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HellDivers (PC) artwork

HellDivers (PC) review

"Starship Bloopers"

It was a desert planet, I think. I donít recall being slowed down by untouched snow drifts, nor being routinely boiled alive by the gushing magma that volcano worlds like to troll you with, but the actual planet-type itself escapes me. We were there to capture it, and while we certainly weren't attempting that feat on the hardest of the twelve mission difficulty settings available, it was up there in challenge. There were three of us; Iím certain of that much. There were just the two of us at the start of the first mission, but a third jumped in mid-way through and, while we were nothing special, we were competent. We dragged each other through that first invasion with just a few hairy moments and a narrow escape when we finally completed all our objectives, suffering the most when forced to hold ground until a dropship arrived to evacuate us. But we dug in, weathered the last of the storm and then unashamedly ran like frightened girls toward the ship when it finally arrived. Two of us actually made it.

Mission one of three down, we ploughed on. Completing a full set of missions isnít obligatory, but you soldier on for the prize at the end, be it a fancy new weapon or a fat experience boost. This time, our war was waged against the bug army. There are three distinct enemy races in HellDivers, but the bugs are by far the best. Thereís nothing wrong with the robot or cyborg forces, both of which wield superior tech the giant insects donít possess. Robots teleport in and cyborgs drop from the sky, but bugs come at you from under the ground, burrowing in from anywhere. Should one of their scouts spot you, youíre flooded with snapping claws, acid spit and near-unbreakable carapaces. One second youíre alone with nothing but the swirling sands for company. The next youíre, well... not. It doesnít take very long at all for a screen to fill with homicidal bugs.

But we were making good pace, confident enough to leave the beaten track to try to hunt down hidden specimens that are used to slowly upgrade you Diverís arsenal of weapons. We reactivated SAM sites and held off the herd that appeared to destroy it; we nuked insect nests and liberated strategically important sites. Our resource use was slim and slow, saving the big weapons for the eventual end when we called down that shuttle and the entire planet would turn up to try and stop us. But we were all good. Then the fourth character fell from orbit, and everything went to hell.

The new arrival was ten or so levels behind the current teamís average, but thatís usually okay; a decent team can often carry a rookie through harder planets that their default, unleveled equipment shouldnít allow them to endure. The three of us were battle hardened; our chosen pulse beam rifles, sub machine guns and shotguns all fully researched to their most powerful apex. Even if our new member did minimal damage, itís better than none at all, right? At worst, it would be a boon to have a new person ordering equipment from the ships in orbit above us. Even if they chipped in now and then with the odd ammo refill or a revive when one us fell, it would make for a better team.

In theory, anyway. Dear, sweet, elusive theory...

Getting by in HellDivers often means making the smartest use of your limited orbital resupply drops, which can grant you anything from new heavy weapons to lug around, to small-scale aerial bombardments and other helpful little extras like automated turrets or hulking metal mechs. The more mission sets you complete fully, the more quickly your arsenal grows. Itís good to have options as to what kind of equipment you want fired through the atmosphere in massive metal pods, and you can pick up to four at the start of each mission. Some skills are universal, like a quick revive for a downed Diver; some are vital to your play style. Troopers who equip bullet-hungry guns will run dry very quickly without being able to order ammo drops, for instance. Others might prefer scout droids that map out the area, or healing bots that routinely prop up flagging HP counts.

I took a shotgun into battle with me, so part of my kit was a personal energy shield that helped me soak up a little extra damage, seeing as how I needed to be closer to the fray than most. One of the others bought along an APC, which helped us move between objectives seamlessly without getting stuck in constant running firefights. Between us, we had orbital bombing raids, landmine deployment, heavy flamethrowers and more all sitting in reserve.

It would be what many begrudgingly admit to be HellDiverís greatest point of interest that ultimately led to our downfall: friendly fire. The guns the game provides are powerful enough to hold back legions of enemies, but also powerful enough to mow down your allies with a split-second of carelessness. Killing your own is easy: reacting to an ambush an ally is positioned too near to, or strafing in front of someoneís sights and paying the price in bullets absorbed. When we failed to take down a couple of scout bugs before they sounded the alarm, it was initially no big deal. I moved to the front and my other two most competent allies flanked me on either side. The new guy threw a grenade, instead. The new guy threw a grenade directly at me.

With the first funnel of firepower blown up, the bugs started to gain a foothold. But that was no big deal; weíd come back from worse. The grenade hadnít killed me, but it had knocked me to the ground and robbed me of the majority of my offense and mobility. So long as I survived for a while, though, or someone came to help me up, I would be okay. So I drug myself through the sand, away from the horde, back towards my team. But no one came to my aid and the front lines of bloodthirsty insects are considerably quicker than an injured soldier sliding on his backside. Left to defend myself with only my sidearm, I found that the enemies made pretty short work of me.

