Helldivers 2 review: Star mangled banner

Helldivers 2 review: Star mangled banner
Images via PlayStation

Written by 

Lloyd Coombes

Published 

14th Feb 2024 15:32

In Helldivers 2, you are your own worst enemy. I mean, there are hundreds of thousands of other enemies, too, but the one you may end up dying to most is your inner saboteur, your lack of spatial awareness, and your penchant for clumsiness in the face of overwhelming odds.

That'll likely frustrate some, but it also comes with its own reward of comedic ragdoll physics and the assorted groans of teammates after you drop an airstrike on your head. Social media is already abuzz with "did you see that?" moments, but what makes Helldivers 2 so special is that just as many of them are players wiping their entire squad as they are about the vanquishing of your foes in a quest to spread Managed Democracy.

Helldivers 2 can at once be many things (a co-op stress buster, a solo battle against harrowing odds) and similarly laser-focused, not unlike an in-game Stratagem drop on just being some of the most fun you'll have with a video game in 2024.

It's a chaotic, white-knuckle shooter where success isn't just unlikely - it feels almost impossible. An occasional stroke of luck or heroic last stand will get you just as far as sound tactics and mechanical mastery, and while that may put off some players, I've been finding it a blast to scrape by an encounter by the skin of my teeth.

GGRecon Verdict

Helldivers 2 keeps kicking me in the rear end, and I can't help but respect it. Visiting its warzones often feels like a one-way trip, to the point where I'm surprised to make it through. My group chats are awash with war stories of hard-fought victories and those times I dropped an airstrike on my head.

And through all of the chaos, like a grizzled veteran who's seen some s**t, I've got a smile on my face every time I drop.

Spreading Managed Democracy

Helldivers 2 screenshot showing characters in a forest
Click to enlarge

There's a moment in Helldivers 2's initial tutorial where the player character is encouraged to dive. It's not explained why, but if you fail to comply, or simply time it wrong, two turrets will rip you to shreds. It's about the most effective way to convey what awaits you once you get starside, and while you can name your slick space cruiser (look out for the Harbinger of Wrath online, folks) and pick your missions, you're definitely not the boss here.

That's perhaps no surprise given how brutal the first game could be when it launched almost a decade ago on PC, PS3, PS4, and the Vita (remember the Vita?), but perhaps what is surprising is just how good Arrowhead Game Studio's shooter feels on PC having switched to a third-person perspective.

The weight of weaponry, the frantic sway when firing at an alien horde, and the panic of enemy spines, claws and teeth getting ever-closer to your soft tissue make it feel just like stepping into Johnny Rico's shoes from the 1997 Starship Troopers movie.

Helldivers 2 battle in the desert
Click to enlarge

That's only reinforced by the way Helldivers 2 produces a pastiche of fascism in its own way, your squad quipping with calls for enemies to try "a cup of Liber-tea" in their quest to promote "managed democracy".

It may borrow liberally from the likes of Starship Troopers, but Helldivers 2 nails the (orbital) landing, and it's just as well - you and your comrades are expendable and therefore the only way you'll absorb anything that's happening (at least in the time I've played so far) is via mission briefings and interactions with your commanding officers between desperate attempts to survive.

While my initial forays onto an icy planet were met with swift and certain death, Helldivers 2 begins to open up once you start to learn that you're at the bottom of the food chain. Within a few missions, I'd moved from running headlong into bugs to zigzagging from objective to objective to keep myself alive, focused, and revelling in the XP that follows.

It's been a long time since I've played a game that so masterfully unfurls its hand, and it felt like every other mission rewarded my meatbag protagonist with something new. Whether it's a new gun, Stratagem, piece of armour, or just anything else, Helldivers 2 is rewarding in a way so few multiplayer shooters are.

Then there are the new locales, with each new planetary biome feeling more gorgeous than the last. Sun rays filter through trees, explosions kick up dirt, and bugs 'pop' with a sort of grim satisfaction.

Ready to drop?

A Helldivers 2 airstrike
Click to enlarge

So, just what does it take to be a Helldiver in the galaxy today? In the earliest hours, a lot of dying is a prerequisite.

As good as assault rifles and grenades feel to use against your insect-like foes, reloading wastes any bullets left in the mag, and you only get a few reloads per encounter. While destroying eggs or wiping out a certain enemy sounds simple, the combination of limited ammo and unlimited foes makes it a careful dance of kiting enemies one way before calling in Stratagems to restock, drop off additional weapons, and trigger airstrikes.

These Stratagems are on a cooldown, and while you can feasibly trigger them as often as you can stay alive to request them, the requesting part in itself requires a button combo that would make Street Fighter proud.

Helldivers 2 co-op battle
Click to enlarge

Take the Precision Airstrike one, for example, which requires you to press CTRL, then type three directions to unlock it, then throw it. It's the kind of thing I found myself wincing at for the first hour, but the more I played, the more I enjoyed the tactility and the way it made me try and centre myself amid the chaos of the battlefield.

Whatever your mission is, you'll need to enter a similar (longer) combination to request extraction, and herein lies the difficulty in playing solo. You can put plenty of space between yourself and the swarm of angry bugs snapping at your heels, but with the combination taking a few precious seconds to enter (and with no one distracting them or providing fire) it feels like a losing battle.

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That's not to say it's not fun to scrape by, but it's definitely tuned for a squad of four which is something to consider when picking it up.

Literal drop-in co-op

Helldivers 2 co-op screenshot
Click to enlarge

Despite some launch day woes, Helldivers 2 might just be one of the slickest games to play with friends or strangers in the galaxy. Not since Destiny have I been struck by just how easy it is to play with just about anyone, or how well it ties into the universe's lore and mechanics.

It takes mere seconds to find a squad in Helldivers, and whether you're fighting bugs, robots, or anything else, the menu makes joining up a breeze before you hop into your drop pod, and post-game you can requeue with ease, too.

Perhaps the best part, though, is the Emergency Beacon. This distress signal lets you call in reinforcements, and arriving to save another player's bacon is a reward in and of itself. As someone who's spent countless hours in Monster Hunter World responding to SOS calls, I love being able to drop in, quite literally. In fact, the real challenge has been dropping out, since Helldivers 2 tends to eat away at my free time.

The Verdict

Helldivers 2 keeps kicking me in the rear end, and I can't help but respect it. Visiting its warzones often feels like a one-way trip, to the point where I'm surprised to make it through. My group chats are awash with war stories of hard-fought victories and those times I dropped an airstrike on my head.

And through all of the chaos, like a grizzled veteran who's seen some s**t, I've got a smile on my face every time I drop.

4.5/5

Reviewed on PC. Review code provided by the publisher.

Lloyd is GGRecon's Editor-in-Chief, having previously worked at Dexerto and Gfinity, and occasionally appears in The Daily Star newspaper. A big fan of loot-based games including Destiny 2 and Diablo 4, when he's not working you'll find him at the gym or trying to play Magic The Gathering.