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I’m standing in the escape pod, happy to have (barely) beaten the clock counting down to its departure, when I notice that our Scout is dead—again. Forty minutes into this mission of Deep Rock Galactic, and inches from victory, the cry heroically goes up: Save our dwarf! And so the team (which is to say, the parts of the team that are not me, i.e., our Engineer and our Driller) start running to revive our fallen comrade, more out of altruism than any actual need. After all, the mission—launch into the inky blackness of space, set up a dwarven refinery for liquid space rock, fight off the bugs who want to eat said refinery, get back to the drop ship—is pretty much already done. In fact, I reflect, as my Gunner lazily fires a zip line for my teammates to potentially use (or not) from the safety of the drop ship, I’m doing the team a favor by not also running back into the hostile alien wasteland to drag the Scout back onto his feet. What if there was nobody in the drop pod when it launches back to the safety of our home base, huh? Wouldn’t that make everybody sad?
I’ve written before about how co-op gaming brings out the worst—i.e., most accurate—parts of me, and Ghost Ship Games’ absolutely excellent dwarf mining simulator, currently available on Steam and Xbox, is another great expression of all my various deep and depressing character flaws. In this case, I’ve settled comfortably into the role of our crew’s Gunner, i.e., the guy with the biggest gun and the best armor, to make sure that when the giant acid-spitting radioactive bugs show up, I’m not snack bar item No. 1. Really, though, Deep Rock Galactic does the great class-based gaming thing of making each class feel vital to the overall proceedings, even if they may have chosen that class primarily because they did not want to become bug food. The Scout (when he’s not serving as the object of almost certainly Pyrrhic rescue missions) can provide light for mining operations, and zip around caverns to dig out hard-to-reach resources. The Engineer sets up automated turrets, and creates impromptu platforms. The Driller takes the walls apart, only occasionally getting everybody lost in a long, aimless mineshaft that’s been dug in the complete opposite direction from where we’re supposed to be. (Ahem.) And me? I gun. (I’ve also gotten pretty handy with that zipline gun, which allows me to slowly drift over a monster-filled cavern, firing my minigun down from a vantage point that is, above all else, safe.)
DRG, which has become my online gaming crew’s latest obsession, has a lot to recommend it: Some reasonably charming dwarvish flavor, a surprising number of mission types (ranging from “mine out x rocks” to “skateboard down refinery pipes while fending off big goddamn bomb bugs”), and a meaty progression system that I’m only just now coming to terms with. (So far, my basic upgrade philosophy has been that more and bigger guns means smaller and less bite-y bugs.) Its greatest pleasure, though, is in the rise and fall of its bug-blasting action, a careful management of tension that positions it within the lineage of Valve’s classic Left 4 Dead. Nowhere is that white-knuckles-gripping-a-pickaxe anxiety clearer than in the finale of every mission, when that desperate race to get to a distant drop pod suddenly erupts. Running through darkened tunnels while alien insects bite at my heels is the closest I might ever come to making my way through the big action climaxes of a movie like Aliens—even if I am most likely to find myself firmly situated in the Paul Reiser role.
As for that desperate rescue mission that I, uh, strategically withdrew from: You’ll be happy to know that they did get the Scout successfully back on his feet—just as another swarm hit. The Driller went down fast, but the Engineer and the rescued Scout were inches from the ship when the timer finally hit zero. The two of them leapt for the suddenly rising ramp as the pod launched off, scrambling up it for safety. Triumphant, the Scout crossed the threshold at the literal last second—at which point, the door slammed shut in the heroic Engineer’s face, leaving him behind to die in the cold, bug-filled expanses of space.