Review

Still Wakes The Deep Is A Woefully Average Walking Sim

John Carpenter would be flattered.

Still Wakes The Deep is all about atmosphere, tone, and thrills. It sets out to be an authentic homage to seminal 1970s horror classics from visionaries like John Carpenter and Ridley Scott. And across its six-hour campaign, it effectively replicates much of what made these auteurs revelatory masters of their craft when they first jumped on the scene.

When stacked up against the likes of 1979’s Alien or 1982’s The Thing, this survival horror game predictably has a hard time living up to the classics. However, strong performances from its cast, an unsettling and aesthetically cool backdrop, and moments of genuine relatable terror do just enough to make it a fun riff on a familiar concept.

Unfortunately, however, the game itself is a by-the-numbers walking simulator that does nothing new to make an already divisive and overly saturated genre any more interesting than the plethora of games to precede it. So while its premise can be forgiven as a redux of horror’s most influential work, that same rationale can’t be applied to the bulk of what’s on offer in the gameplay department.

Love For The Classics

In the opening minutes, Still Wakes The Deep briskly introduces its cast of likable and despicable archetypes who work alongside its protagonist Caz.

The Chinese Room

Still Wakes The Deep is the latest release from U.K.-based studio The Chinese Room. The game is a first-person horror experience set on the Beira D, a remote oil rig erected in the middle of the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. Players assume the role of Caz McLeary, a hot-headed but well-meaning husband and father toiling on the rig, looking to make the best of this grueling, dangerous job for the sake of his family.

For those familiar with The Chinese Room’s work, Still Wakes The Deep doesn’t stray far from the developer’s legacy. The DNA of their past games (Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture, and Dear Esther) is on full display here, which is a big plus as it shows the developer’s proven ability to craft narrative rollercoaster rides.

In the opening minutes, The Chinese Room shows mastery over driving a wild romp over a brief runtime, briskly introducing the likable (and despicable) archetypes who work alongside Caz before descending the player into madness. It continues the pace expertly, doling out conceptually intriguing obstacles for Caz to overcome, like restoring power or saving a colleague trapped in a closed-off part of the rig. These set pieces keep the players barreling towards the end with ever-increasing stakes without losing the thread. Moments of cryptic downtime and terror are spaced out just right.

The dank, ominous hallways of the Beira D create an effective atmosphere reminiscent of 70s horror flicks.

The Chinese Room

And while the story itself mostly wears its inspirations on its sleeve, its setting, and collection of Scottish characters prevent it from being too derivative of films that inspired popular games like Metroid and the viral hit Among Us. The loneliness of an oil rig is an appropriately monstrous backdrop that is as upsetting as it is genius.

A Mood Sandcastle Built By The Shore

Still Wakes The Deep’s unsettling setting is one of its strongest elements.

The Chinese Room

Once players are thrust into the crux of the game, however, a lot of the cool set dressing and atmosphere falls into the background. Still Wakes The Deep’s gameplay is woefully functional. It’s not so much bad as it is inoffensive and simple to a fault.

I completed simple puzzles but found these obstacles rarely felt engaging enough to constitute a genuine challenge. The first time I walked up to a set of instructions signposted on the edge of the oil rig, I was excited to figure out the massive contraption before me.

That enthusiasm was quickly extinguished when I realized it was ultimately as simple as completing some obvious quick-time events. By the fifth time I was presented with signs explaining how to complete these elementary challenges, I questioned why I (or Caz, a certified electrician) would need instructions for such a simple task in the first place.

Figuring out how to operate complex machinery on this desolate oil rig feels more simplistic than it should.

The Chinese Room

While the lack of friction may have been a design choice to ensure that the slim six-hour campaign never comes to a screeching halt, trusting gamers to overcome more complex obstacles would have been a more compelling way to break up the monotony.

There is no combat in Still Wakes The Deep. So when players are confronted with more sentient horrors, the solutions are as disappointingly unimaginative as the puzzles are. You’ve done this routine before: pick up an object, and throw it across the room in the opposite direction of your objective for a distraction so Caz can progress to the next hiding spot. Rinse and repeat. And when every hiding spot conveniently has a can, screwdriver, or hardhat lying on the floor within, fleeing in terror becomes as routine as a morning run.

Speaking of horrors, I was personally left underwhelmed by the creature design of the title’s big bad. With the exception of one of the forms it takes near the beginning, I was mostly unafraid. This is, of course, just my experience. I implore players to check out the first hour of the game to decide if the terror that haunts the Beira D is nightmare fuel for you.

Tense moments spent navigating this derelict oil rig are often more effective than Caz’s confrontations with the sentient horrors aboard.

The Chinese Room

What Still Wakes The Deep does do well is present interesting fear-inducing scenarios. Scenes where Caz has to jump across perilous chasms, or swim through long claustrophobic, dark channels of water in flooded parts of the ship are deliciously horrifying set pieces. Strangely enough, it’s during these more grounded sections that Still Wakes The Deep is most effective in delivering scares. Monsters may be hit or miss depending on one’s preferences. But forcing players to confront their latent fears of the dark, water, or heights creates some fairly memorable, bone-chilling moments.

Final thoughts

The Chinese Room has crafted yet another horrific and thrilling narrative to add to its arsenal of titles that practically pioneered the genre that so many others have contributed to over the last decade. It’s a novel love letter to fantastic films that have withstood the test of time some four decades later. It offers fun, nail-biting adventures that feel true to those authoritative, genre-defining works.

But regrettably, mood and atmosphere aren’t enough to elevate this rote walking sim. While it’s an easy Xbox Game Pass recommendation for those looking for some cheap thrills, Still Wakes The Deep lacks any meaningful new ideas, preventing it from standing out amongst the heavily stacked pack.

Inverse Score: 5/10

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