When Helldivers launched earlier this year, it made very clear that it wasn’t just another multiplayer twin stick shooter. From the second you see the game’s take on the well-worn space marine trope – drawing such comparisons as “Starship Troopers meets Warhammer” – you know that you’re in for something nothing less than an experience.
This owes at least partly to the humor and levity Helldivers packs in, but that’s not to say it isn’t intense; it’s actually quite the opposite, your helldivers screaming “Have a cup of liber-tea!” patriotically as they descend into what will inevitably result in multiple deaths via cyborgs, bugs, aliens, and of course your own teammates’ friendly fire. The excellent tone and execution really set apart what could have easily been run-of-the-mill mechanics, a feat that’s even more impressive considering that this is essentially an allegory for United States foreign policy.
Now that Helldivers is receiving a well-deserved PC port, virtually all of that remains true. You once again get the chance to defend Super Earth from hordes of alien scum, each captured objective serving toward the larger war effort, toward the ultimate end of conquering all competing species in the galaxy. Unlike the original incarnation, however, the PC version is confronted with a pretty specific set of challenges; while the core game mechanics have already proved to be a fun and continuously fulfilling experience, the real question is how well they will translate to the new medium when faced with a different community, new controls, and the consistent issue of bugs and optimization.
Developer Arrowhead Game Studios has had something of a rocky record in that regard, and while they’ve learned from some of their past mistakes, others are somewhat apparent. While the port of Gauntlet, their most recent title, wasn’t exactly botched, there were grumblings about the lack of effort taken to acclimate it to PC – lack of re-bindable keys and bugs galore being among the most egregious complaints – and many of those issues persist into Helldivers‘ port; while keys are re-bindable, graphics options are fairly minimal. That can be forgiven, as the game runs exceptionally well and looks about as good as an isometric twin stick shooter can be expected to, but the bugs cannot. After several dozen hours of playtime, I can say the game is pretty consistent in its crashes at a rate of about once every hour or two, something completely unacceptable and infuriating in its own right, but exacerbated significantly when dependent on others to succeed.
While you can choose to go it solo, Helldivers is indisputably in its prime when working with others. Despite there being some mechanical considerations aimed at supporting solo-divers, the game is clearly multiplayer focused, with some objective varieties not even becoming available until reaching harder difficulties (which basically necessitate a team). That focus only heightened the frustration every time the game crashed. It’s especially obnoxious considering how non-toxic the community is, something you can’t really applaud the game for outright but that might otherwise be a selling point for those who generally shy away from multiplayer-focused games for that exact reason (including yours truly). Thankfully, most of the inherent qualities of the experience – the war map, bonuses, upgrades trees, procedural generation, even the way the game controls, etc. – are handled very intuitively, so there’s still a lot of reason to play, but also no excuse not to fix it.
If I had to guess, I’d say this was less out of malicious apathy and more a fundamental lack of consideration for the PC gaming community. Case-in-point, something close to a scandal occurred when the game first launched on Steam, with allegations of unfair DLC practices being levied. Supposedly, the developers had “hidden” a cheaper, all-inclusive DLC option beneath several individual options, implying that this was purposefully misleading. Adding to this is simply that there’s a lot of DLC right out of the gate, something that owes to it being a port, but that new fans surely didn’t appreciate. The poor handling of DLC isn’t really too much of a detriment to the overall experience, and I doubt that it’s as intentional as others have suggested, but it does reinforce that Arrowhead really isn’t that great at catering to PC audiences, as evidenced again by the mediocre nature of the port itself.
Helldivers is an absolutely worthwhile game for any fan of twin stick shooters, or really multiplayer shooters in general. It breathes life into a stale aesthetic, has funny and smart writing (minimal as it may be), and is nothing short of addicting, perfectly intense fun. As a PC port, however, Helldivers is adequate at best. It’ll get the job done, but that’s about it. Here, that’s more than enough, but I can’t help but think how much better this could have been had they just put a few extra hours in to get it right.