Still Wakes The Deep Review (PC) – Rig of Fire

1975 was quite the year; Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Ali-Frazier and now, oil rigs in the North Sea, thanks to Still Wakes The Deep. A first-person horror game from The Chinese Room, makers of award-winning titles like Little Orpheus and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, it forgoes the pleasant journeys from previous outings and drills right into the tension.

Oil rigs are, by their nature, quite implicitly scary. Stranded out in the middle of a violent ocean, with help hours, days or even weeks away at any time. The sheer lack of visibility and sense of isolation at night, it’s an ideal backdrop for a harrowing experience. Ever seen those North Sea videos of rigs planted in the middle of the ocean’s vast expanse? Captivating and haunting, all at once.

With the setting suitably disquieting, does Still Wakes The Deep deliver on the terror, the narrative and the potential? Tighten up those winches and batten down the hatches, time to dive in.

Caz I Can

Still Wakes The Deep begins calmly enough. Cameron “Caz” McLeary awakes on his working outpost, isolated, save from the waves outside the window. A Scotsman with a loud mouth and an even louder history, we trundle through his initial morning routine, meeting the fine residents of this 1975 oil rig. Of course, Caz’s boss is a category one “piece o’ shyte”, hailing him to the office for a friendly word.

For the sake of spoilers, I’m not going to discuss anything more than this in detail. The narrative focuses on two threads – the present moment and Caz’s past which led him to the rig. The former features the rig slowly collapsing, accosted by an unknowable, all-powerful force that corrupts and conquers everything it touches. The latter is told via small flashback scenes and snippets of optional dialogue.

Accompanying Caz through the journey of the rig is excellent. The small handful of characters you’ll work with to try and stave off destruction are entertaining, witty and well-voiced for the circumstances they face. It’s a lot of “oh no, Caz only you can do [insert manual job here]”, but the game both riffs on this and earns some genuinely heartfelt emotional moments.

Caz’s history however feels somewhat underdeveloped. Initially, there’s some intrigue as to how this foul-mouthed joker made his way into the middle of the sea, but it’s relatively predictable. It feels like more could have been done with this thread to make Caz’s arc feel more fleshed out. The backstory feels like it was drilling into something deeper, only to stop at the surface puncture.

Still Wakes The Deep review

Don’t Stand Still

If you’ve played any of The Chinese Room’s games before, you’ll probably know what to expect here. Caz must navigate the extremely dangerous mechanical behemoth he works on if he wants to survive the ordeal. It’s a lot of walking, sprinting, interacting with doors, handles, cranks and levers. There’s also underwater sections and infrequent quick-time events, which we’ll come back to.

The majority of Still Wakes The Deep is moving from place to place, taking in the increasingly desolate state of the oil rig. As mentioned before, your objective follows the Dead Space mold of fix this generator, get around this blocked path, climb over that obstacle. There’s light climbing and jumping sequences and occasional use of objects like fire extinguishers. Nothing particularly taxing, more flavour than a puzzle-type meal.

If you’re not a fan of walking simulator-type games, this won’t be for you. I am, however, and I spent a good deal of my time with the game appreciating the atmosphere and level design. Something about the engineering of a rig just works with the A to B via C, D and E method of objective progress. There’s not a whole lot in terms of collectibles or even logs to find mind, so this is more of a one-time experience type of game.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a horror game if all you did was trundle around freely without concern. That nefarious force I mentioned before? Well, let’s just say it isn’t content to let ol’ Caz walk away without a fright.

Still Wakes The Deep review

What Lurks In The Deep

So, how scary is Still Wakes The Deep? Probably low to middle, I’d say. It’s more akin to SOMA than say, Outlast, for example. The early portion of the game, as the fan starts meeting faeces, builds up some very effective tension. When you’re shown a locker you can hide in for the first time, you assume the assailant is coming immediately. Only it doesn’t, and so the initial suspense resonates really well.

