This is Rainbow In The Dark, a series about games that actually contain colors. As always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

For the first proper entry in the Rainbow In The Dark series, I knew I wanted to write about Deep Rock Galactic. It’s a game that literally contains the word “darkness” in its tagline: “Danger. Darkness. Dwarves.” A game about dwarven miners in a sci-fi world, working for the giant and exploitative Deep Rock Galactic mining corporation, who risk their lives daily to mine precious minerals from the caverns of the planet Hoxxes while fighting off its aggressive fauna. Set almost entirely in subterranean caves, it’s a game that could so easily have been a gloomy, drab affair. Instead, when a player tosses out a flare to illuminate a tunnel, they are treated to a surprising array of colors. A literal rainbow in the dark.

Deep Rock Galactic has received a ton of press elsewhere, so I don’t want to spend too much time describing it. But for some brief context: it’s a cooperative first-person shooter game (although an AI robot helper named Bosco can be used if playing solo) where up to four players choose one of the four dwarf classes, who each have different weapons and traversal tools. Battling the insect-like creatures of Hoxxes is a big part of the game, but really it’s all about mining with one’s trusty pickaxe. The procedurally generated caves are fully destructible, so players are free to dig tunnels (indeed, the Driller class excels at this with their huge drilling rig) and mine precious ore veins. The caverns are surprisingly varied so each mission feels fresh, and there are a bunch of mission types to keep things interesting. I’m particularly impressed with the on-site refining missions, which task players with building pipelines to collect liquid morkite, and then — brilliantly — let them grind along the pipes to quickly move around the cave. Deep Rock Galactic even manages to make the dreaded escort missions fun, because instead of escorting a weak and useless character, the dwarves are escorting a giant drilldozer so it can extract a particularly valuable gem from deep underground.

Deep Rock Galactic is also filled with lovely little details. The dwarves hang out on the space rig between missions, where they can tweak their equipment and adjust their attire, or just relax at the bar, which has a jukebox and dancefloor as well as a barrel-kicking game. And beer, of course. There are a bunch of unlockable beers that can be brewed and then ordered at the bar, most of which just have some funny effect, but some of which give a small bonus to the next mission like less fall damage or extra gold when mining gold veins. Tip the robot bartender, and play with the little bobblehead on the bar. Tap the fuzzy dice in the drop pod before heading off to a mission. Hit the “V” key to have your dwarf shout out a salute, usually the company slogan “Rock and stone!”… unless you’re holding a beer, in which case your dwarf will offer a toast instead. Everything is filled with so much character, and the game feels really generous too. There are progression systems and extra stuff to work towards, and seasonal content, but refreshingly little of the transparently exploitative systems designed to get players to pay money for boosts or cosmetics. I never felt I was being pushed toward grind, only that I had some cool long-term goals that gave my missions a little more meaning. Deep Rock Galactic may be a giant exploitative corporation, but developers Ghost Ship Games are not.

I could continue singing Deep Rock Galactic’s praises, but again, you can find plenty of writing elsewhere that does that. I want to talk about how it looks.

The art in Deep Rock Galactic is stylized, going for a low poly look with simple texture maps that manages to be more beautiful than I expected. I suspect this style was chosen to help with the destructible terrain, which can easily morph into a new mesh since it uses a relatively small number of polygons. But by making everything in the game look this way, the artists created a consistent chunky feel to the world these dwarves live and work in. Weapons are boxy and feel heavy duty. The dwarves’ outfits and even their beards are rough-hewn and workmanlike. Even the deadly glyphids that inhabit the cave seem constructed from big chunks of chitin.

I must admit, however, that Deep Rock Galactic is not always colorful. Its caverns are spread across ten different biomes, and some of these (like the Fungus Bogs) can be a bit drab. Others are dominated by a particular color palette, like the yellow sand of the Sandblasted Corridors, or the blue ice of the Glacial Strata. Across all the biomes, however, is an impressive array of color, and I was surprised by how often I was met with breathtaking vistas, even when exploring the more monochrome biomes. Deep Rock Galactic never uses shaders to tint the entire screen like so many modern games do, as a cheap way of suggesting mood without having to actually work on the underlying art. All of the colors in Deep Rock Galactic are real, so even scenes dominated by the bright red lava of the Magma Core or the glowing green crystals of the Radioactive Exclusion Zone can show surprising mixtures of color.

Then there are the standout biomes. The grey rock of the Crystalline Caverns is lit up by purple and blue crystals, with the occasional electrical arc between them. The Dense Biozone almost feels like an underwater environment, filled with cave coral and strange plants, and dominated by a turquoise and red color scheme. The Azure Weald is awash in deep blues and violets, and adorned with flowers of all shapes and sizes, including some that will unfurl as dwarves approach, revealing a bioluminescent stamen and spreading glowing spores everywhere. These places are gorgeous, and made even more so by their contrast to other biomes whose beauty is more understated.

For a game about exploring alien caves, there’s so much more visual variety than I expected. I’ve played games that took me on world-spanning adventures yet managed only a fraction of Deep Rock Galactic’s colors, instead drenching everything in grey and brown. There may be danger lurking beneath the surface of Hoxxes, but it’s worth lighting up those tunnels. You’ll find beauty there in the dark.