Still Wakes The Deep [Steam] Review – What Has Risen May Sink, And What Has Sunk May Rise – Gamezebo

I’d like to preface this review by saying that I was already scared of oil rigs before I played Still Wakes The Deep. There is already something pretty threatening about massive structures at sea that shoot out jets of flames. It only gets worse where you hear about what happens when things go wrong on oil rigs. I don’t recommend googling the Alexander L. Kielland disaster if you don’t want to send a few shivers down your spine as you imagine being trapped on a failing structure far from shore.

Take that, and combine it with some looming supernatural horrors? Well, that’s Still Wakes The Deep, a title published by Secret Mode that really sold me on its premise. This was especially true when I discovered it was created by The Chinese Room. You might know it as the studio that developed Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, or Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs. The latter is a bit of a controversial title in the game series community, I’ll admit, but I admire The Chinese Room’s ability to create some really intense atmosphere.

While the studio is mostly known for things in the rather pejoratively named ‘walking simulator’ genre. That is, games where interaction is limited and a lot of the events are scripted. This doesn’t necessarily bother me in itself, though Still Wakes The Deep promised an evolution from that and a more interactive experience. Does it pull it off seamlessly? Let’s get into it.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Fishme- Er, Christmas

Image from Still Wakes The Deep. It shows Caz's cabin on the Beira D, with bunk beds, a desk, and a window outside.

In Still Wakes The Deep you step into the steel toe-capped boots of Cameron ‘Caz’ McCleary, a good-hearted, foul-mouthed electrician who works aboard a North Sea oil rig, the Beira D. Caz’s day isn’t off to a great start. His boss wants to talk to him and it looks like a few incidents from his past are about to catch up to him. The intro section of the game has you make your way through the rig to get the dressing-down from the boss, just two days before Christmas.

You can explore cabins, chat to fellow crew, and the whole section introduces you to the cast of characters, the layout of the rig, and some of the tools at your disposal to navigate around. Even as you walk around and make smalltalk with some of your colleagues, there are indications that something is wrong. The drill has hit something. The workers puzzle over it. The boss shouts down the phone to keep drilling. That it doesn’t matter if it ‘feels off’. And, as you might expect, this was not a good call.

Something rocks the rig and Caz is knocked off the side as the whole structure lurches. When you come to, things are very wrong.

They Drilled Too Deep

Image from the game. It shows the main drill, twisted with some strange glowing matter. The player's view warps as they look at it.

What follows is a relentless desperate attempt to escape the doomed platform as it crumbles under the weight of poor maintenance, the might of the sea, and some unnamed terror that is spreading through both the Beira, and the souls aboard.

You navigate through the difficult terrain of the collapsing rig, trying to release mechanisms, drain tanks, reach radios and often just keep the whole thing together long enough to maybe find rescue. All the while, the strange forces overtaking the rig begin to turn members of the crew into eldritch abominations that hunt you.

The game looks great. The hard surface modeling absolutely shines in some parts, though a lot of the visual appeal comes less from the fidelity and more the intricate attention to detail. The rain on the window, the sheen of oil on water, the awful vintage recipes pinned up in the canteen. Fluffy mackerel pudding anyone? The whole thing works well in service of immersing you in the location, which is so much of where Still Wakes The Deep draws its strengths from.

Unknowable Horrors

Image from Still Wakes The Deep. It shows a horrifying creature glimpsed through a gap in some stairs the player character is hiding under.

So, is it scary? I think so. Horror is a very subjective thing. What scares me might not scare someone else. Part of what I found so effective about Still Wakes The Deep is that the game does not limit itself to one kind of fright. The whole thing has a very Lovecraftian leaning, and you will definitely run into plenty of scary monsters in your travels, ones you are powerless to fight against and need to sneak by or deceive. These sequences were definitely intense. The game is quite clever in that it rarely gives you a chance to see all of the monsters easily. They move around constantly, and if you are looking at one, you’re generally moments away from a grim death. So instead it’s usually some twisted shape in the fog, mournful howls across the deck, mangled limbs reaching into your hiding place.

I say all this to hammer home something, the monster sequences work well. They’re not the parts that really put me on the edge of my seat. though. The parts that bothered me the most were contending with the rig itself. It was shimmying along collapsing catwalks, crawling through pitch-black tunnels, the sense of utter panic when a room you’re in begins to flood with oil-slicked water and you’re kicking around half-blind, trying to work out which way leads to the surface through the sound of Caz’s muffled distress. Those were the parts that bothered me most.

