Still Wakes the Deep

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Still Wakes the Deep review
Jordan Helsley


Terror on the Rig

A flaming, pulsating beacon in the sea

I'm glad we've gotten past the point where "walking simulator" was a derogatory term. In many ways the contemplative, story based genre is best positioned to take full advantage of what makes games great. Giving the player the space to enjoy the world without threat of violence or overt storytelling. Using the player's direct interaction, particularly in the horror space, to their benefit and detriment. Letting the player embody a character, rather than simply feeding them a story. Still Wakes the Deep excels in many of these areas, and strings so many of its elements together satisfyingly.

Welcome to Your New Home

Welcome to the shoes of Caz, a man running away from yet another something at the beginning of the story, as the letter he reads from his wife at the beginning makes clear. Thanks to an old friend, and godfather of your children, you've gotten a job on an oil rig, away from the police who are after you for an unexplained crime. You get the sense that Caz has completely embraced his role as the resident electrician, and that most of his coworkers have likewise embraced him. Some of your first actions, aside from traipsing through everyone's cabins like you own the place, involve having conversations with several people that give you the sense that Caz is welcome here in a way that he isn't at home, and may never be again.

While the living quarters and mess hall are not entirely brimming with life, the whole of the area feels alive. Letters to and from loved ones in the cabins, notices on a bulletin board, and Christmas decorations all add to an atmosphere that lets you know that this is a lived-in and worked-through space. You can even stumble onto a shower area, with a man cleaning up (presumably) after a shift, and stare a bit too long, if you like. There's a plethora of these little touches, in this moment that you know is the calm before the literal and proverbial storm, that firmly plant you in this place: an active oil rig in 1975, with Christmas hanging in the air for these men and women away from their families.

Engaging with the Mundane

The rig, usually referred to as The Beira (Beira D, in full) would be a unique-enough setting, but the sheer amount of research and passion that went into creating it is both immediately apparent and sustained throughout. As you progress on your adventure, touching every area of the rig in the process, there's a decent mix of "this is what an oil rig looks like and how it functions" and "this is a video-gamey element." Interactions usually take place in the form of grabbing an object (a lever, a screwdriver, a moveable box, a ladder) and then using a movement stick or key to action it. It's the lightest barrier against something like simply opening a door that clues you in on how effecting the game world might look when, say, a monster is chasing you.

Many of these little moments feel more like busy work than something that enhances the experience. Putting out a fire that's blocking your path could be a decent little environmental puzzle if not for the fire extinguisher sitting four feet away. Moments when the game forces you to camp by a heater after being drenched in the December water don't even offer meaningful contemplation from Caz, as the situation continues to escalate around him. Even this setting, as finely crafted as it is, rarely rewards you for looking in the crevices it begs you to inspect, and is a victim of its gorgeous graphics breaking down when one element clips through another. Those moments, which would normally be glossed over, stick out like grotesque thumbs when contrasted against the rest of the setting. Conversely, this means the utterly suffocating fog that overtakes the rig at a certain point serves to not only capture what the Scots refer to as dreich, but also to mask those imperfections, as if a call-back to a bygone era.

Terror on the Rig

So much of this can, and will, be glossed over because of the propellant that is the narrative and the acting that's selling it. Caz himself is well represented as a man who felt running away was his only option, but will do anything to help the ones that he cares about, and ultimately return safely to his family. Similarly, the shitty boss of the rig is a pitch-perfect "operations over safety" man, smugly piping in over the loudspeaker about (at best) a "temporary evacuation" even as the entire foundation of his power crumbles. Each character you meet, and even some of the ones you don't, feel at place here, and accurately sell exactly why Caz would want to risk his life to save them. The entire cast likewise conveys some of the most authentic Scottish interactions and idioms I've ever seen, and you can further experience the entire thing in Gaelic, if you wish.

There's something special the game does with these characters as the story progresses, and they're the main antagonists of the game. The catastrophic event intertwines with some of these people you've met to create these gnarled masses of body parts and disparate organic matter that act as the main enemies of your progress. Represented inside these beasts are your one-time friends, trapped, and in their own way reaching out to Caz and the others. There's one in particular that, I feel, surfaces a character trait I discovered in his cabin in a particularly effective way. Not only do they really need to be seen to be truly respected, but each feels unique enough to be appreciable.

The Sights and Sounds of the Sea

Still Wakes the Deep is a game without combat (though Caz, confusingly, appears to have a knife of some sort in a few scripted sequences), so you're often playing hide and seek with these monstrosities, appreciating them from afar. Every bit as beautiful as the rig itself, these physics-based, misproportioned stalkers are also quite terrifying, while only occasionally resorting to jump scares. I recall one particularly affecting moment where the physics of one of them sent the model careening into the cubby I was hiding in, leaving me face-to-face with someone Caz was surely acquainted with, though the monster itself was none-the-wiser to my position. One of those happy accidents for those that appreciate horror. Outside the moments where your headlamp becomes useless because the top of Caz's model is clipping through the ceiling of a confined space, the rare instances where the graphics break in critical moments are usually to the game's benefit.

The entire experience is emphatically punctuated by the audio design. Whether it's the music swelling in a tense manner, the moments of respite accompanied by a hopeful score, or the creaking of a rig about to break apart at the seams, playing Still Wakes the Deep with headphones is a joy. In particular, experiencing the dichotomy of the howling wind and waves outside and the oppressive silent inside allows the screeches of monsters and screams of your coworkers to be that much more impactful. There's such a wide variety of audio environments at play here that no two areas feel the same. Even as a beast stomps around mere feet away, creating a deafening cacophony of clanging metal and screams, and your vision is overtaken by this organic, amoeba-like burn-in that acts as your proximity clue, you'll be able to appreciate the beauty of the situation if you take a moment.

Finding Answers

Still Wakes the Deep is a game that features many highs, and plenty of moments that can be seen as lows. There are a few moments where you're swimming in total darkness that feel very claustrophobic and tense, but haters of "yellow paint" will be furious at how the game guides you along the path. Some of the action-movie-like set pieces feel at odds with Caz and his abilities, but traversing this crumbling rig is thrilling. The way the game forces you to purposely get closer and closer to the screeches of dread and death is effective, but some of the stealth gameplay is undercut by the monster design, which makes it seriously difficult to tell which way their attention is pointed. While I think the positives outweigh the negatives, enjoyment will come from how you feel all of these points/counterpoints mesh with the story. As the story continues, and Caz's grip on reality loosens, the game seems to likewise lose interest in a few plot threads that have been sprinkled throughout. As things come to a head, too, all the subtlety is thrown out of the window in terms of Caz's arc, as a character just goes ahead and says the quiet part out loud. In the end, you do get a resolution to the "A" plot, and that may or not be satisfying to you, but not much else. It's clear to me that Still Wakes the Deep is about the journey and not the destination, and I do think that journey is thrilling and worth your time.

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fun score


A thrilling adventure through a finely-crafted world featuring great characters, sound design, visuals, and terror.


The story sets up several possible subplots that are not resolved, the main story resolution is weak in contrast to the journey, and plenty of "busy work" pads the gameplay.