Considering how much the PlayStation 4 was advertised as a social console, with its share button and other social features, HellDivers feels right at home. Arrowhead Game Studios’ recently released title is an overhead, cooperative, space-themed, twin stick shooter where you fight for the best thing this world has ever seen: democracy. The difference between this twin stick shooter and others, is its social features. So, does HellDivers have what it takes to turn you into a space cadet?
The HellDivers are a group of soldiers that fight for Super Earth, or, the Earth in the future. You could also describe them as the world’s army against alien scum. Once you join the army and go through an introduction, you’ll be fighting in the name of democracy against three different alien species. Just in case it wasn’t clear up until now–democracy is great. The three different species are the Bugs, Cyborgs, and Illuminati, erm… Illuminate. Each one of these has different military capabilities and requires different tactics. That is about as deep as the story goes, which unfortunately does a poor job of explaining well or at all what each side’s motivation in this war is. Also, it’s a bit funny that it sounds like the United States is in charge of the world with its democracy-spreading tactics.
With its poor narrative, what really catches the spotlight here is the gameplay. And, me-oh-my, the gameplay is great. Like any superb space game, you’ll have a ship that serves as the home base. This nexus of sorts includes the armory, encyclopedia, multiplayer pod, and mission map. Here is where the decision about which planet you want to visit is made available. Each planet has a certain level difficulty, rewards, and various objectives. The planets can vary in terrain such as snow, desert, and forest which depending on the one you’re in can end up impeding movement or abilities in different manners. Before being dropped in, you will have to choose a load out to take with you, which consist of weapons and perks.
Once in a mission, it is all about planning and strategy. Since each level is procedurally generated, there’ll be a lot of different maps to see. You can play it guns blazing, or stealthy to avoid death. Strategizing is a whole lot of fun as you slowly-but-surely choose a style to play.
Missions will vary from capturing an area to nuking a whole nest. Luckily, it varies enough to keep your interest. A lot of them will require you to input some d-pad combination, so it may take some time to get used to that. Even calling in evacuation units requires a d-pad combination input. Along the way, you will encounter tiny enemies to tank like monsters. The basics are simple: move around with the left stick, right stick aims, right trigger shoots, left trigger is your grenades, right button reloads. The magic comes from the left button.
Gameplay is smooth and everything works the way it is supposed to. Weapons and armor are well balanced, offering plenty of pros and cons for each one of your load outs. Planets are filled with ambient sounds, dust floating around, footprints trails on the ground, shadows of clouds, and you may even hear the sounds of your enemies in the far distance. The soundtrack is very space-like and futuristic, even picking up during action. Graphically, on the PS4, everything looks fantastic as well. It is this attention to detail that will have you engrossed in each game session.
On your missions, you can get all types of support by calling in ammo packs, turrets, bomb strikes, tanks, and even some giant robot suits–making it rain with support, like a boss. These are the stratagems, which play a big part in the fun, and become essential to your mission success. Using the radio, you’ll be able to input a d-pad combination to call in these powerful support items. Once you got it down you’ll be calling in support in the middle of action, which increases the tension but is awfully satisfying when crushing your opponents. For balance reasons only, four strategems are allowed so choosing wisely before the mission changes the outcome of your adventure. There is always something to do, so you’ll never get bored.
In terms of difficulty, it varies from mission to mission. While there are easy missions, there are others that will have you pulling your hair out. There are also plenty of ways to die in this game. Calling in support like a boss? Don’t stand below it or you will get squished. Calling in an evac unit? Try not to get splattered under it. You can even fall off edges. Reloading will also rid of whatever ammo you had left in the previous clip. Focus is key here.
The hook is to keep playing missions to gain experience points and research points to level up, rewarding you with stronger gear, which in turn allows you to go on more difficult missions that have even better rewards. Research points are used to upgrade weapons and strategems, each level increased rewards one research point but planets are riddled with “samples” that once 10 are collected grants a research point. It is one vicious yet satisfying circle.
Previously, I teased the social aspect of this game, which honestly is the cherry that puts it over the top. Playing alone is perfectly fine–maybe a bit more difficult, but doable. This was crafted, though, as a cooperative experience, and there really is no better way to play it than with friends. You can grab up to three of your friends on each mission and it can be a mix of local or online co-op on PS4, PS3, and PS Vita and Cross-play and Cross-Chat between the systems. You can have some players be the support, some the heavy ammunition and so on. There is also friendly fire, so spray and pray may not be the best tactic. There were some connectivity issues before launch, but luckily it only happened to me once. The rest of the time, it worked perfectly.
If you do not have friends to play with, you can join random people’s sessions or even have others join your session. There is an option that allows your session to be public or private so you have control over the matter. People can “commend” you or “report” you, which is great because it keeps grieving at a minimum.
All of the epic battles done with friends, or solo, go towards what is called the “Galactic Campaign.” Every time you conquer a planet, you add to the total influence Super Earth has on that alien race. Everyone online playing and completing missions adds to the same influence bar. Once this bar is filled, there is an event where you must help take down the alien race’s home planet. Fail and the whole Super Earth defense crumbles. Each Galactic Campaign will last 4-6 weeks and every point counts. It is an unbelievably interesting way of bringing the community together, but is not the first time this has been seen (games like Soul Sacrifice Delta have done it), but nonetheless it is a nice way of incentivizing people to play together.
What is exciting is that there is room for Arrowhead Game Studios to add events to this ongoing war whenever they want. Recently adding extra experience points for certain planets. Hopefully they continue to add new events to keep the experience fresh.
The multiplayer aspect of the game is truly what makes it special. There are some hilarious moments like accidentally taking friends out, or some epic battles that are hard to believe that you got out of alive– these are the types of social moments that drive this game. Everything works and is realized so well that it’s hard not to smile and have fun.
There is very little to complain about here. Maybe some of the missions to start you off are a bit bland and of course the story leaves something to be desired, but it feels more like nitpicks.
Story aside, there is so much to love here. Gameplay is spot on and it has a social aspect that will have you and your friends hooked. If you have a PS4, PS3, Ps Vita and friends to play with, grab this game. If you don’t have friends to play with, join random teams and make some friends. Just remember to spread Democracy safely.
-Gameplay is intuitive and fun.
-Spreading Democracy with Friends
– Everything is realized perfectly
-Story though not important leaves something to be desired.
4.5 out of 5 burritos
This review was completed using a review copy of HellDivers provided by Sony Computer Entertainment America. The game hit PS3, PS4, and PS Vita on March 3, 2015.