Another Walking Simulator?

Image from Still Wakes The Deep. It shows a view under water with debris all over.

Is it a walking simulator? No, I think it would be unfair to call it that. The gameplay in Still Wakes The Deep is very dependent on your input to keep going. There is stealth, platforming, and chase sections to get to grips with. Sometimes a QTE jumps up on screen as the craft lurches, or Caz loses balance. Dangerous situations will test your reactions. Fortunately, the game is pretty generous with its checkpoints, so you don’t lose a lot of progress.

There was no part I struggled enough with to have to redo it too many times. Most challenges it poses are fairly easy, but it’s enough to make you feel more of an active participant. If you find the constant danger offputting, the game has a Story Mode that drastically reduces the peril you have to actively avoid, though you’re not totally free from the risk of death. The mode just means you need to work harder to die. A little like SOMA’s Safe Mode.

This is possible a good time to mention the wealth of accessibility options the game offers. Subtitles and UI size are highly customizable. There are customizable options for motion sickness, flashing lights, color blindness options for various different types of disorder, and even a high contrast mode that displays the game in greyscale with important entities and items highlighted.

Forwards, Ever Forwards

While the game is quite interactive, don’t expect a great deal of agency in terms of your choices. The narrative and your objectives are extremely linear and you will not get a long leash to neglect them. Expect some invisible walls every now and then. This isn’t a criticism as such. The linearity paves the way for some great situations and setpieces, which is clearly what the game is going for, but if you expected free reign on the Beira, you’ll be disappointed. It’s like working your way through a horror film, and plays into your own sense of helplessness.

Still Wakes The Deep does a great job of keeping you on edge, and put across a compelling story in both its eldritch horror and its small human tragedy. The game puts a lot of emphasis on its characters’ humanity. From their dialogue, to the knick-knacks you can find in people’s cabins, to the song request sheet in the lounge. The people feel like people, and it makes the enormity of their situation seem all the more terrible. I won’t spoil too much about the story, but I felt a lump in my throat a few times.

Never Thought I’d Want More Time On A Doomed Oil Rig

Image from Still Wakes The Deep. It shows a view of the flare stack, which is burning.

All in all, I really enjoyed Still Wakes The Deep, though I did emerge from the other side with a few things I liked less than others. If there was one thing I would say I’d like more from the game it would be.. more of it! I completed a full run in a little under six hours.

Now, short games aren’t bad per se, if they deliver a full and satisfying experience and the player is aware of what they’re getting into. The content in the game is very dense, and it never felt spread too thin. If anything it moves at a breakneck pace, almost to its cost. Still Wakes The Deep’s finale seemed to hit me very abruptly, and as a result, I perhaps didn’t have enough time to get the full emotional payoff that I was building up to. It all happened so quickly that I felt almost numb as I watched the final credits, while other parts made me tear up a little. I wasn’t really ready to leave it behind by the end.

I also ran into a few bugs on the way. Caz occasionally spun out of control in cutscenes or stuck on the scenery. Thank god for those generous checkpoints. This was a pre-release build though, so these small snags might be patch out by the main release or shortly after.

Bye Bye Beira D

Image from the game, showing a view across the Beira D deck in the morning.

Even if the end blindsided me a bit, I don’t regret any of the time I spent with Still Wakes The Deep. It was a thrill ride that never outstayed its welcome, but could still pack some meaningful character development and emotional impact in its story. It is refreshing and unlike any horror game I’ve played before. And I can say, having gotten to know the layout of an oil rig far more than I ever thought I would.. that now I know at least half a dozen more ways one can kill you, and find them even more terrifying than before. Thanks, Secret Mode and The Chinese Room.

If you want to dive into Still Wakes The Deep for yourself, it hits Steam and Xbox Gamepass for PC and Xbox X|S on the 18th of June.

Want to read about some more great horror? Try out our World Of Horror review.

The good

  • Amazing atmosphere.
  • Balances intense action scenes with emotional weight and good writing.
  • Really well thought-out horror that grabs you in unexpected ways.

The bad

  • Sometimes a little too fast paced for its own good.

By admin

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