Still Wakes the Deep Brings Cosmic Horror to a Perilous Oil Rig

Still Wakes the Deep Brings Cosmic Horror to a Perilous Oil Rig

Christmas, 1975: an oil rig off the east coast of Scotland. Inside over breakfast, the chatter of possible strikes and crew members wolfing down baked beans, fried eggs and mugs of tea. Outside, the briny tang of windswept sea air, the North Sea swirling tempestuously below.

The teetering rig of the first-person horror game Still Wakes the Deep, which releases on Tuesday for the PC, PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S, is another delightfully offbeat and beautifully realized locale from The Chinese Room, a British studio.

Dear Esther, released in 2012, saw players exploring a moonlit Hebridean island, tromping through purple heather. Three years later, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture whisked them off to a quaint fictional village in the west of England, zigzagging through arable fields and well-ordered front gardens.

“It’s rare, still, for video games to venture away from generic-looking alien planets, abandoned spaceships or the trenches of past wars as settings for their stories,” said Simon Parkin, author of “Death by Video Game: Tales of Obsession From the Virtual Frontline.”

The towering metal architecture and claustrophobic halls of Still Wakes the Deep are less naturalistic than the studio’s previous game worlds, but certainly no less evocative. John McCormack, the game’s creative director, possesses an instinctual familiarity with the era.

“I can remember the texture of the carpets and the thin line of cigarette smoke that hovers halfway up a room, my granny’s slippers, what the ashtrays look like, how people talk — the slang of the time,” said McCormack, a Scot and a child of the 1970s.

At the game’s outset, the calm before the unleashing of a cosmic horror storm, the player explores homely cabins littered with the paraphernalia of private lives: comforting trinkets, family photos. Your colleagues have nuanced back stories and speak with the lilt and twang of the regions they grew up in (Barnsley, Belfast, Edinburgh).

McCormack sees a direct relationship between creating a believable game space, one rich in personal and period details, and delivering a compelling drama whose characters feel truly three-dimensional.

That philosophy extends to the body of the protagonist, an electrician (or “leccy”) known as Caz. Unusually for a first-person game, you are able to see all of his limbs; first-person shooters tend to show only hands clutching a gun. For McCormack, it was vital that the rig feel “tactile” and that you, as Caz, experience something of a physical connection with it. “To have a floating view with no bodily presence just felt wrong,” he said.

At thrillingly precarious moments — in one, the electrician’s legs dangle above a vertigo-inducing drop — the player must squeeze both controller triggers as if Caz’s hands are clasping onto the splintering rig. Letting go spells immediate death; his knuckles turn white.

“He’s not an action hero,” said Rob McLachlan, a lead designer at the studio. “He’s a middle-aged, slightly-out-of-shape boxer. Although he’s physically strong, this isn’t what he woke up preparing to do.”

Nor was Caz prepared to encounter a cosmic horror that is inevitably unearthed from the bedrock. Tentacular growths begin to invade the offshore structure, shimmering with oily iridescence against the rig’s dull, cold steel. Laura Dodds, an associate art director, described the entity as embodying a “terrible beauty,” something “unknowable, strange, beautiful, but not necessarily malevolent.”

The challenge was not in imagining such horror but rendering it, bending the underlying software of Unreal Engine to the studio’s will so the supernatural phenomena looked as realistic as the rig itself.

Elsewhere, Still Wakes the Deep veers sharply toward gruesome body horror. Enemies, which the team refers to as “puppets,” are writhing, globular beings with more than a flicker of human presence, partly inspired by live footage of medical surgeries and various works involving Hannibal Lecter. Caz can run and hide from these foes but, crucially, does not possess the means to fight them head-on.

Still Wakes the Deep was referred to internally as “Habitat.” While ducking, diving, crawling and leaping amid the rig, it quickly comes to feel like a labyrinthine warren of halls and larger spaces, exposed electrical cables resembling an intricate root system. From a distance, the rig appears to loom out of the ocean like a vast metal forest.

A variety of beings come to call this tangled ecosystem home: gulls, rodents, the blighted antagonists and, of course, the crew members. In its affection for the rig’s working-class human inhabitants — pointedly not its bootlicking middle managers — Still Wakes the Deep lays out a politics inseparable from place. By doing so, it echoes the filmmaker Ken Loach, an influence on the game.

Even just the selection of an unconventional setting is political, Parkin said: “In an industry that is ruinously preoccupied with making money, we should celebrate any studio that appears to prioritize other, predominantly creative concerns.”

Alongside the hope that players feel “as if they’ve really been somewhere,” McCormack wants them to step away from Still Wakes the Deep with a greater appreciation for weather-beaten laborers everywhere, the “people that allow them to drive their car, the people doing the hard jobs in the world.”

Source link



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

Social Media

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe To Our Weekly Newsletter

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.