How Still Wakes the Deep channels the horror of the 1970s

As the influence of 70s horror sees a resurgence, a new video game – set on a Scottish oil rig – takes inspiration from the decade’s British public information films to create a vintage take on the terrors of the deep.

Still Wakes the Deep (2024)The Chinese Room

“It’s very difficult for people who weren’t there to picture how brown things were,” said The Chinese Room’s art director John McCormack when discussing the 1970s. He was outlining his studio’s new video game, the 70s-set Still Wakes the Deep, released this month and at a time when interest in the stranger side of that decade is peaking: see the satirical Scarred for Life and Scarfolk series, and the recent 1973-set folk horror Enys Men (2023). Still Wakes the Deep takes influence from the above and many more to create an unnerving survival-horror experience, one which is being sold as “The Thing on an oil rig.”

In an echo of the tiptoe-and-hide-in-lockers mechanic of Alien Isolation (2014), Creative Assembly’s first-person game based on Ridley Scott’s 1979 movie, Still Wakes the Deep’s players will find themselves stalked through cramped corridors by a (mostly unseen) menace. In space no-one can hear you scream, but there’s also little chance in Still Wakes the Deep of anyone hearing you over Force 9 weather in the North Sea.

Still Wakes the Deep (2024) launch trailer

Players take control of electrician Caz McLeary, an everyman completing his winter rotation on the Beira Delta rig off the coast of Scotland. Life on board is tough but bracing: Caz spends his downtime in his bunk, reading postcards from his kids, or in the canteen in the company of hard-bitten cook Roy and a clutch of socialist and nationalist workmates. Exploring the rig would be interesting enough on its own, but when middle management order an unscheduled drilling a diabolical force is let loose. Caz has to navigate the rig’s collapsing walkways and defend himself with only as much firepower as can be found in the average toolkit.

Still Wakes the Deep (2024)The Chinese Room

Anyone who’s followed The Chinese Room will know this isn’t their first environmental catastrophe: nine years ago they released Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (2015), another narrative-horror with a period setting. That game took place in Shropshire, 1984, and imagined a village targeted by a supernatural invader not unlike the “lovely lightning” of Quatermass (1979). Players explored empty houses and tried to decode the numbers repeating on abandoned third-gen computers. Similarly, the threat in the first half of Still Wakes the Deep is more ambient than it is monstrous – think the turmoil of Koyaanisqatsi (1982), or the ecological unravelling portrayed by Boards of Canada LPs. 

While the concept of roughnecks unleashing an undersea menace might seem familiar – it’s been seen on screen before care of TV like The Intruder Within (1981), Doctor Who and the Sea Devils (1972) and Amazon Prime series The Rig (2023) – The Chinese Room’s guiding principle for Still Wakes the Deep was more earthy: “What if Ken Loach was hired to film a BBC documentary about an oil rig in the North Sea in the 1970s?” 

North Sea Safety (1977)

McCormack has discussed the “weird, liminal” feeling of information films of the time; one such example can be seen in North Sea Safety, a 1977 short recounting life on board Norjarl drilling platform and how its crew of 60 men interact. The narrator recounts journeys to the seabed via diving bell and the pervading fear of a gas blowout. “The search for oil has never been free from dangers,” he remarks.

Wider environmental dangers and the urgency of climate change might be why the survival-horror genre remains popular today. For example, The Farm 51’s Chernobylite (2021) sees players lead a team of marauders through the infamous exclusion zone, scavenging to the steady rasp of a Geiger counter. Classics such as Konami’s Silent Hill 2 (2001) and Computer Artwork’s The Thing (2002) are receiving HD makeovers (the latter features a cameo from John Carpenter himself – a high seal of approval given his passion for gaming).

Lonely Water (1973)

Despite its lack of traditional combat, could Still Wakes go on to be held in similar regard? The sustained sense of dread and unforgiving natural elements (or “dreich” weather as the developers have described in their native Scots) create a truly unsettling gaming experience, one which should test the nerves of even a hardened Resident Evil aficionado. 

If, like McCormack, players are seeking to experience the eeriness of cult 70s TV, they’ll be pleased to learn that Still Wakes can be compared to infamous public information film Lonely Water (1973). Donald Pleasence may well have been describing the Beira Delta rig when he warned the children playing near a river: “It’s the perfect place… for an accident.”