Helldivers 2 isn't just good co-op, it's a masterclass in designing comedy games

Helldivers 2
(Image credit: Sony)

Helldivers 2 is one of my favourite games of the last few months. It's exciting, it's well-designed, startlingly deep and has an engaging core game loop. It's also, to use the technical term, really fucking funny. You realise this before you even hit the title screen – the game's blunt but enthusiastic introductory cutscene has a superb combination of overacting, ridiculous dialogue, implied darkness and physical comedy. The sight-gag of watching a bunch of marines frustratedly trying to stick the flag in an alien's corpse like it was Iwo Jima, only to oafishly chest bump each other when it finally stands upright, makes me laugh every time I see it. We definitely need more games inspired by Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, instead of Heinlein's.

But it's deeper than the satirical propaganda and bellowed background dialogue from General Brasch. Helldivers 2 isn't just a game that acts funny – it plays funny too. And that's something you just don't see very often these days.

Laughing from the sidelines

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Sony)

It's not rare to find games with jokes in them in the mainstream AAA space, but that's not the same thing as being a comedy game. For example, Baldur's Gate 3 has a lot of jokes, but they're just one element of a broader whole, moments of levity to keep the tone balanced. Full-on comedy games are far rarer – and after the public drubbing given to dialogue in games like Forspoken, it's not hard to see why studios are wary about going goofy. More often you'll just have a comedy character, a comic relief figure held gently to one side – perhaps a quest-giver or merchant, maybe a voice on a radio – somebody who can crack wise while the main character frowns, rolls their eyes and focuses on other, more important things than joy.

Tips and tricks for Helldivers 2

Helldivers 2 tips

(Image credit: Sony)

Want some advice worthy of Brasch himself? Our Helldivers 2 tips will give you the edge, 100% guaranteed!*

*Not a guarantee

If a game genuinely has a comedy focus – like Suicide Squad, Guardians of the Galaxy or Borderlands – that comedy rarely extends to the actual gameplay. Obviously the characters might call out quips or one-liners during battle, but what they're doing probably isn't particularly funny, usually hyper-competently cutting through opponents. Maybe a pre-animated takedown or finisher move is done by hitting somebody with a mallet, or perhaps one of your guns has a quirk built in – it chatters at you or makes its targets dance – but it's just an aesthetic. When Deadpool whacks a foe with his own health bar in Marvel Vs Capcom 3, it's mechanically no different from any other character's three-bar ultimate.

True comedy gameplay mechanics – mechanics based around doing something silly, or generating silly results – are rare, but do exist. Octodad, Overcooked, and arguably the newer Hitman games fall under that bracket. But with Helldivers 2, now there's another entrant – and it might be the slyest and most comprehensive comedy generation engine I've seen in years.

Private Jokes, General Hilarity and Major Chaos

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Sony)

At a surface glance, there's nothing overtly funny here – Helldivers 2 just looks like a well-made co-op shooter about space marines killing aliens and robots. Sure, the intro cinematic and dialogue is worth a chuckle, but then you drop into the map and it's shotguns and airstrikes as normal, right?

The Helldivers are overconfident meatheads who all think they're a hybrid of Masterchief, Captain America and John Wick.

Wrong. Helldivers 2 has made a lot of creative choices I'm convinced are made to result in absurd and hilarious results. The ragdoll animations, as many have mentioned recently, are superb, and the game is very eager to show them off. When a Charger in Helldivers 2 barrels through your team, they're sent flying like bowling pins, bouncing off the landscape and shrieking. Falling off a ledge causes them to flail ridiculously, and the game actively creates situations to encourage you to throw yourself around, using the dive to avoid explosions, rockets and being trampled, with mixed success.

It's also clearly part of the joke that the Helldivers, despite their confidence, have a comically high mortality rate, all dying like lemmings off their lexapro. You're told from the start how frequent friendly fire is, in a tone that feels more like a promise than warning, and even beyond that there's just a lot of enemies that'll kill you in a single hit – something that would be frustrating if not for the fact that HD2 is also generous with respawns and gives rewards even for failed missions, allowing you to screw up without having to get too upset by it. And if you do manage to do something cool amidst the chaos, it's inevitably so over the top as to feel absurd, like diving away from an exploding skull-covered robot while shooting an incendiary shotgun and hearing inspiring music behind you – and there really is no middle ground between the two extremes.

Tene cervisiam meam!

Helldivers 2

(Image credit: Sony)

Ultimately the big gag is just how inept the Helldivers are, and the mechanics present that perfectly in every mission. You spend most of your encounters running away, panickedly firing behind you, getting sent flying by explosions, shooting each other by accident, and stepping on mines you didn't see underfoot because you're nervously looking up to avoid getting hit by yet another ally's airstrike. And if you survive all that, you can pick yourself up just in time for a respawning teammate to land on your head and squash you. Well, technically not respawning – because remember, in canon, this is a wholly new soldier fresh out of training, one who can expect to die in the same amount of time it takes to microwave an egg, and with roughly the same amount of splatter.

Some might say this is playing badly, but I say it's the whole point, the very experience that Helldivers 2 is trying to generate. The set-up is that the Helldivers are overconfident meatheads who all think they're a hybrid of Masterchief, Captain America and John Wick.

But then the game hands you control and sends you into the battlefield with a merry slap on the backside, assuring you that you'll totally do great out there, all the while sniggering behind its hand. The punchline, from that point on, will write itself.

Want to see us praise these gun-toting idiots even more? Check out our Helldivers 2 review!

Joel Franey
Guides Writer

Joel Franey is a writer, journalist, podcaster and raconteur with a Masters from Sussex University, none of which has actually equipped him for anything in real life. As a result he chooses to spend most of his time playing video games, reading old books and ingesting chemically-risky levels of caffeine. He is a firm believer that the vast majority of games would be improved by adding a grappling hook, and if they already have one, they should probably add another just to be safe. You can find old work of his at USgamer, Gfinity, Eurogamer and more besides.