helldivers 2

The situation is dire. Sitting atop the extraction point, you see hordes of killer robots coming at you from all directions. In your immediate radius, an arsenal of high-powered weapons, spare ammunition, and grenades, and three goofy-looking stormtroopers quaking in their boots. 

“Two minutes, the extraction shuttle is on its way,” the intercom bellows. 

The two minutes can’t come fast enough, as you line wave after wave of automatons with hot lead. The baddies are closing in, and it seems that all hope is lost – until you feel the wind of the hovercraft directly above you, ready to yank you and your team out from certain death.

As patriotic horns go off during your evacuation, you’re reminded of all the trials and tribulations you’ve had to go through up to this point – getting shot in the face by your teammate, a mini panic attack when your team cussed you out after you botched an attempt to call in reinforcements, completely mistiming an air strike only to take out half your squad – it’s all in a day’s work to uphold Peace, Justice, and Managed Democracy in the name of Super Earth. With your newfound patriotism, you can’t wait to jump back into battle with your fellow Helldivers – only to get stuck at the loading screen.

“For Super Earth!”

This sums up the quintessential Helldivers 2 experience, a highly addictive and captivating co-op shooter littered with heroic and laugh-out-loud moments as you take down endless amounts of robots and bugs, only to be bogged down by even more bugs (of the technical kind this time around).

Despite this, it’s funny what a change in perspective does. This big-budget sequel sucks players way closer into the thick of frenetic combat and explosive firefights when compared to the original sci-fi co-op shooter released in 2015. All Arrowhead Game Studios had to do was shift the camera down and Helldivers 2 is now a bigger third-person shooter, with varied maps and side objectives than anything seen in the first game. What ensues is an action-packed, chaotic, and hilarious experience that keeps you hooked.

Helldivers 2 wastes no time getting you into the thick of it. After force-feeding you an opening piece of propaganda, explaining that Super Earth is under attack from robotic Automatons and the bugs from Starship Troopers (don’t worry they’re called Terminids, so it’s perfectly legal), you’re pushed out the back of a truck right into Helldiver training.

In what could be the best tutorial sequence since Half-Life, it perfectly encapsulates the desperation in the war effort against the bugs and robots. There’s no time to spend years training an elite force, so a militia will have to suffice, throwing you through a haphazard obstacle course. All this with a drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket shouting instructions at you, warning that he’s a tough cookie to impress – only to repeatedly sing your praises immediately after.

It pulls players in – laying the foundations for satire on a retrofuture utopian world, contrasting it with a cardboard friend that blows up in your face a mere seconds later. You then fast-track to the big leagues, earning your cape and instantly being given command of your spaceship, which we have aptly named the Founding Father of Integrity (totally not for the sake of the review). Once in orbit, you’re free to take the fight to the Automatons or Terminids, to bring Liberty and Managed Democracy to their vile planets.

Something something Journalistic Integrity

Before you know it, you’re plummeting down towards a bug-infested planet, tasked with launching an intercontinental ballistic missile that will bring peace to all. Like a Soviet conscript tasked to defend Stalingrad, you don’t get much instruction. You notice other clueless troopers by your side, outfitted with a standard issue rifle, sidearm, and some grenades.

Helldivers 2 has also done what Starfield couldn’t – make repetitive objectives seem different every single time. That’s because maps aren’t unnecessarily large, and upon exploration are littered with optional objectives like clearing out an outpost or terminating a treasonous broadcast that will earn you greater rewards. There are also things that you could do that would improve your odds of saving the world – like discovering an unmanned artillery piece that you could call in later on via a Stratagem.

Stratagems – as the name implies – are strategic call-ins for players to use to help take down their foes, especially the mammoth-sized ones. What’s fun is that, unlike the simple nature of calling in a killstreak, it squeezes out some extra hand-eye coordination, forcing players to input increasingly complex d-pad combinations to activate them as they grow in strength. It sounds awfully redundant, but the amount of satisfaction you get when you successfully put in a Grand Theft Auto-esque cheat code first try to bring your squad back from the dead, is like no other.

Audition SEA throwback anyone?

The variety of what you can call in is akin to being in a candy store for the first time. There are plenty of sprinkles and treats you can add to your arsenal to take out your nasty foe. However, most of the Stratagems revolve around how big of an explosion you want – with the Jetpack and Shields being outliers. It’s extremely satisfying when you time them to perfection, luring robots and bugs right into your air support – but it can be limiting for players who want to play as supports in the squad. Maybe some healing Stratagems in the future?

