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Still Wakes the Deep Review

Rigged for horror

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Creating good horror is like drilling for oil, and so many things can go wrong. Crude monster design and misdirected jump-scares can lead to a catastrophic blowout. Slipshod pacing results in a premature hole collapse. And without the right atmospheric touch, faults stand out. Developers The Chinese Room are probably best known for their walking simulators, Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, but they have also taken a stab at horror before, with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Though it was a middling effort, it likely offered valuable lessons. Their newest release, Still Wakes the Deep, marks a significant improvement. Inspired by The Thing and set in an engrossing location, it taps into the first-person horror genre thanks to careful pacing.

Still Wakes the Deep
The atmosphere aboard the Beira D is truly captivating

Still Wakes the Deep takes place fifty years ago on an oil rig off the Scottish coast. It is nearly Christmas in 1975, and Cameron "Caz" McLeary has controversially left his wife and daughter to secure temporary employment aboard the Beira D oil platform. Having recently been involved in a brawl, Caz believes he can avoid the police by working in such a remote location. Unfortunately the police don’t give up so easily, and they contact the Beira D’s manager who summarily fires Caz and orders him back to the mainland via helicopter. Just before liftoff, a catastrophic drill failure plunges Caz into the icy sea below.

After Caz is rescued, it becomes apparent that the rig has been infiltrated by gargantuan ribbons of bizarre alien flesh, emerging from the deep via the drill hole. These pulsating ribbons have smashed through bulkheads and transformed many crew members into fleshy abominations, like out of The Thing. Some are trapped in a web of viscera and others roam the interiors, halting Caz’s progress as he tries to sneak or run from their deadly grasp. You take control of Caz and do all you can to stay alive, help others, and keep the rig operational long enough for rescue to arrive.

Unlike the walking simulators from The Chinese Room, the story is told more traditionally as events unfold in real time. Actually, it has a strange lack of flavor text for a horror game, although at least the intro does give players a brief chance to talk to characters before disaster strikes. First-person cutscenes are used regularly, as Caz meets survivors and accidents happen often. The internal phone system allows others to tell him what needs fixing. The story and presentation is good, and voice acting from the main cast is effective. Caz (voiced by Alec Newman) provides regular—but never annoying—commentary about the present deadly circumstances. With the rig unstable, sinking, losing power, and every other thing going wrong, players will need to put out spot fires, both figuratively and literally.

Still Wakes the Deep
This much fire on an oil rig can't be good news

Most mechanical actions that Caz undertakes require no thought. Yellow paint, a clear favorite of the developers, is used somewhat excessively to highlight valves, levers, hatches, fuse boxes and more in the environment. Players will need to extinguish fires, pry open vents, restart generators, and remove safety pins. These basic actions only require a few key presses and there is never uncertainty because the game is extremely linear and actual puzzles are rare and simple. The variety of tasks is good though, and most of the interactions make logical sense for the remote setting.

A major chunk of time is spent climbing inside, under, and around the damaged oil rig as it shakes apart. Some of this platforming is nicely freeform, with an old-school run and jump required to clear gaps. Ledges and ladders are often unstable as the rig crumbles, requiring a quick button press to prevent falling. The game makes good use of the Beira D’s whole structure, even though sometimes the only way forward appears comically risky. There is a decent sense of fear when clamoring about, especially inside the rig’s legs with unfathomable darkness rising from below.

As the rig takes on water, swimming becomes essential. Trying to navigate through the dark murky water creates palpable tension. Some areas, like stairwells, progressively flood and force players to keep pushing upwards. Other sections might contain shallow water, with some cool fluid simulation, and the floating debris hint at something dangerous beneath. Sadly the game usually has cold feet when it comes to using the water to bring the scares.

Still Wakes the Deep
Sometimes the only way out is down into the cold and dark

It takes a while before the mutated crew members pose a direct threat. At first you will only hear hellish screams and clanking through bulkheads. This slow introduction is refreshing and builds suspense. When they do finally appear, their design is wonderfully grotesque, with a jumble of limbs and organs forming a central mass, and some long tentacles used to navigate and probe. All of the mutated scream out with chilling distorted voices that make it clear the original person is still alive inside. This is awesome, so it is a shame that some twisted crew members are just names on the subtitles; the intro meet-and-greet was not enough to commit all characters to memory. Extra lore about the rig and its inhabitants—maybe via those missing texts—could have made their individual demise more unsettling.