Once you start meeting the creatures you must skulk around however, some of that is lost. There’s plenty of body horror and fleshy disgust to go around, sure, but the threat of what could be is more intense than what is. Still Wakes The Deep goes for the evasion and stealth route of first-person horror. You need to crouch into hidden walkways, throw items to distract the foe, hide in lockers, that kind of thing.

Some of the arenas are agonisingly dark and claustrophobic, again utilising the oil rig setting brilliantly. They’re also, however, far too easy to get through. I never once needed to use a locker, and a simple throw of a wrench can be enough to allow a single sprint through most of an area. While there are a couple of chase sequences, there’s no real skill curve. I used the same strategy from the first encounter to the last.

Now, I’ve played a lot of horror games, so perhaps my experience aided me quite a bit compared to some. The sequences and arenas are well designed, and if you are spotted it’s a one-hit death on standard difficulty (there’s a story mode for people who want less lethal possibility), but I do wish there was a bit more depth in stealth challenge towards the end.

Still Wakes The Deep review

Hit The Lights

When I played Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, it was a surreally immersive time. The developers seem to just know interesting visual and level design. The same applies here, in spades, as Still Wakes The Deep is extraordinarily well realised. It took me a good ten or so minutes tinkering with the graphical settings to get running smoothly (annoyingly fluttering between 30-40 FPS), but it was worth the hassle.

Firstly, the rig itself is intimidating, a labyrinth of winding metal corridors, steel pathways and nerve-shredding drops. As it’s torn apart through the story, it’s a pure spectacle, especially once the more Lovecraftian elements are placed front and centre. Facial animation and character animation is on the whole good, minus the occasional out-of-sync speech, which helps the story a great deal.

But the atmosphere and sound design make this game. Everything from imperceptible clanks of steel pipes, gut-wrenching shrieks and the mechanical struggle you hear the rig go through completely sells the setting. Going down into the generators was harrowing, thanks to the barely-squeezable walkways, intense darkness only barely illuminated by your headtorch and the constant barrage of eerie industrial sounds just off in the distance.

Horror games live and die by their ability to generate tension through setting and sound, and Still Wakes The Deep delivers. Even if the game itself doesn’t deliver a particularly high bar of terror, it’ll still manage to unnerve and discomfort at times. If anything, I wish they’d leant into the tension and suspense aspects, as this is where the game excels.

Still Wakes The Deep review

Rigged From The Start

Unfortunately, the underwater section in particular is harrowing for all of the wrong reasons. Slow clunky movement and awkward dash systems resulting in unnecessary and frustrating deaths? Aye. Hard to see paths forward causing checkpoint restarts when you know you’re going to drown? Indeed. It’s not the worst, but it goes on a little too long.

There are also some infrequent quick-time events, like holding left trigger to stabilise your balance or mashing A to jump out of harm’s way. They’re not especially challenging, which makes them relatively superfluous, and they feel like an unneeded interruption, truth be told. However, both of these gripes slip away like oil riding the ocean’s surface when compared to the whole package.

Caz’s journey on this surreal Lovecraftian hellscape of an oil rig is one worth embarking on. There are certainly better horror games and superior, scarier stories, but this is a solidly disquieting nightmare, elevated by its exceptional setting and masterful use of sound and space. It’s not quite up there with the likes of SOMA, but drill deep enough into this trench and you’ll find nightmares begging to be survived.

Still Wakes The Deep has a hauntingly well-realised setting in its North Sea oil rig, propped up by stellar sound and environmental design. Caz’s story carried some genuinely emotive moments, even if the backstory feels slightly underdeveloped and while the moment-to-moment stealth and navigation lack the depth of an ocean, they’re still deeper than the puddle many in the genre fall into. You’ll come for the nightmare, but stay for the rig.

Still Wakes The Deep is available June 18th on PC via Steam (review platform), PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S.

Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Secret Mode

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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