Don’t skip Xbox Game Pass’ grotesque new horror game

Don’t skip Xbox Game Pass’ grotesque new horror game

A flesh monster appears in Still Wakes the Deep.
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As someone who loves both gaming and cinema, I’m always excited when those two worlds connect. Sometimes that’s with great film adaptations of games or vice versa, but I’m even more interested when I can feel the influence of cinema history in a game’s DNA. Something like Until Dawn, for instance, calls back to the golden age of gory slasher flicks with memorable results. It’s rewarding for me as a fan of both mediums, letting me draw direct connections between them.

I recently got that experience thanks to Still Wakes the Deep, a new horror game from developer The Chinese Room now available on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC (it’s also available on Xbox Game Pass right now). While it’s a totally original title, it feels like a playable John Carpenter film. Think The Thing on an oil rig, but significantly more Scottish. While it doesn’t fully live up to that pitch, its short runtime and immaculately gory vibes make it worth checking out.

Still Wakes the Deep is a period piece set in 1975 about an oil rig off the coast of Scotland. Players take control of worker Cameron McLeary, who quickly finds himself at the center of a nightmare when a disaster damages the rig. He’s left trying to escape the wreckage — a hard task made more difficult by the fact that he’s being stalked by some kind of supernatural flesh beast.

A fleshy monster sits near a door in Still Wakes the Deep.
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The John Carpenter influence is apparent the second the first monster appears. The mysterious creature takes control of other workers on the rig, turning their bodies into fleshy puppets that stalk the deteriorating ship. The Thing probably comes to mind immediately, and it should. Still Wakes the Deep captures that same sense of paranoia as Cameron watches as his colleagues are slowly infected with the plague. It’s grotesque in all the right ways.

There’s a lot to love here, though there are some missed opportunities as well. On the positive side, it’s an effective horror game filled with tense chase scenes and pulse-pounding stealth sequences. The latter brings me back to Alien: Isolation as I cower under metal grates while an erratic lump of flesh hovers around me. The formless design of its monsters especially adds to that tension since I’m never too sure when it has its back turned to me or is looking straight at me.

As for the rest of its gameplay, you have to go in knowing what to expect. The Chinese Room is known for games like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which have been painted as “walking simulators” over the years (hilariously, there’s an achievement called Walking Simulator here that’s awarded for not sprint too much during the game). Still Wakes the Deep is a bit more involved than that with a focus on first-person traversal and interaction, but it’s thin on ideas. It repeats its few gameplay bits like closing valves, pulling levers, and gripping on for dear life while scaling the rig over and over. By the end of its second hour, you’ve mostly done everything the game has to offer. That repetition cuts into the anxiety, giving it a mechanical flow at times.

A crashed lifeboat appears in Still Wakes the Deep.
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Its promising narrative setup doesn’t entirely pay off either. At first, it feels like the story is going for a meaty social commentary on dangerous labor conditions. Cameron and his colleagues are overworked and dealing with incredibly dangerous conditions with no protections. The introduction of a monster ratchets that idea up in the same way the best genre movies use horror as commentary, but it stops short of actually saying much on the topic. Perhaps less is more and the palpable tension of traversing a death trap is loud enough, but it still feels like a layer is missing at times. It feels halfway between a brainy horror movie and a fun but schlocky blockbuster like Deep Blue Sea.

Even with some underwhelming execution, Still Wakes the Deep scratches a specific itch. It has the energy of the kind of gory ’80s horror movie that’s filled with nightmares born through practical effects. Its story may not stick in my mind, but its fleshy monster certainly does. That makes for one of this year’s most anxiety-inducing horror games — one that’ll make sure you never step foot on an oil rig for the rest of your life.

Still Wakes the Deep is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. You can play it through Xbox Game Pass right now.

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