As Helldivers 2 draws Metal Gear Solid 5 comparisons, Obsidian RPG master Josh Sawyer says "more games should just directly copy stuff that feels good"

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: Arrowhead Game Studios)

In amongst the expected Star Troopers chatter, a less obvious comparison for Helldivers 2 has quietly been making the rounds: 2015's Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain. Unexpected overlap in stealth, movement, and gunplay has brought Kojima's open-world action espionage masterwork back into the spotlight, and director Josh Sawyer of RPG powerhouse Obsidian reckons it's all just more evidence that more games shouldn't feel bad about copying stuff that works well and feels good. 

"I’m not kidding when I say more games should just directly copy stuff that feels good from games they like and then riff from there," Sawyer said in a tweet sharing a video from AnthonyCSN, who reckons Helldivers 2 feels Metal Gear-ish in many ways. Anthony points to gameplay from 2014's bite-sized treat Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes specifically, with prone shootouts being one touchstone for it and Helldivers 2. The two games obviously pursue different goals, but there's a case to be made for shared DNA in their bones. 

"The act of copying something requires you to do a lot of critical analysis and it’s extremely informative even if you scrap everything and start over," Sawyer adds. 

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Sawyer is, of course, correct, and the wording and timing of his assessment has raised a few interesting points. I'm reminded of the time-honored advice that artists, especially new artists, should wholeheartedly copy their favorite art as a step on the way to discovering their own style. Art inspires art which inspires art, and similar iteration ideation happens in games all the time, on mechanical, technical, and artistic levels just to name a few. 

Countless Stardew Valley-likes have put a spin on its farming sim formula, which is itself based on Harvest Moon. How many post-Genshin Impact games are there? How many Vampire Survivors-likes? Slay the Spire-likes? Games like Pokemon? Just last month, a lead dev on the "Hollow Knight meets Kirby" Metroidvania Biomorph told me that the game's core mechanic was originally inspired by Super Mario Odyssey. Round and round the design wheel goes as new creatives take turns spinning it with their own force and intent. 

I'm especially intrigued by one response from Seth Rosen, game director on the newly released car survival game we called "brilliant, infuriating, and frustrating in equal measure" in our Pacific Drive review. As a practical example of riffing in practice, Rosen attributes one of Pacific Drive's mechanics, diagnosing quirks in your car's performance, to the time-bending mystery Return of the Obra Dinn, from Papers, Please creator Lucas Pope. In the same way Rosen says we can "thank Return of the Obra Dinn" for that, innumerable games should and do borrow from and build on tried-and-true ideas. 

Another talking point here has been patents preventing this kind of riffing, with a still-topical example being the ingenious Nemesis system that turned the otherwise fine Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor games into downright genius action RPGs. After years of trying, Warner Bros finally patented the Nemesis system in 2021, and may retain the rights to it until 2035, which is one reason more games haven't tried their hand at the same idea – people don't feel like purchasing a license to use it. Functionally similar systems have been used in other games, but for my money lack the Nemesis spark. Thankfully, such gameplay patents are rare.

Never Grave black monster knight possession

(Image credit: Pocketpair)

For a recent, loud-and-proud example of a game blatantly copying stuff that feels good and combining it in a novel way, I'd point you to Palworld developer Pocketpair – but not to Palworld itself. Instead, cast your eyes to Never Grave: The Witch and The Curse, Pocketpair's upcoming co-op Metroidvania roguelike that rips off Dead Cells so blatantly that it can only be taken as flattery. Entire mechanics are lifted wholesale: kicking doors into enemies, embedded teleporters, hub items, the potion system, even down to the main character being a body puppeteered. 

For a still more egregious example veering deeper into ripoff territory, have a gander at Deviator, a 2D Metroidvania wearing the skin of Hollow Knight like a jacket. Down to minute animation timings, shading and lighting effects, biome themes, and seemingly the main character's entire move set, Deviator can only be described as Hollow Knight rearranged. To me, this hammers home Sawyer's specificity: "copy stuff that feels good." Copy the feeling and reflect on what makes it work, sure, but maybe don't idly emulate without ever injecting any sense of self. 

With a new "action espionage game" to follow Death Stranding 2, Hideo Kojima is going back to his roots: "I am confident that this title will be the culmination of my work."

Austin Wood

Austin freelanced for the likes of PC Gamer, Eurogamer, IGN, Sports Illustrated, and more while finishing his journalism degree, and he's been with GamesRadar+ since 2019. They've yet to realize that his position as a senior writer is just a cover up for his career-spanning Destiny column, and he's kept the ruse going with a focus on news and the occasional feature, all while playing as many roguelikes as possible.