Review: Still Wakes the Deep is a well-paced Scottish horror adventure

Still Wakes the Deep

I am probably one of the world’s biggest fans of The Chinese Room’s Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. A walking simulator without any kind of threat or direct interactive gameplay, it recreated fastidiously a 1980s English Shropshire village, complete with pubs, houses and churches. While the story it told was supernaturally inspired, it was predominantly driven by the human stories of the people caught up in the disaster. So too with their latest game, Still Wakes the Deep, which feels like an amalgam of some of the strengths from Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture combined with elements of the gameplay from their earlier game, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. Here though, the Lovecraftian horror is taking place on an oil rig off the coast of Scotland in the 1970s.

It’s Christmas 1975 and you’re Cameron “Caz” McLeary, an electrician aboard the Beira D oil rig, out in the North Sea. Caz has been fired as a result of getting into a brawl at a pub on the mainland, but on his way to the helicopter to leave, the main oil drill strikes “something” which causes a huge explosion, severely damaging the platform. Caz is thrown into the water but is rescued by his colleagues, but then must navigate the ruined interior and exterior of the rig in an attempt to escape and rescue any staff remaining alive. At the same time, a strange amorphous, pulsing mass is infesting the platform, causing many workers to either go insane or become corrupted into horrific fleshy abominations, like something from John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

The oil rig is gloriously 1970s.

Voice acting throughout is superb from the entire cast, with a selection of appropriate Scottish accents and colloquialisms, including plentiful and colourful swearing (be prepared to hear the “c” word numerous times). Alec Newman is excellent as Caz, while Shaun Dooley plays Roy, Caz’s friend from the mainland and the station’s cook. Caz’s shock at not only the disaster befalling the rig but also his tense, sweary terror at whatever is happening to his co-workers feels genuine and realistic, with his plans for trying to escape feeling sensible grounded and only occasionally falling foul of horror movie protagonist logic.

Still Wakes the Deep does contain a fair number of Amnesia-esque hide and avoid monster sections where you are defenceless, although thankfully all of these are quite short, and sometimes the monsters can actually be run past if you’re nimble enough. These are the former crew members of the Beira D who have been horrifically mutated into amorphous flesh monsters, sometimes barely recognizable but still howling garbled gibberish of their former selves. You can hide in cabinets and under tables to avoid them, as well as throw objects to attempt to distract them away from where you’re trying to go. I’ve never particularly liked this kind of gameplay on a personal level and thankfully as each section is short and tightly paced, I didn’t mind them too much when they occurred.

Rennick, the rig foreman, is a hard taskmaster.

In between trying to avoid disturbing the mutated crew, you’ll lead Caz through a variety of platforming segments and minor mechanical tasks, climbing up, around and the oil platform to reach the next objective. None of this is particularly taxing and generous checkpointing means if you do fail a jump and plunge into the North Sea, you’ll usually be deposited right back where you were in order to try again. The tasks involve things such as attempting to launch the oil rig’s lifeboats, or putting out a fire which is blocking your path, sometimes with an occasional Quick Time Event for good measure. There’s a nice variety which helps to keep things feeling realistic, despite the ever-present supernatural infestation. 

It also helps that the game is downright gorgeous. The interior rooms of the oil platform are lovingly detailed with era-appropriate items, food cans, posters, books and papers, some of which you can occasionally read to get a little further background. The rain lashing against the windows or the waves crashing against the struts of the rig also look marvellous. The characters similarly look great, both the normal humans and their horrifyingly disfigured counterparts. Luckily too there are no major performance problems to speak of and thankfully no shader compilation stutter. There are a variety of upscaling options included to help the game look as good as possible, although a patch is needed to properly use some of them, as it wouldn’t let me use Nvidia’s DLSS in anything except Balanced mode.

Very typical weather for Scotland.

Still Wakes the Deep is essentially an action horror film where you are the protagonist, and is likewise paced along those lines. The stealth sections are broken up with more action-orientated platforming sections and occasional story beats, delivered at a regular cadence throughout the runtime. While the setting, story and voice acting is immaculate, this is a very familiar recipe that doesn’t really mess with the fundamentals. Indeed, I actually think the game may have been stronger had it dispensed with the otherworldly body horror completely and just done a game about surviving a disaster on an oil rig; a video game reenactment or adaptation of the deadly Piper Alpha disaster in 1988, which killed 167 people when it exploded. Indeed, the design and much of the layout of the Beira D is a spitting image for Piper Alpha.

Nevertheless, this is probably The Chinese Room’s most accessible and broadly appealing game, taking its fastidious approach to worldbuilding and applying it to a seldom visited realistic setting, while merging that with the tried and tested stealth horror of Amnesia or Alien: Isolation. Still Wakes the Deep is short but sweet; a game which delivers you the thrills and tension of its collapsing oil rig rollercoaster with fine precision.

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