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Still Wakes the Deep review

Still Wakes the Deep review
Pascal Tekaia avatar image

The Chinese Room resurfaces with a highly streamlined but gripping, claustrophic disaster thriller aboard a doomed offshore oil rig

The Chinese Room is one of those developers most adventure game fans will know; even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ve likely heard of their games (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture). The British studio places a premium on story, and generally does so above most other considerations, to memorable effect. Their newest offering, Still Wakes the Deep, doesn’t stray far from that tried-and-true formula, though it injects a lot more suspense and kineticism than some of the company’s more passive previous efforts, along with a vaguely Lovecraftian atmosphere and plenty of body horror. The end result makes for a highly compelling cosmic horror adventure that still preserves the studio’s trademark story-first approach. 

Still Wakes the Deep takes place in the 1970s, casting players as Cameron “Caz” McLeary, a Scottish electrician currently assigned to the oil rig Beira D in the middle of the stormy and hostile North Sea. The game did something that I adore, throwing me smack into the middle of a setting that’s completely foreign to me, right off the bat. The chance to experience life on an offshore oil rig was already thrilling to me – and that was before all hell broke loose, leaving me to scramble for my life in the face of terrors born out of my most twisted nightmares. Over the next six hours, you will get to see the Beira D from every conceivable angle – including some you’ll likely wish you weren’t – but the context of your exploration is far beyond just another “day in the life.”

Things start off innocuously enough: Caz awakes in his bunk and is called to dinner in the cafeteria. Getting a feel for the crew’s quarters along the way, and meeting a number of them in person, Caz arrives at the mess hall, where he is promptly summoned to the foreman’s office on the far side of the rig. It seems that Caz took the post here to get away from some troubles he’d run into on the mainland, but now the police have come calling. Caz is immediately sent to the waiting chopper to be transported back to shore. Before he can be shipped off, however, a tremendous crash causes the entire oil rig to shake violently when the undersea drill hits an unexpected obstruction. The resulting explosions rattle the structure, but this turns out to be only the start of the trouble, as an unknown entity has been disturbed beneath the waves, and it is rather unhappy about it.

From here on out, the less said about the plot, the better. Without spoiling the surprises in store, the game plays out like a Hollywood disaster movie and feels like it’s based on a heretofore unpublished work by H.P. Lovecraft, with cosmic horror influences underpinning its supernatural proceedings. Things happen because they happen; there doesn’t have to be a rhyme or reason for them, especially not to Caz, as the thing from the ocean isn’t about to explain itself to him. It is unknowable, and as awe-inducing as it is awful. Man has just been knocked down a few links on the food chain, and Caz must use his ingenuity and determination to survive as biological horrors begin to take over the rig.

Like many other games of this type, Still Wakes the Deep is a linear and straightforward affair. Caz strictly moves from point A to point B in order to accomplish his next goal, whether that means getting to a different part of the rig to rescue another survivor or, more frequently, being sent to fix or repair one critical system after another before they fail and send the platform to a watery grave. There’s a reason so many games and movies use this same framing device: it builds and maintains tension to a brutally high level and then refuses to ease up. An oil rig has lots of terrifying places to explore at the best of times, but add in hostile weather conditions, entire sections flooding (players with a fear of drowning or being submerged in enclosed spaces, beware) or becoming structurally unsound, plus a lurking terror from the deep and you have a recipe for a deliciously stressful time. The game does not shy away from sending you to the darkest and most foreboding bowels of the platform, where anything can – and often does – lie in wait.

The game allows for full 3D movement via the keyboard/mouse or gamepad on PC, and there are a handful of times when it seems you have a small amount of freedom to poke your nose around a bit, particularly in the early stages. Generally, however, Caz’s path is constricted by hallways, locked doors and debris. As the carnage becomes more pronounced, areas of the rig begin to sustain damage that conveniently closes off paths, forcing Caz down a predetermined route. Yellow markings and splotches of paint also act as a guide forward, which is particularly helpful during fast-paced chase sequences when you simply don’t have time to look around and orient yourself, but the developers have confirmed that a post-launch update will let players who want less guidance disable this feature altogether.

Still Wakes the Deep

Still Wakes the Deep
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Presentation: Realtime 3D
Theme: Escape, Monsters
Perspective: First-Person
Graphic Style: Photorealism
Gameplay: Action-Adventure, Environmental puzzler, Survival
Control: Direct Control
Game Length: Medium (5-10 hours)
Action: Quick Time Events, Stealth, Chase
Difficulty: Low

Such streamlined linearity certainly doesn’t mean that Caz’s journey is easy or uneventful. The oil rig, the raging seas lashing at it, the malevolent creatures he encounters – all of it must be dealt with. Now, Caz is not an action hero, and an offshore drilling rig doesn’t have an armory, so you won’t find any helpful equipment or weapons to get you out of a pinch. As an electrician, Caz has his handy screwdriver with him and knows how to change out blown fuses (which he has to do a handful of times) but that’s it. You’ll also need to operate a number of simple machines over the course of the adventure, so expect to push buttons, throw levers, and turn valves aplenty, always with handy on-screen prompts so you really can’t miss them.

