You can't win a Galactic War without losing a few good Helldivers. That's what my friends and I learned the hard way last night, as we dived into what is undoubtedly one of the best PS5 games to launch so far this year. Not that we made all that much of an impact, with the effort to shift frontlines of battle back from Super Earth controlled colonies proving to be a slow, enduring struggle. There's a large community effort underway right now, unfurling in real-time across the globe, to defend eastern territories from encroaching Terminids, all while a markedly smaller contingent of deployed soldiers work to contain a growing Automaton threat out in hostile space to the west.
In Helldivers 2, you fight for everything the Super Earth Armed Forces infomercials said that you would be: For Freedom, for Liberty, and for Democracy! And yet here the four of us stand in the frigid hellscape of Heeth, bickering about who 'accidentally' shoved who off of a cliff face while we were scoping out a nearby hive of Hunters – legs shattered and without a stim handy to regain full battle readiness, our fallen comrade was soon surrounded by swarming Terminids, and consumed by one of our devastating Orbital Strike stratagems not long after. Rest in pieces, L-Dawg.
I'm doing my part
Developer Arrowhead Game Studios took a massive risk with Helldivers 2. The original game launched in 2015 and quickly established a devoted community of freedom fighters around it, a top-down shooter beloved for its cycles of absolute brutality. Arrowhead has shifted the perspective of play, effectively transforming this long-awaited sequel into a chaotic third-person shooter – the screen a continuous mess of gunfire, explosions, and oozing bug corpses. It could easily have fallen flat. Instead, the studio has captured the cacophonic cooperative nature of the original experience and pushed it to new heights, lending every encounter an air of immediacy as you struggle to weave through gnawing teeth and slashing pincers while desperately trying to reload a stuttering assault rifle.
Something I truly appreciate about Helldivers 2 is how deeply embedded the co-op elements are throughout the entire framework of the experience. While it's possible to play solo, you're going to have a better time fighting alongside other soldiers – either a tight group of friends, easily done thanks to the Helldivers 2 crossplay support across PS5 and PC, or with others via online matchmaking. Stim packs and ammunition are valuable commodities, and easily shared amongst the group when shit really hits the fan; some of the heavier weapons physically require two players to operate, with one cycling shells into the barrel as the other aims and fires as some screen-dwarfing terror begins to charge at your group.
I also love the physicality of combat and movement, which lends Helldivers 2 this real air of desperation. If you commence a reload on any of your weapons you dump the entire clip – it's easy to be wasteful when shit starts to hit the fun. Coordinating around Stratagems – powerful ordnance which can be called down from orbit – is key, not only to work around the lengthy cooldowns between uses but because each necessitates a specific Stratagem code be punched in via the D-Pad to operate or activate. The same goes for activating elements like ICBM Missile Terminals and Extraction Consoles out in the field. It's difficult enough trying to fend off hordes of aggressive enemies, let alone when you're having to try and dial in an eight-button string of inputs to do something as simple as call a reinforcement request into Helldiver Command to bring a fallen teammate back into the battle.
Admittedly, one reason Helldivers 2 is so much better with friends is that there isn't all that much variety to missions – at least not yet, I'm only some six hours into the war to protect Super Earth, so there's every chance that objective types will scale over time. But the journey is often better than the destination in Helldivers 2, because what this video game lacks in variety it more than makes up for with lethality. Friendly fire is an ever-present, and exceptionally real threat – it may take a clip to take down a towering foe, but it can take little more than an accidental trigger squeeze to accidentally fell an ally. And with respawns in as short a supply as ammunition, placing shots can make all the difference to mission success.
If your friend group has grown tired of the churn inherent to battle royales like Fortnite and Warzone, or the endless cycles of min-maxing in looter-shooters like Destiny 2 and Warframe, then I have a feeling that Helldivers 2 is the game that you've been looking for. It offers fast, frenetic bouts of chaotic fun that are dealt out in short, sharp shocks of oozing violence – think the final third of movies like Aliens or Starship Troopers, replayed in 20 minute bouts across luxurious battlefields. I'm doing my part to bring Super Earth back from the brink of alien domination this weekend – the question is, are you?
Our full Helldivers 2 review will be live on GamesRadar+ next week. In the meantime, why not get caught up with all the upcoming PS5 games coming soon.