‘Helldivers II’ game review: A Starship Troopers-inspired bug-stomping blast

The gaming industry is often swept by underdogs that morph into cultural phenomena, driving trends that redefine the gaming landscape. Classics like Counter-Strike redefined first-person shooters, and PUBG sculpted the battle royale genre from its nascent clay. Entering this arena of potential game-changers is Helldivers II, a title that’s quickly emerging as a cooperative gaming sensation. While only time can verify its longevity, Helldivers II shines as one of the early contenders for the year’s most engaging experiences.

Mimicking the essence of the cult classic film Starship Troopers, Helldivers II pits humanity against an intergalactic insect threat on “Super Earth” – a hyper-militarized version of our planet. Following a triumphant clash with the Terminids, Super Earth’s elite Helldivers are propelled into the galaxy once more aboard their FTL (faster-than-light) ships on a zealous crusade termed the “Great Democratisation,” fuelled by the very enemies they defeated.

Steeped in over-the-top, propagandist comedy, the game flaunts its absurdity with pride. Yet, beneath the veneer of hyperbolic humor lies a brutally unforgiving gameplay that will test even the most seasoned gamers.

Making the leap from its top-down predecessor, Helldivers II transitions into a third-person shooter setting, complete with sandbox-style levels that bring new dimensions to its gameplay. Despite an appearance that may recall familiar genre titles and visuals reminiscent of the previous generation, its core gameplay mechanics demonstrate that Helldivers II is far from ordinary.

Arrowhead Studios has boldly positioned Helldivers II as a cooperative live service game—a notable risk in today’s saturated market. Yet, the satisfaction of annihilating extraterrestrial adversaries in a team remains undeniably captivating. The sense of camaraderie in combat is one of the game’s major hooks.

A standout feature is the ingenuously designed “Stratagems” system. Players must memorize and execute complex activation sequences to deploy powerful equipment strategically, adding a rewarding layer of tactical depth to the frenetic battles. The elation of calling in a pinpoint satellite strike or unleashing an arsenal of Stratagems is both a thrill and an incentive, continually fueling the anticipation of what comes next.

Helldivers II unabashedly challenges players with harsh gameplay realities. Reloading prematurely squanders ammunition, and friendly fire is a constant threat. These unforgiving elements, initially daunting, soon become integral to the experience, leaving players wondering why such “features” aren’t more prevalent in other games.

The game’s pedigree is humble, and its rough edges, such as the quirky interface and the seemingly barren planetary landscapes, are evident. Yet, these potential flaws are masterfully compensated by a dynamic array of enemy challenges. The missions are straightforward – team up, exterminate the alien threat, and extract – but this simplicity belies a deeper sense of fulfillment. In a market saturated with cutting-edge graphics, the moments of awe in Helldivers II’s design are a testament to the game’s capability to triumph over its limitations.

For PlayStation 5 players, the game’s integration of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers is nothing short of revolutionary. Few titles on PS5 utilize these features to such a gratifying extent, making every encounter in Helldivers II an immersive and gripping shootout.

As with any rising star, there are growing pains. Server capacity has struggled under the weight of the game’s burgeoning popularity, sometimes hindering match connectivity. Furthermore, while the repetitive nature of missions hasn’t yet dulled their appeal, there is genuine concern around the trajectory of future content and support. Players are hopeful that Arrowhead Studios will unveil a comprehensive roadmap to sustain the enthusiasm that accompanied the original Helldivers’s journey.

Despite the odds, Helldivers II has carved its niche as the viral darling of the 2024 gaming year. It has caught the imagination of cooperative gameplay enthusiasts and strategic thinkers alike, beckoning to those willing to embrace its challenging yet rewarding ecosystem. Whether it will ascend to join the ranks of its fellow legendary trailblazers remains a question mark — but the early signs suggest that Helldivers II is well on its way to leaving an indelible mark on gaming history.

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