Still Wakes the Deep Review – Drills, Thrills, and Kills

Into the Abyss

Still Wakes the Deep on PlayStation 5

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Horror thrives on isolation. There’s a reason so many horror protagonists are cut off from civilization. If the police can turn up at any time, or escaping the alien menace is as simple as calling for help, it robs what’s going on of what makes it scary. A horror story has to have people facing near-impossible odds. Whether or not they survive depends on how generous the writer is.

So as soon as I loaded into the Beroa, a poorly-maintained oil rig in the North Sea, I was waiting for things to go very, very wrong.

One short explosion later, and the whole rig is falling apart. As with any good horror, the hero, Caz, is up against incredible odds. The rig is falling apart around his head, the power is cutting in and out, and even worse there’s a strange mass spreading throughout the rig, twisting those who touch it into unearthly monsters.

It’s a great sign that even without the monsters, the game would still stand on its own two feet. In fact, there are long stretches with no monsters at all. Caz’s attempts to escape – and efforts to help his friends do the same – see him traverse the entire rig, and it’s a great touch that it gradually degrades as the situation worsens. You’ll find yourself revisiting some areas over and over again, but the gradual destruction of the Beroa means they often feel unfamiliar.

Still Wakes the Deep corpse
Image Source: Secret Mode

As for the monsters… in a word, they’re disgusting, twisted heaps of flesh. However, there’s a strange beauty to their cause, at least at times. Alongside the pulsing flesh, there are gigantic, glowing, ribbon-like fins which spread through the station. There were moments where I took a moment just to take in the sight of these fins spiralling or twisting. It’s a delicate balance and only helped to make things feel more unworldly.

Caz isn’t a fighter. His only real options are to run or hide. Throwing a wrench or a hard hat across the room to buy time is something you’ll find yourself doing frequently as you play through Still Wakes the Deep. However, there are relatively few encounters where you find yourself facing these monsters. It isn’t until an hour or so into the game that you have your first real encounter, and even that’s short. However, finally coming across a monster is almost a relief, as it’s preceded by a lengthy period where you know it’s nearby.

Most of the game is spent climbing around the station, dealing with one crisis after another, whether you’re trying to fix the lifeboats, preventing explosions, or restoring electricity so you can call for help. Does it break immersion a little that a middle-aged man can use monkey bars, in the middle of a storm, some 200 feet in the air? Yes, but that’s far from the strangest thing in the game.

There are plenty of little touches throughout the game that helped to make it feel authentic. As someone who spent almost a year living in Edinburgh, I was pleased to see that it’s not just the accents that are Scottish, but the language. Everything from the abundance of C-bombs to the slang feels authentic, and you get the sense that the characters are comfortable with each other and have their own relationships. These never feel like people just playing a part, they feel like real people. Helpfully, the subtitles translate the slang into more familiar words, so even if you don’t understand what a word like “Bairn” means, you’re never lost.

Exploring the accommodations and talking to my fellow workers I knew that something bad was going to happen, and that most of these people would be dead. In some cases – such as with the racist National Front supporter or the rig manager who I can’t describe in words appropriate for Twinfinite – that wasn’t a huge loss. In others, I immediately got a sense that I’d want to save at least some of these people. There was Finlay, the cheerful engineer. Roy, the kind-hearted diabetic chef. Trots, who was organizing a strike. These were all realistic characters, and I spent my first twenty minutes or so simply exploring the world, speaking to everyone I met.

I didn’t necessarily like them, or even remember a lot of the cannon fodder, but there was a real sense that the hero, Caz, had a relationship with each of them. The rig feels decidedly lived in, especially in the early stages. Everything from the posters on the walls to the scuffs on the carpets worked together to give a real sense of history.

However, the game isn’t perfect. Far from it. The story is distinctly Lovecraftian, and becomes more so as it progresses. However, this is one of the Lovecraft stories where everything is intentionally vague. I searched through the whole facility and I only found a handful of notes, but nothing that explained what was going on. I didn’t uncover any dark conspiracies about the event, it just happened, and the survivors were left scrambling.

At its core, this is a simple story about survival. What the crisis is, why Caz is hearing past conversations on the phone, all of this is treated as trivia. Even other details – such as the unspecified crime that landed Caz on the rig in the first place – are left up to the imagination. There are clues and theories, but the chaos the characters are trying to survive takes precedence.

Still Wakes the Deep phenomenon
Image Source: Secret Mode

There are no puzzles to speak of. At most, you’ll have to do press a series of switches in the right order, or figure out how to get from Point A to B. In practice, this is just an extension of the same stealth gameplay throughout the game. Find a hiding spot, grab an item, throw it, find a new hiding spot. Given how surreal the game gets at times, it’s a shame that this wasn’t expanded on.

I also would have liked to see more enemy encounters. There are plenty of hiding places around, including in places where there are no scripted encounters. If the developers had introduced random encounters, it would have made the game scarier. As interesting as the encounters can be, once you realize you’re safe until a monster’s well-telegraphed arrival, the game loses a lot of tension.

The climbing mechanics are for the most part intuitive, but there were a few points where I’d shift my analog stick ever so slightly while traversing a narrow ledge and go tumbling into the abyss. There’s something refreshing about the fact that Caz’s first response is to swear when this happens, but after you’ve died three times and had to repeat the whole section, it does get a bit frustrating.

All in all, there’s a lot to like about Still Wakes the Deep. It’s not the sort of game that ties everything up in a neat little bow, and some of the mechanics could have seen more exploration. It doesn’t quite live up to its potential, but if you have six hours to spend, a strong stomach, and don’t mind a lot of unanswered questions, you could do a lot worse.

Still Wakes the Deep
Still Wakes the Deep doesn't quite live up to its potential, but if you have six hours to spend and don't mind a lot of unanswered questions, you could do a lot worse.
  • Mysterious storyline
  • Authentic characters
  • Interesting visuals
  • Fun gameplay
  • Enemies constrained to scripted encounters
  • Occasionally awkward gameplay
  • Story elements lack explanation
  • Repetitive gameplay loop
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PS5.

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Image of Lewis Rees
Lewis Rees
Lewis is an author and journalist based in Wales. His first novel, Wander, came out in 2017. Lewis is passionate about games, and has travelled to events worldwide to host and present panels at games conferences. In his spare time he loves reading, writing, and escape rooms.