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  • Writer's pictureJames Stephanie Sterling

Still Wakes The Deep - A Rigged Game (Review)

Still Wakes the Deep

Released:  June 18th

Developer: The Chinese Room

Publisher: Secret Mode

Systems: PC, PS5 , Xbox X/S (reviewed)

Still Wakes the Deep is a masterpiece.

As beautiful as it is compellingly disgusting, it transcends its obvious Thingspiration with incredible writing, vocal performances, and imagery. To call this game gripping is to do an injustice to the stranglehold it kept on me throughout its runtime. 

Set on a North Shore oil rig that inevitably drills its way into a gory nightmare, the dialog and delivery stand out from the immediate get-go. Its Scottish cast puts everything it has into an impressively authentic script. From the lingo to the banter to the unabashed foul language, there’s a naturalness to the script that videogames almost never attempt, let alone excel at. 

Even before the horror begins, Still Wakes’ world is engrossing as a result of the characterization and backstory of our protagonist, Caz. His taking a rig job to avoid police charges after beating up a guy sets him up as a deeply flawed man, which is set against just how hard he is to dislike. He’s not especially complex, but he’s understandable, and I love how his history of fleeing contrasts his courage in the face of a lethal disaster. 

Then the horror properly begins and… holy shit. 

I’m a huge fan of The Thing, it’s one of my favorite films ever. I’ve watched, played, and read a lot of body horror media, and rarely does anything come close to that movie. Still Wakes the Deep is more deserving of being called a spiritual successor than pretty much all of it. At the very least, it’s closer to The Thing than the actual Thing videogame was!

I don’t want to make this all about the John Carpenter film though, because Still Wakes the Deep deserves plenty of credit in its own right. 

Much of the game is spent exploring, with Caz having to climb, shimmy, and crawl his way through a steadily collapsing oil rig. Excellent audio design can keep even the safest sections intimidating, whether via the threatening sound of creaking metal, or monstrous screams echoing throughout the corridors. Platforming sections work quite well, with good ol’ yellow paint ensuring players know what’s interactable. I love yellow paint.

I’m not as keen on the obligatory underwater sections, mostly because some of the fiddlier swimming mechanics are poorly explained, and segments can drag on too much. They’re not terrible, but I’d be happy with fewer of them. 

As for monster encounters, Still Wakes exclusively goes with a cat-and-mouse dynamic, following in the footsteps of many contemporary non-combat horror games. Monster sequences are really well done, the environments they inhabit being explicitly designed to make sneaking tense but reliable since vents and hiding places are clearly defined. These areas drive players forward - even if spotted, it often makes sense to book it to the next safe spot rather than flee back to a previous one. 

Not once did I feel like my progress was frustrated by an enemy pushing me back or forcing me to get lost in a maze, which is more than can be said for most games in this vein. Nor did I spend ages hiding in a locker waiting for an enemy to sod off. It’s not quite the directed stealth of something like A Plague Tale: Innocence, but it’s brilliantly paced regardless.

Caz can throw certain strewn items to distract his aggressors, which is a reliable way to move them around. For some players, the number of vents and the usefulness of distractions may eliminate the tension. For me, tension was maintained by one simple element - the monsters are truly fucked up.

Some sort of meat was dragged up out of the sea, and it does nasty, nasty things to people. 

Warped into huge fleshsome lumps, many of Caz’s former coworkers now search for him from high above, supported by long slick tendrils that whip around viciously and pull them along walls and floors. All the while, they use whatever sentience remains to continually berate and threaten our protagonist. Even in the midst of all the terror, Caz and his aggressors are calling each other cunts in thick regional accents, and I love it. 

The ghastly atmosphere alone provides more than enough horror if you buy into it, which I found easy to do. 

Chase sequences are just as good, their generally linear nature allowing for more of that delicious pacing. A great job’s been done in making sure the threat is right behind you at all times, screeching and swearing down your neck as you sprint through dilapidated hallways. 

You can turn your head at any time to look behind you, a mechanic seemingly included only to make you shit yourself. 

I wish there was a little more variety in the creature design. There aren’t many of them, and they’re given distinct characters, but they can look disappointingly similar to each other. In a setting like this, more diversity would better get across how much biological chaos is being wreaked on the something’s victims. 

Still Wakes’ visuals manage to be both gorgeous and grotesque at the same time. Stomach-turning masses of membranes and tissue crawl all over the oil rig once the something is pulled up, yet the vibrant colors and eerie lights they radiate are horribly beautiful. It’s easy to spend a lot of time just staring at its nauseating prettiness, though looking directly at it fills the screen with migraine auras. 

Quasi-reconstituted corpses are found among the biomass, melded together and mutated with screams frozen on what remains of their faces. Eye clusters bulge from proud flesh, limbs stick out at awkward angles, some having sprouted appendages of their own. So much raw suffering is silently communicated through these visuals, often more disturbing and frightening than the monsters themselves.

Be warned if you're playing on consoles - for some bizarre reason, the graphics are set to Quality Mode by default, which tanks its framerate to borderline unplayable levels. While Quality Mode is unquestionably garbage in every console game, you'll want to switch to Performance mode as soon as possible with this one.

Again, I must emphasize how amazing the sound direction and voice acting is. The regional slang performed with utmost authenticity, the believable emotions in each scene, it’s delightful. Of particular note are the flashback scenes of Caz and his wife Suze - they’re just so damn real. 

So many high quality elements combine to create a wonderful game. Solid platforming, cleverly designed stealth, and top tier audiovisual work. I mean it when I say it’s a masterpiece. 

Still Wakes the Deep is an impeccable horror production, a gorgeously sickening nightmare in a rarely used setting propelled by stellar acting and sublimely nasty body horror. It’s more than just “The Thing on an oil rig,” though it makes good on that elevator pitch too. It’s going to  remain with me for a long time. A true genre classic.



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