In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020, individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
When it comes to gaming, my 2020 was defined by online co-op. The isolation of the pandemic was the perfect excuse to get old friends together for everything from Vermintide 2 to Remnant: From the Ashes. But one game stood out from all the rest.
Deep Rock Galactic is sort of Minecraft meets Left 4 Dead. As four space-faring dwarves, you have to burrow through alien caves in search of precious resources. Hostile fauna must be seen off, but it’s a game about company men, not commandos—little bearded miners trying to make a buck.
Where so many run-based co-op games demand efficiency—acting like a well-trained military unit, calling shots and learning the levels until you know them like the back of your hand—Deep Rock Galactic is just about trying to get a difficult job done. Levels are both procedurally generated and fully destructible, so success is all about improvisation. You never know what you’re going to face, but you’ve got all the tools you need—you just need to figure out how to apply them.
Each dwarf has their own abilities, from the Engineer’s platform gun to the Driller’s… well, drills, and together your team forms a wonderful swiss army knife of synergies and interactions. Because every level is unique and new, there’s no perfect route to find—you just have to make the best of things as you go, forming your own routes and paths via hastily dug tunnels and cleverly placed ziplines.
Resources often spawn in hard to reach places—together, you have to figure out how you can get to them, and if you think they’re worth the time and trouble to claim. Excavation machinery needs to be protected from encroaching creatures—can the environment around you be shaped into a more defensible arena? When your job is done, you’ll only have a few minutes to make it back to the drop pod before it leaves without you. If you don’t prepare a good path back the way you came, it could turn into a dangerous scramble.
You’re constantly figuring out rough-and-ready solutions to daunting problems, and it’s enormously satisfying. The procedural generation is deft enough that there’s always something new to discover, and it feels properly magical to have an endless stream of these situations where I can creatively problem-solve with my friends.
In fact, there’s enough genuine variety that even just exploring is a joy. This isn’t just a set of familiar pieces stuck together in different ways—each level feels like its own distinct environment, and an incredible variety of biomes, creatures, and events ensure that even 30 hours in I still feel like I’m constantly being surprised.
The visual variety is welcome—in fact, despite a low poly look, its alien landscapes are frequently beautiful and arresting. But the real treasure is in how all the unique caverns and rock formations it spits out, mashed up with different combinations of effects, enemies, and mission types, demand you constantly adapt to overcome. Too often procedural generation is a gimmick, or a path to infinite dull filler, but I think this is probably the most effective and truly game-enhancing implementation of it that I’ve seen.
I refuse to let it be an overlooked gem. In fact, I refuse to let any gems be overlooked, because I’ve worked out this great new way of reaching them—I just need a demo charge, a grappling hook, and an automated turret...