Still Wakes The Deep review – what truly lurks beneath?

Still Wakes The Deep is an aurally thrilling and thoroughly atmospheric horror experience.
Still Wakes The Deep

With only an estimated 5% of the ocean explored by humans so far, there are depths so murky and perilous that anything could lurk beneath the waves. Who’s to say what resides deep beneath the thermocline, where temperatures plummet and inky black nothingness takes over? Who knows what horrors and creatures linger in the dark?

In Still Wakes The Deep, the latest venture from developer The Chinese Room, this ominous and unsettling realisation forms the very core of the game, settling the player in a state of perpetual unease – evident even in the slightly seasick rolling of the camera’s perspective as the game begins.

Set off the coast of Scotland, sometime around Christmas 1975, we settle into our protagonist Caz McCleary’s boots. As he ventures out from his claustrophobic cabin on a creaking, groaning oil rig, we learn that he’s in strife with both his boss and his wife – things seem pretty dire for McCleary already, but when the drill hits hard into something unknown, the game takes a sharp turn from dismal work to devastating horror.

Read: Spooky oil rig game Still Wakes The Deep now has release date

Audio is everything

The audio work in Still Wakes The Deep is strikingly impressive – from the groaning of the rig as it stands against the force of deep sea tides, to the blood-chilling screams of horrifying entities as they chase you down dark, oil-spattered corridors.

These long-limbed creatures clamber through the cramped spaces inside the rig, echoing distorted cries of people Caz once called colleagues – now, ripped and re-molded into a terrifying display of body horror. From static fizz from busted electricals to the sound of footsteps on oil-covered floors, there’s no corner of the game that doesn’t feel aurally rich.

In fact, even before the drill strikes and the terror is unleashed, the Still Wakes The Deep‘s audio is remarkable. The dialogue alone – ripe with Scottish slang that feels organic and rich – stands tall as some of the most realistic feeling banter we’ve encountered in a while, and that’s in no small part thanks to the voice acting cast. Each line feels expressive and authentic – after all, there’s nothing worse than hearing a shonky Scottish accent.

Still Wakes The Deep
Image: Secret Mode

Sluggish traversal

Though the atmosphere is second-to-none and the audio work is impeccable, the actual platforming elements in Still Wakes The Deep do feel a little lacking. With no combat to speak of, players will be tasked with sprinting, climbing, leaping and sneaking all over the oil rig’s collapsing structure – a premise that sounds intriguing but was less appealing in practice.

Many of the objectives saw us repeat the same motions over and over, going from A to B in order to flip a switch or source a specific item – and there were times where the interface didn’t make this feel particularly enjoyable.

What it did do, however, is reinforce this pervasive feeling of futility. Caz is stuck – stranded in the middle of the ocean, fear keeping him paralysed in cramped cupboards while fleshy shadows of his former friends hulk by. Sure, he can try his best to achieve all the tasks and stay alive in the face of these twisted monsters, but what then? What follows the destruction? What treads on the heels of the monstrous beings?

For that reason alone, we can forgive the often sluggish nature of the platforming. Through an existential and thematic lens, it’s not unreasonable to think that Caz himself may feel like it’s a near-pointless exercise.

Still Wakes The Deep
Image: Secret Mode

What makes Still Wakes The Deep so haunting?

When you peer behind the ensnaring tendrils and dark, salt-brined machinery, there’s something really gripping about the location. Setting a horror experience on an isolated oil rig is a predictable spot of genius – it leans in to phobias of heights, darkness, deep water, isolation and of course, the unknown.

But the underlying story is what sticks with me most. The concept of running away being both your only option and the reason you’re in this mess to begin with? Dramatic irony at its best. I wanted more from the emotional backstory, but there’s still plenty to mull over once the credits roll.

Still Wakes The Deep is cinematic and atmospheric in a way that lingers long after, like a waft of petrochemical fumes in your hair. The short playtime of roughly 5-6 hours makes it an easy sell – though I would caution scaredy-cats from playing this in the late hours of the night. The linear nature means you could easily knock another hour or so off the game time if you were motivated, but it’s definitely worth exploring each of the areas when you have a minute to breathe – and aren’t sprinting full pelt.

A lot of previews for Still Wakes The Deep compared the energy to that of John Carpenter’s The Thing, and now on the other side, I think it remains the most apt comparison. If you love a sickening feeling of being watched, an energy of desperation and a grotesque splash of body horror, you’ll get a lot out of Still Wakes The Deep.

If you’re as thalassophobic as I am, you play in the dark and you live alone? Well, you’ll definitely still get a lot out of it, but you’ll also score a temporary paranoia that renders every shadow and rustling noise in your house a potential threat – in the best way.

Four stars: ★★★★

Still Wakes The Deep
PC, Xbox Series X and S, PlayStation 5
Developer: The Chinese Room
Publisher: Secret Mode
Release Date: 18 June 2024

A code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review. GamesHub reviews are rated on a five-point scale.

Steph Panecasio is the Managing Editor of GamesHub. An award-winning culture and games journalist with an interest in all things spooky, she knows a lot about death but not enough about keeping her plants alive. Find her on all platforms as @StephPanecasio for ramblings about Lord of the Rings and her current WIP novel.