Sneaking around the globs of flesh is required to keep the rig functioning. Stealth is basic, with a plethora of hiding spots, either in lockers, vents, or under walkways, often slathered with that same yellow paint. The creature’s projecting tentacles actually facilitate good stealth, because the constant probing gives players an idea of where the central mass is located and which direction they are heading. They have good hearing and can be distracted by tossing one of the thermoses or spray cans that seem to be placed at every single vent entrance. Sneaking around is a bit too simple, and also clumsy, as the fleshy beasts clip through walls often, which takes something away from their imposing nature.

Still Wakes the Deep
Some of the abominations are extra friendly

Sometimes you must run from danger, either after stealth or in a dedicated chase sequence. Like in Outlast, Caz can look backwards so he can collide with a wall and get caught. Unlike that game, the run speed is barely faster than walking and chases are rudimentary. Of course the movement speed is tuned well for each chase, so there is still decent tension. There is one brilliant pursuit at the midpoint, when a persistent enemy squeezes through gaps and breaks open walls. With instant death on the cards, most chases offer good pressure and vary the pacing. And because of this, the brisk five hour adventure concludes at nearly the perfect time.

The Beira D is jam-packed with character and atmosphere, enough to elevate the whole experience. Major areas, like Accommodation and Engineering, are revisited, but this is exciting because of cumulative damage, new threats, or more flooding. There are so many fantastic visual effects, including oil streaks on water, caustic light reflections, and rain drops that peel off railings. The waves below curl in a threatening manner and there is a good sense of isolation. Most of the interactions are decently animated and not slow like in Fort Solis. Even better is the sound design, with the rig groaning, shuddering, and creaking, as though crying in pain. Audio ambience is also superbly diverse, as demonstrated when entering one of the rig’s legs after being out in the weather, bringing with it eerie silence and cavernous reverberation. Technically the game is sound, aside from a tendency to change video settings between levels. The developers have also promised a post-launch patch that will reduce the overused yellow paint.

Still Wakes the Deep
The visual flourishes are first class

Still Wakes the Deep is well above the water mark when it comes to first-person horror games. The visual and audio package is first class, thanks to the stunning Beira D rig that is crammed with detail and character. With a story that is dramatic, as things go from bad to worse, the pull towards the next objective is never in doubt. Hiding from and fleeing the fleshy abominations is simple, but produces ample suspense and the pacing is excellent across five hours. Even the climbing and swimming provides decent contrast from the overly basic workmanlike activities. So although it lacks puzzles and has minimal complexity, Still Wakes the Deep manages to strike black gold.

Our ratings for Still Wakes the Deep on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
85
The Beira D oozes thick atmosphere as it slowly transforms, providing an excellent setting for the unfolding nightmare. Sounds from the rig, and the mutated beasts, are also haunting.
Gameplay
75
Tasks are fairly basic and the yellow paint is overdone, but the combination of manual labor, swimming, climbing, sneaking, and running helps to create a finely paced adventure.
Single Player
75
As the oil rig slowly fails from an otherworldly presence, players are treated to five hours of good storytelling, aided by strong performances and plenty of drama.
Multiplayer
NR
N/A
Performance
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 3600
GPU: ASUS 6700 XT DUAL OC 12GB
RAM: 16GB DDR4
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
PC Specs

80
Technical performance is fine, although the game sometimes changed video settings.
Overall
78
Aided by its magnificent setting, purposeful suspense, and slick pacing, Still Wakes the Deep is a nicely crafted first-person horror game that needed more complexity.
Comments
Still Wakes the Deep
Still Wakes the Deep box art Platform:
PC
Our Review of Still Wakes the Deep
78%
Good
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Still Wakes the Deep is ranked #681 out of 1988 total reviewed games. It is ranked #9 out of 42 games reviewed in 2024.
681. Still Wakes the Deep
682. Last Train Home
PC
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Screenshots

Still Wakes the Deep
10 images added 28 days ago
Videos
Still Wakes the Deep - Teaser Trailer
Posted: Jun 11, 2023 14:48
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