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Still Wakes the Deep

Still Wakes the Deep Preview: A first taste of the immersive horror title

We got the chance to check out a lengthy gameplay presentation for the upcoming horror game. Here are our thoughts of what was shown.

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When Still Wakes the Deep was announced last year, people reacted positively to the first teaser trailer. It revolved around a lonely oil rig that's been compromised where something terrible appears to have happened, while we assume the role of the seemingly sole survivor, a Scotsman named Caz McLeary.

Just before Easter, I had the opportunity to see a bit more of the game during an ID@Xbox presentation with the developers, The Chinese Room, specifically with lead designer Rob McLachlan, who both talked about working on this title and showed around 15 minutes of gameplay. What I got to see took place shortly after a disaster occurred, but the team still won't say what actually happened. What is clear is that Caz has ended up in the middle of something unexpected and he is very cold, which means that he needs to warm up before he can even start looking for his friends and other possible survivors. Through the internal communication system, he makes contact with another rig worker whom soon falls abruptly silent.

Still Wakes the Deep
Lifeboats are on the doomed oil rig, but getting to them won't be easy.

He looks further and finds that all the phone lines to the mainland seem to have been cut, which is a big problem since the game is set in the 70s and the internet and cell phones don't exist yet. This is an important aspect, and the developers explain that they wanted to recreate the atmosphere of the horror movies of the 70s and early 80s, where the feeling of being a lonely and vulnerable survivor dominated. The biggest named source of inspiration was the classic The Thing, but Stanley Kubrick was also mentioned.

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It's clear that the team really did their homework and everything from abandoned corridors with waves whipping against the windows to smoke-infested offices and canteens really emphasise this era. I myself am old enough to actually remember the first half of the 80s, and experience much of what I see with a pleasant sense of nostalgia. The Beira D oil rig, by the way, stands off the coast of Scotland, and it was important for the developers to recreate the feel of an authentic oil rig from that era, and McLachlan says the team "meticulously researched" what the design would look like.

Still Wakes the Deep
Whatever hit Beira D doesn't seem to be human.

In short, the design is top-notch, and it's hard not to be impressed by the cold and claustrophobic environment of a damaged oil rig in a storm. The soundscape also seems to be something special with a constant unpleasant creaking that makes it feel like everything could collapse at any moment. To top it all off, Still Wakes the Deep seems to be set around Christmas time, which creates an almost perverse contrast between the staff who have tried to make the sterile and slightly worn metal structure a little more festive, and the fact that an evil, deathly presence has struck the place.

But back to the adventure where our protagonist is now looking for his best friend Roy who works as a chef. Soon he hears voices from a colleague called Trots calling for help in a locked room that is mysteriously radiating, whereupon the voice stops and Caz realises that the worst seems to have happened. The oil rig is large and contains all sorts of facilities, not least for recreation, and as Caz makes his way around, he passes pool tables and the likes.

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Still Wakes the Deep
The protagonist Caz has no weapons or special abilities, but he can swim.

The sense of vulnerability is reinforced by the fact that Caz is unarmed and McLachlan also confirms that there are no weapons in this title. So you have no chance to defend yourself against a possible threat. In fact, there are no special abilities of any kind, and the only equipment you have is the headlamp mounted on your helmet.

Despite the fact that much of the damaged rig appears to be deserted, I can already tell that the developers have managed to recreate the feeling that the main character is always being watched. Like the aforementioned The Thing, much of the creepiness is based on what you don't see and don't know, rather than something more tangible. Sure enough, the protagonist can see something, and it quickly disappears, leaving me as a viewer with an uneasy feeling that what I saw might not be real after all.

Still Wakes the Deep
Little by little, the rig is being destroyed, making it increasingly difficult to survive.

A positive wave washes over me when I reach the kitchen area and realise that a shaken Roy is alive after all, and the duo quickly makes a plan to try to get to the lifeboats, with Caz clearing the way first. The oil rig is taking a beating and will undoubtedly eventually sink, which means that in addition to possible enemies, there is also the environment to be wary about. To get out of the kitchen in search of lifeboats, Caz has to crawl through ventilation shafts. Shortly thereafter, there are particularly unpleasant visions of corpses being beaten and stuck to walls and ceilings in some kind of horrific art installation complete with blood splatters. I have yet to see a monster, but whatever it is, it doesn't seem to be human.

Boom! The silence is broken and the walls collapse, at which point Caz realises that it appears to be some sort of organic monster that has penetrated the structure. McLachlan explains that we will die often, but has also included a simplified Story Mode where we cannot die for those who just want to experience the story without taking any risks. It's an approach that some will scoff at, but it also broadens the potential audience.

The journey to the lifeboats continues for Caz, revealing that there are little mini-game-like tasks to open doors or pry open ventilation ducts. The presentation ends shortly afterwards in a huge laundry room where a radio plays the day's weather forecast. Such a harmless place feels very eerie in its dim lighting and extensive damage, and the talk of the weather accompanies the sense of life and death in a macabre way, as a mass of tentacle-like limbs quickly emerge from the ceiling.

Still Wakes the Deep
Beira D is located somewhere off the coastline of Scotland, and the design, language, weather and other factors contribute to an authentic feel.

I was curious about Still Wakes the Deep after the first presentation at the Xbox Games Showcase in June 2023, but after seeing even more, the hype has actually increased. It looks to be offering some very atmospheric horror, and I really appreciate how The Chinese Room has worked to create an authentic environment that is further enhanced by the fact that only Scottish voice actors seem to have been used, which adds to the feeling that the oil rig is actually located in a specific geographical area.

June 18 is the launch date for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, and it is brilliantly included with Game Pass from day one. If you're a fan of classic horror movies, especially The Thing, I really think you should keep your eyes and ears open for this one, even if I do believe this can be something extra and unique for horror fans in general as well.

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