At first glance, Helldivers seems to have a certain simplicity to it. Four guys running around shooting aliens, doing dynamic missions on procedurally generated maps. Space Diablo, but instead of classes, you get unlockable weapons, perks, and special powers. It even looks a bit spartan, perhaps because it’s designed to support cross-platform play among Playstation 4s, Playstation 3s, and Vitas, all online as part of an ongoing metagame in which everyone’s progress is applied to hold back invading aliens.
But if you look a little closer, if you actually take up the controller and play, you’ll see a couple of things that earn Helldivers the first part of its name.
After the jump, a few reasons you might not be ready for Helldivers.
1) There is no way to turn off friendly fire. The most commonly heard refrain while playing — at least when you’re starting out — is “Sorry!”. The natural instinct is to just unload at whatever approaching space bugs or killer robots are bearing down on you, regardless of whether another player is between you and your targets. You’ll have to suppress this instinct, which makes for a very different kind of twin stick shooter. Instead of just firing wildly, I’m covering certain angles. I’m watching where my teammates are shooting. I’m watching where I’m standing. I’m carefully positioning myself for clear lines of fire. And I’m certainly a lot more careful with my grenades. It reminds me of Left 4 Dead, but it’s unlike any other action RPG I’ve played because no other action RPG has the courage to expect me to have any discipline. Most action RPGs just want me to have fun. Most action RPGs don’t realize that having discipline can be its own kind of fun.
(The developers of Helldivers are the folks who made Magicka, a spell-slinging game in which the spells hurt your friends as readily as your targets. Often to hilarious effect. Helldivers is a bit more grim than that, but the principle is the same.)
2) There is no automatic reload. When your magazine is empty, you can keep firing all you want. But nothing is going to happen until you tap the R1 button to reload. As with the active reload gimmick in Gears of War, your gun is more meaningful when you’re involved in the reloading process. I know this because I often realized I was trying to shoot a gun that wasn’t shooting anything. Not many games let that happen.
3) Furthermore, your limited ammo is based on a specific number of magazines, not pools of ammo that will conveniently top off whatever magazine size you’re using. In almost every other game with guns, if you fire, say five or six rounds out of a 30-round magazine, you naturally tap the reload button as soon as you get a little downtime. Those five or six fired rounds will be immediately replaced and you still get to keep all the unfired rounds. Reloading means throwing away the magazine currently in your gun, along with any rounds it holds. So when you reload is nearly as important as the fact that you must reload. Be sure someone brings along an ammo resupply beacon, and plan for frequent breaks. Because the second most commonly heard refrain in Helldivers is, “Uh, guys, I don’t have any more bullets…”
I’m not sure I correctly understood this, but as we were playing, one of the developers explained that if you reload with rounds remaining, you’ll reload faster to account for the fact that you already had a round in the chamber. I might have the particulars wrong, but that kind of thinking is part of what makes Helldivers more than just space marines wildly pouring ammo into space bugs.
Helldivers is due to be released this summer. Invite me into your games at your own peril.