Still Wakes the Deep review for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X

Platform: PC
Platform: PS5, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Secret Mode
Developer: The Chinese Room
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

On some level, Still Wakes the Deep is the least surprising game ever. After all, it was made by The Chinese Room, who are best known for Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. While those games are different enough that you could never mistake one for the other, at the same time they could all be described as moody and atmospheric, and they focus more on exploration and story than anything else. Still Wakes the Deep fits squarely within that lineage.

Or, to be more direct and/or cynical about it: The Chinese Room made their name creating walking simulators. They tried their hand at another genre, puzzle-platforming, with their last game (Little Orpheus), and it didn’t get nearly the same response. Still Wakes the Deep is The Chinese Room going back to what they do best.

While I can understand that latter point of view, I definitely don’t subscribe to it. Seeing as I still have fond memories of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture nearly a decade after I played it, I’ve been eager to see The Chinese Room return to this style of game – and I’m very pleased to see that with Still Wakes the Deep, their return is a huge success.

To some extent, this is because the game feels like a culmination of their past efforts. Like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, it’s about a potentially apocalyptic event. Like Dear Esther, it’s set in a very remote part of Scotland. And like Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, it could be loosely classified as survival horror. Still Wakes the Deep is a survival horror game where it feels like the end of the world is coming, set on an oil rig off the coast of Scotland.

But that undersells what the game is and what it’s about – particularly the bit about Scotland, since that’s kind of Still Wakes the Deep’s defining feature. Sure, there’s horror (and I’ll get to that in a moment), but the thing that really sticks with you about the game is how Scottish it is. Not only is it set on a Scottish oil rig in 1975, the game’s voice actors all come from Scotland, and you hear it in every single line they speak. It’s so much a part of the game that there are two options for subtitles – one that transcribes what the characters say, and one that gives you a translated version (in case you need help with words like “leckie” and “numpty”). It gives the game a distinctive character, and the fact that the voice actors are all so good just makes it feel more real and believable.

The setting also goes a long way towards helping the story suck you in. Oil rigs seem like they’d be isolated, claustrophobic environments at the best of times, and Still Wakes the Deep uses that to full effect here. The gist of the plot is that the oil rig drills into something big, and it unleashes exactly the kind of horror you’d expect would emerge from the depths of the North Sea. I don’t want to say much more than that, since so much of the game is seeing the terrors unfold for yourself, but needless to say: having it take place on an oil rig, where you’re trapped out at sea in a place with narrow hallways and no way to escape, along with all the other things that can go wrong, makes the horror feel that much more absorbing.

Of course, your enjoyment of Still Wakes the Deep will depend on how much you like horror that’s focused on sneaking around and solving puzzles, rather than fighting off monsters. If you want a game where you battle terrifying creatures, you don’t get that here. And even though the game is “survival horror”, there’s also no emphasis on the kind of survival elements – like inventory management – you might see in other games in the genre.

Rather, you have to figure out the best way to get from one part of the oil rig to another. You’ll have to squeeze through walls that have been crushed together, unscrew vents crawl through air ducts, and climb up and down ladders. Occasionally the game will ask you to make pretty large jumps, or to clamp down on a shoulder button to stop yourself from falling, or to throw objects to make monsters turn their attention away from you while you scamper across a floor, but those moments of intense action are few and far between. It’s horror, but it’s a slow-burning kind of horror.

In other words, it’s what The Chinese Room does best. Still Wakes the Deep is exactly the kind of game that made the studio well-known in the first place, and it shows that even after a few years away from the genre, they’re still the masters of it.

Secret Mode provided us with a Still Wakes the Deep PC code for review purposes.

Score: 9.5