But thatís okay! My glorious resurrection was only a supply drop away! My original teammates started falling back towards the APC, looking to put some distance between themselves and the bug army, space enough to input the resupply code and help me rise from my grave. But the new guy didnít seem to care about that. Instead, he ran towards my mangled body, now surrounded by the swarm, to try and steal the personal shield that had slipped from my corpse. And therein lay a huge problem; HellDivers does not employ a split-screen system, so your entire platoon is always housed in the same screen. Thereís only so far the overhead camera will zoom up to accommodate everyone, which can cause some very frustrating travel limitations. Point in case: youíre trying to run away from a massive gathering of angry bugs, but you canít retreat any further because some idiot has made a suicidal dash in the opposite direction. My eternally bitter inner monologue reminds me that had this dash been made while I was downed, I would probably still be alive and the bulk of the insects long dead. But then, of course, there would be no corpses to loot.

When you are blessed with competent teammates, the camera is not an issue. In fact, itís a boon that forces you to act as an actual team and not (up to) four people trying to be a sci-fi Rambo. In this case, though, the issue resolved itself. With no supporting fire from his retreating teammates and no real way to deal even a fraction of the firepower needed to be a one-man army, the new guy did not last long and there were no more movement limitations to worry about. While they bitched about it in the group chat (and I waited quietly and patiently for my revive, like the paragon of teamwork that I am), our remaining forces wisely fell back to the APC and ran the hell away.

I could tell you of the many misadventures we had during that mission Ė so I will. Iíll tell you that, when revived, the new guy threw a huge hissy fit and refused to get in the APC unless he was allowed to sit at the main cannon, which he promptly emptied by shooting at the scenery (making the vehicle worthless as any but the most basic of transportation). Or how, when we returned to our previous battlefield, I had to race him to regain possession of my shield. A race I won. After he let loose another seemingly endless tirade in the group chat about how I was all of the current in-trend Internet insults, my bitter teammate opened fire on me. But that was okay; I hit the ground while his bullets buzzed overhead, and my more reliable teammate ran him over with the APC. Everything became a race with him. If we dropped supplies, we knew that--even when they were items he didnít need or couldnít use--he would steal them away if given the chance. So we would routinely gun him down to an injured state before ordering drops, letting him drag himself around, spewing mis-spelt venom in the chat log.

Thinking we could handle our rowdy chum, that he was an amusing nuisance at worst, made us the architects of our own demise. We could have booted him from the game or killed him every time he was forced to respawn (each revive order brings back all downed Divers; you canít pick and choose), but instead we let him keep tagging along. I honestly couldnít tell you why, in hindsight. Maybe we thought heíd get better, or maybe we were just having too much fun giggling behind our screens. But we certainly stopped laughing when, while scavenging for misplaced shells to feed into an abandoned howitzer, he called down an airstrike that landed in the midst of our team. I was killed instantly; a teammate on the fringe of the explosions merely downed, but both he and the fellow rushing forward in an attempt to save them fell to gnashing mandibles. That left the new guy alone and, to be fair, he gave us a tiny morsel of hope when he did the right thing: abandoned the mission and ran the hell away.

We hoped heíd find a pocket of safety and call down a revive, bringing the rest of us back to full force to take on the objective anew. He did half of that; he fled to safety, but rather then bring the rest of the team back, he ordered an ammo drop. Then, spooked by the bug army catching up to him, he ran right into the path of the incoming pod carrying his supplies. In the battle between squishy human and huge metal shell fired through the planetís atmosphere from a space cannon, there was only going to be one winner.

And so we died. But that wasnít the end of our story. Safely back aboard our ship, we resupplied and, after ejecting our shared nuisance from the party, shot back down planetside to re-declare war on some house-sized bugs. We panicked a little when we were joined near completion by a fourth Diver, but he was at least as competent as us, and we earned our victory. Full platoon in tow, we smashed our way through the remaining planets, collected our rewards, then parted ways under hearty congrats. Our victory meant that the combined online force of the worldís HellDiver community moved a little bit closer to winning the constantly recycling intergalactic war against the three enemy forces. And every little bit helps. If enough planets are captured, you have the chance to take over a homeworld and shut down that raceís hostilities. If you fail, youíre forced to defend your own homeworlds against their attacks instead.

And so it continues, a constant back and forth of fighting an overarching war before it all resets and starts again. Itís a good system, giving each battle more meaning than grinding experience or leveling up new weapons. Each victory noticeably beats the hostile forces back, even if itís only a little bit, and the war refresh rate means the universe is only ever static for short periods. There are always planets to liberate, hostiles to mow down and shiny new tech to win (sometimes even outside of paid DLC). Even if, occasionally, people will fall from the sky, ALL CAPS YELL untruths about your sexual orientations and drop bombs on you from afar, itís all good. You can always get up, dust yourself down, and shoot them square in the head.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 23, 2017)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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