Even though it’s similar to another live-action game, where shooting is its bread and butter – unloading your mag feels extremely cathartic. Expect dying repeatedly in this war of attrition, but no doubt you’ll go out guns a blazing, blasting enemies into a gooey mess, and epic explosions galore as you tear them limb from limb. A big part of how Helldivers 2 achieves this is that it doesn’t show too much. Given the extensive list of enemy types you go toe-to-toe with, there are zero health bars and enemy descriptions that will take your attention away from where your bullet actually lands. In turn, you’re forced to be creative in killing enemies, paying particular attention to their unique weak spots. This coupled with quirks and details adds to the realism, like discarding an entire clip’s worth of bullets whenever you reload, even if you’ve only fired a single shot – grounding you deeply into firefights and engagements as opposed to thinking ahead. On top of all of this, there’s adamantly no right or wrong way to play. As a matter of fact, have you tried going full stealth mode instead?

When you finally get bored of your assault rifle, there are shotguns, snipers, submachine guns, all with their own pros and cons. Nothing seems inherently overpowered, with the exception of the Breaker, you’re at liberty to tinker around and learn what works best with your playstyle. You unlock all these weapons through a battle pass system, which you could then upgrade to a paid premium version. However, the free pass gives you access to way more than the paid one. 

It should also be worth noting that all of the in-game Stratagems can only be purchased with currency earned by completing free objectives. So while there are still microtransactions present, it’s comforting to know that you’re playing a game that actually rewards you more for putting the hours in, incentivising you and your squad to go beyond the call of duty, looking suave while you’re at it draped in hard-earned cosmetics.

That being said, there are really only two caveats to Helldivers 2.

Even though it’s been almost a month since the game launched, server issues, iffy matchmaking, and random disconnection put a dent in its otherwise near-perfect immersion. Though there is an option to switch to Quality Mode on the PlayStation 5, frame rates will plummet to PowerPoint presentation levels, making the game look great but borderline unplayable. Thankfully, Arrowhead Game Studios’ CEO has been extremely vocal with these issues – even discouraging potential Helldivers from entering orbit until they’ve optimised the game. A good bit of PR and reverse propaganda to fuel the valiant troopers of Super Earth even more.

Besides performance issues – playing Helldivers 2 alone gets eerily lonely. You’ll need every ounce of firepower and strategy to take down wave after wave of bad guys, and doing it alone just doesn’t sit right – unless you’re a sucker for Souls games and thrive under absurd amounts of stress and pressure. You can play alone, but none of the nine difficulty levels scale to your total squad size, so playing on Helldive mode alone will be excruciatingly hard. And – randos in any game will always be a toss-up, where you could either meet a comrade for life, or a griefer determined to ruin your experience.

Get used to being stuck in your Helldiver pod.

What Helldivers 2 has going for it is also the X-factor that keeps you coming back for more. In a day and age where games are hellbent on sucking every ounce of cash from players, the game darts across the overcast sky like a shooting star – stealing your attention as your head pans from left to right. Though the humour in the dialogue can be quite hit-or-miss, you’ll learn little parts of the lore through conversation and propaganda tidbits in torn-up posters or poorly transmitted videos. What do you mean that the robots were once enslaved? Are you sure that the Terminids used to be cruelly farmed and harvested as fuel?

Even though you may spiral into an existential crisis at some point in your journey as a Helldiver, you’ll get blown to pieces by a friendly autocannon round randomly ricocheting off a bug’s carcass towards your direction, and come back as someone new, with a whole new voice, with one goal in mind – bringing Justice and Managed Democracy to Super Earth. Cutting through the conversation of game developers coming out to justify hefty price tags, justifying incessant micro-transactions, and the live-action service and utility in their projects, Helldivers 2 enters the ball looking like the girl-next-door. Its satirical narrative tone, visceral combat, and rewarding progression have the sole aim of bringing tears of joy and ugly laughter between you and your friends as you find more dumb ways to die. 

In the context of how dark and serious most shooter games are today, Helldivers 2 feels like a ray of light that you will gravitate towards that guarantees a great time. Before you know it, you’re addicted – finishing cup after cup of liber-tea in stride.

GEEK REVIEW SCORE

Summary

Amid the fiasco of quadruple-A games and lucrative live-action micro-transacting titles, Helldivers 2 is a much-needed breath of fresh air. It reminds us what games are meant to be – heaps of fun. As you get down and dirty, incessantly spreading the gospel of Super Earth’s values by waging intergalactic war against the robots and bugs, here’s to hoping that Arrowhead Game Studios can return the favour by squashing some of its technical bugs too.

Overall
9.1/10
9.1/10
  • Gameplay - 9/10
    9/10
  • Presentation - 9/10
    9/10
  • Value - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Geek Satisfaction - 8.9/10
    8.9/10