Enemies, however, need to be avoided at all costs, requiring a hiding spot, good timing, and maybe an errant can or tool that can be thrown to cause a momentary distraction. If all else fails, Caz can – and sometimes must – make a mad dash for it. The game isn’t overly reliant on these stealth-action sequences, but if you find them too stressful, a handy Story Mode difficulty setting can be selected to reduce – though not completely eliminate – the threat, though I must say that even on standard setting I found dealing with the enemy AI to be rather easy and forgiving.

There are some light platforming segments to contend with too, asking you to leap across gaps or between support beams while a watery death awaits in the frothing waves below. The game also makes frequent use of quick time events, prompting you to quickly press or hold certain buttons to make sure Caz doesn’t lose his balance while shimmying across a board or lose his grip when slipping from a ledge. It’s neither difficult nor unfair (just as with enemy encounters, the game is very forgiving if you fall, returning you back to a recent checkpoint), but when taken together, these interactions add quite a bit of variety to the otherwise light-on-gameplay proceedings. Linear or not, making death-defying leaps between metal girders and running for your life with a slavering abomination hot on your heels is enough to put anyone’s butt on the edge of their seat.

In between the most dramatic moments, Still Wakes the Deep is successful in building up a tense atmosphere of dread and, at times, terror. I have a soft spot for aquatic horror (I’ve watched a lot of movies, and we still don’t truly know what all might live down there) and this game often feels like a thrill-a-minute page turner of a novel. Once it revs up, the hits keep coming, and things go from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. Crucially, though, the human element has been realized just as effectively as the creepy vibe, with Caz and the rest of the rig’s crew being rough-and-tumble sorts who frequently curse like sailors (this is definitely NOT a kid-friendly game). Interactions with the crew therefore feel quite natural, and as a nice touch, optional captions will even translate Scottish slang and phrases into common English, so you’re never left wondering what colorful insult someone has just hurled your way.

The realistic human depictions are also due to the great voice cast bringing them to life – with authentic accents and dialects, naturally. This is entirely in keeping with the game’s overall presentation. The Beira D looks fantastic in all its crumbling industrial glory, with every inch being a testament to utility above beauty. As in real life, its main purpose is clearly to withstand the harsh conditions of its ocean environment, and of course every design decision has been driven by economic concerns rather than by aesthetics or comfort. I loved every moment spent exploring the twisted warrens of this metallic labyrinth, navigating around behemoth machinery whose purpose I could only guess at. The crew’s living quarters are no less impressive, with evident attempts at making the cold spaces homier through the books, pictures, furnishings, and personal belongings of Caz’s mates littering their cabins (which you do get to poke around in if you like). It’s all in the details, and you’ll see plenty of them, whether it’s patches of paint flaking off the walls or shimmering reflections of standing water dancing across pipes and surfaces as you wade through the muck.

Of course, looking the part is only half the battle, and here the developers have made an interesting decision. To really provide the setting a sense of place (and danger), the musical score takes a backseat, giving way to the mad cacophony of ambient environmental sounds. Imagine, for a moment, what it would sound like to cling to the underside of an oil platform as a storm kicks up around you. The game lets you live it; as you scramble across the catwalk rigged below the structure, your ears are filled with the crash of waves against the support struts and the groaning of metal, as entire sections weakened from the drill explosion give way and crash into the water. It’s chaotic and perilous, yet beautifully orchestrated. Enemies, too, make themselves heard well before you ever see one face to face, gibbering and wailing somewhere in the dark recesses around you (or maybe right behind you). A few occasions are given musical treatment, like the moment you first lay eyes on what has risen from the ocean’s depths, which is accompanied by a solemn, enigmatic composition that made me feel small and unimportant in the face of something far greater and entirely unfathomable.

Final Verdict

Fans of this studio’s previous outings will have a good idea of the general skeleton awaiting them in Still Wakes the Deep, though critically kicked up several notches. But even those who usually prefer a more open-ended gameplay-driven experience will find some pleasant surprises awaiting them here. The Chinese Room have pushed the boundaries of their story-focused formula by involving the player more in the act of traversal, from deliberate (and very short) stealth sections to QTE sequences popping up during panicked platforming. Most important is the masterful marriage of a chilling suspense story with fantastic presentation values and plenty of frights to go around, including both grotesque body horror and existential dread. If that sounds like an enjoyable Saturday night to you, then consider this your invitation to take a vacation to the North Sea – I hear there’s an opening that’s just become available on a nearby oil rig.

Hot take


The Chinese Room’s Still Wakes the Deep sees man’s greed and hubris bring an unknowable disaster down upon an offshore oil rig in a tense, highly effective horror outing.


  • Fascinating setting to explore
  • Horror hits on multiple levels
  • Fantastic visual presentation, voice acting, and sound design
  • Lots of little interactions involve player input


  • Hallways act like hallways, but so does every other part of the environment

Pascal played Still Wakes the Deep on PlayStation 5 using a review code provided by the game's publisher.

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