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Deep Rock Galactic is the best new co-op shooter on Steam and Xbox One

From in-game communication to just the right amount of tension, this game is the complete package

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Players hook onto a zipline before crossing a massive crack in the ground.
Players hook onto a zipline before crossing a massive crack in the ground.
Ghost Ship Games/Coffee Stain Publishing
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Deep Rock Galactic launched today onto the Steam Early Access platform and Xbox Game Preview. It’s a four-player cooperative shooter, and after just a few hours with the game today it’s pushing all the right buttons. From the four unique classes to the dizzying traversal system to pitch-perfect voiceover, this game is the complete package.

In Deep Rock players take on the role of cranky space dwarves employed by an intergalactic mining company. Players select a mission, and then hop into a drop pod with a rocket on one end and a massive drilling auger on the other. From there it’s a quick trip to the jump-off point, deep within the bowels of an asteroid infested with alien arachnids.

Straight from the get-go, Deep Rock piles on the atmosphere. Searching through caverns for your objective is a claustrophobic experience, enhanced by the game’s dynamic lighting system. Each player has their own headlamp and can also toss flares to light the way, but outcroppings and the aliens themselves also give off ambient light. Combined with the chunky, voxel-based terrain it’s a disorienting riot of shifting color and shape. It’s very easy to get yourself turned around.

A scout holds back while the rest of the team presses into an alien swarm.
A scout holds back while the rest of the team presses into an alien swarm.
Ghost Ship Games/Coffee Stain Publishing

Making things more difficult is the fact that there’s often no clear path forward. Moving from point A to point B is an enjoyable little team-based puzzle where each of the four classes has their own role to play.

Say that you’re faced with a massive crevasse. On the other side is the mineral that you’re after. The lightly armored scout can launch a grappling hook, pulling themselves along Batman-style ahead of the rest of the team. Once they’ve located a good spot, the gunner can launch a zipline that other players can hook on to and pull themselves across.

Alternately, the engineer has a gun that shoots platforms, allowing them to build a bridge along the cavern wall where there wasn’t one before. Finally, the driller could just set off a detonation pack in the hopes of finding another way around.

But multiple times each mission, sometimes while you’re struggling to get your footing, a swarm of aliens will converge on your team. At that point players must go back-to-back to hold them off. Friendly fire is on, but reviving each other is easy enough. The only way a mission will fail is if every member of the team goes down.

A massive underground cavern illuminated by bioluminescent ferns.
Every once in a while the narrow caves in Deep Rock Galactic open up into some truly spectacular chambers.
Ghost Ship Games/Coffee Stain Publishing

The early missions that I played were simple affairs that asked us to gather 100 of a certain type of mineral. Once we had succeeded, an escape pod was dispatched to collect us. Of course, that brought another massive swarm of aliens to bear. It was a frantic foot race to the exit and not everyone made it out alive.

But even if you do happen to be the unlucky dwarf that doesn’t make it to the chopper, everyone benefits after a successful mission. There’s a robust upgrade system in place where you can spend your hard-earned pay for beefier weapons and more powerful equipment.

The game includes a very capable integrated voice chat system, but it’s rarely needed. Just hit a key to get your teammates attention or listen for the helpful barks to tell you what to do next.

At times Deep Rock evokes the best parts of Left 4 Dead. I found myself gritting my teeth while fighting off a particularly fearsome swarm of aliens. At other times, it feels like exploring caverns in Minecraft or dungeon-crawling in Ark: Survival Evolved.

The game was surprisingly stable on PC, especially for it being in Early Access. I was even able to rejoin a mission after rebooting the client. It’s on sale for $24.99 right now on Steam or on the Microsoft Store. There you can get it for Windows 10 PC or Xbox One. Deep Rock allows for cross-platform co-operative play between those two platforms.