Helldivers 2 has the nostalgia of an unplayed PS2 game.

The sequel came out of nowhere, following up a cult favourite from several years ago that attracted fans of hardcore, team-based experiences that dealt with giant insects and constant failure. In the original, you dropped vital resource pods onto your teammates, lost items in ravines and blew entire missions, or struggled against armies of arachnid aliens even with a full squad working together at full capacity. It was incredibly challenging and frequently hilarious, a rare tactical shooter able to laugh at itself.

Helldivers 2 is so unexpected that I’d sooner expect a sequel to something like Vib Ribbon or Tokyo Jungle. Actually, someone at Sony should hurry up and make those. The best thing about Helldivers 2 is that nobody expected a sequel to the underrated gem, let alone that it would immediately attract thousands of players and a passionate following.

At the core of it all, however, is a fun, unique shooter that isn’t afraid of giving us a stern kicking. When playing solo, I often struggle to make it out of missions alive. After picking a segment of the galactic map which is dominated by a deluge of conflict, you drop into a pod and get on with the mission.

Landing away from nests of giant bugs is encouraged, otherwise you’re going to be swarmed the moment you emerge. I love that the game even offers this as an option, and isn’t afraid to punish you for it. Fall in battle and an identical soldier will land seconds later to follow in your footsteps, emphasizing how you are little more than a cog in the military machine Helldivers 2 is constantly mocking.

I conquered my first mission by complete accident. After avoiding exploding flowers and a field of poisonous fauna, I found myself up against a growing army of evil bugs. With little idea of where they were coming from, I fired blindly at each one that appeared foolishly, hoping I could make it out alive.

Soon a big fellow popped up, and after several grenades and an orbital strike for good measure, he dropped dead and I was cheered on from the sidelines for completing my objective with flying colours. After extracting from the battlefield, I found myself with a bunch of new cosmetics and currency to spend before the horrors of war swallowed me up all over again. To represent democracy and fight for the human race in pointless wars is a huge honour, and the only way to establish yourself as a citizen deserving of basic human rights.

The fact everyone you come across treats this dystopia with such jovial indifference comes as a cherry on top. When you take away the live service baggage and the political satire, however, Helldivers 2 is a refreshingly simple take on staying alive and kicking ass. Diving into the extraterrestrial sands only to call in an airstrike on a horde of nasty bugs is a dead ringer for avenging Buenos Aires during the invasion of Klendathu, whether you’re in a match alone or teaming up with friends to better yourselves as citizens.

Every second of this game is a blast, and it’s refreshing to see a team-based shooter like this not eagerly waiting to yeet us into an overwhelming ecosystem where if we fail to play for a week we’ll be swiftly left behind. Unless you want to get absolutely battered, I’d recommend playing with friends or strangers after clearing the first handful of missions. Helldivers 2 is welcoming in spite of its challenge, and in a landscape where every new game scrambles to get our attention, it’s nice to stumble across something that not only surpasses typical shooters, but makes it look so easy.

We’re being asked to work together, murder bugs, obliterate mechs, and complete objectives before returning to the safety of our ship. I wish every live-service game nowadays was this simple, and a success like this is worthy of celebration. Here’s hoping the audience sticks around and we’ll be blasting bugs for months.

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