Helldivers 2 Feels Like A PS3 Game In A Very Good Way

Arrowhead Game Studios’ third-person co-op shooter Helldivers 2 has had a rough launch. It’s been plagued with server issues, progression problems, and more, and after several rapid fixes failed to fix things, studio CEO Johan Pilestedt issued an apology to players.

But Helldivers 2’s problems only add to its nostalgic appeal—the yucky, gushy, chaotic co-op shooter feels like a fantastic PlayStation 3 game. We all remember how wonky servers were back then, how frustrating it could be to try and get into a game of say, Call of Duty 3, or, over on Xbox, Halo 3. And these issues are clearly not affecting Helldivers 2’s popularity—it’s “blowing through” sales expectations and topping Steam’s concurrent player charts.

Read More: The Essential Helldivers 2 Settings To Change Before Dropping In

Everything about Helldivers 2, which released on PS5 and PC on February 8, seems plucked from a bygone gaming era, and its success serves as a reminder that the industry could benefit from more big, bombastic swings, and fewer Call of Duty sequels.

The Helldivers 2 loading screen training manual tips include a promise that the stims have "zero addictive properties."

Screenshot: Kotaku / Arrowhead Game Studios / Sony

Helldivers 2 is a blast from the past

From the moment I boot up Helldivers 2 on PS5, it’s clear that the developers had a ton of fun making it. The absurd patriotism, the obvious dispensability of the human troops, the gross bugs scampering over rocks—there’s a Starship Troopers meets Gears of War vibe that’s somehow still fresh-feeling.

After a bit of a struggle to find a match (server issues persist), I’m dropped onto a bug-infested planet via bullet-shaped escape pod. The on-screen messages assure me that my health stim isn’t addictive, and that these dangerous attempts to quell an alien invasion are for my family and my country. As I step out onto a planet covered in egg sacs and huge holes leading to underground bug dens, I am immediately overwhelmed. The map has several points of interest labeled on it, and my teammates are calling in weapon and supply drops all around me, one of which lands directly on my head as I somewhat absentmindedly trudge towards a POI.

“Oh, fuck,” I laugh. A teammate respawns me (there are only 5 respawns per player per match, so 20 if you have four, 15 if you have 3, and so on), sending me back down to the planet in yet another bullet pod. But my pod lands right in the path of a charging, armored bug, who flattens me dead before I can even get my bearings. “Fuck!” I laugh harder.

I land again and realize I have a variety of bombing runs and supplies at my disposal, but in order to call them in I need to successfully input a series of D-pad prompts. Trying to rapidly input what feels like a PS2 cheat code while crabby aliens skitter over rocks and swarm you is hilariously difficult, and when I do manage to pull off a combo and get a little throwable beacon to call in the drop, I promptly forget that I should throw it far away from me and am crushed by my own resupply. “What the fuck!?” I cackle.

As Helldivers 2’s mechanics start to click, as I hone my ability to accurately and swiftly call in bombing runs and jump-to-prone away from a charging baddie, I settle into a casual, fun loop: live, blow up bugs into goopy chunks, complete a task to ensure evac, die, repeat. In the back of my mind, a thought forms: The heavy, cumbersome movement, the somewhat wonky switch from third to first-person when aiming-down sight, the hilarious instances of friendly fire—I’m reminded of when I’d play Gears of War in my dorm instead of attending my Shakespeare 101 lecture. I remember that I miss those days and those games.

Helldivers 2 isn’t a $70 AAA shooter with advanced water physics and a litany of customizable weapons; it’s a goofy, scrappy, somewhat clunky $40 good time, like a college party with shitty beer from a stolen keg. Eventually, someone’s gonna go through a table (or dive-to-prone off a cliff), and it’s gonna be awesome. We need more games like that in 2024 and beyond.



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