Still Wakes the Deep: 'Annihilation' Meets 'The Poseidon Adventure'
When we sat down for a preview of Still Wakes the Deep at Gamescom, it wasn’t under the circumstances you might expect.
With horror titles like this, you ideally want to experience them in the right conditions. You know, a quiet, dimly lit room with no distractions or reminders of the outside world. That way you can really get lost in the nightmare that the developers have meticulously crafted for you.
That’s not the situation we found ourselves in here though. Instead, we were in the middle of a bustling, sweaty convention centre in Germany, surrounded by bright florescent lights, as well as the chatter of industry professionals networking away, in addition to folk ordering themselves more bratwurst & pretzels.
So it wasn’t a very spooky atmosphere (which obviously couldn’t be helped) and we doubt that even P.T. would have been very effective under those conditions. Yet Still Wakes the Deep managed to get under our skin nonetheless, thanks to its eerie setting, disturbing audio mix and pervasive sense of dread.
Annihilation meets The Poseidon Adventure
Up until now, The Chinese Room’s latest has been shrouded in alluring mystery, with us only having an enigmatic store page description — and an even less enlightening reveal trailer — to go on. Sure, we’ve been able to piece together that it’s a narrative-driven affair (which is a given for the Dear Esther studio), that it’s got a nautical theme, and that there’s some kind of creature-feature element at play, but other than that we’ve been kept totally in the dark.
While our sneak peek hardly constituted as a tell-all expose, it did help to clear some of these things up, with never-before-seen alpha footage and a developer Q&A session.
Before we got to that, however, we were first treated to a quick presentation introducing the game. The plot synopsis here mostly recapped information that’s already out in the public realm: explaining how you play as an offshore worker — based on an oil rig just off the coast of Scotland — who is running away from problems at home. Namely, that his neglected wife is filing for divorce.
When some manner of natural disaster strikes (we weren’t told precisely what form this will take), you’re forced to put aside these domestic concerns and enter survival mode, fending for yourself as the refinery collapses into the sea. Fiery explosions, tempestuous storms, and the structural integrity of your surroundings aren’t the biggest problems you’ll face though, as it also turns out that something terrible has emerged from the watery depths. A hostile and unknown threat that’s out for blood.
Putting it more succinctly, The Chinese Room have a very compelling elevator pitch for Still Wakes the Deep. In their own words, it’s essentially “Annihilation meets The Poseidon Adventure.” On one hand you’ve got the maritime disaster angle, while on the other you’ve got a sci-fi horror story that’s unfolding at the same time. Elaborating upon this idea further, Senior Game Designer for the project, Jade Jacson, said: “We’re trying to exploit a number of different phobias that people might have. Things like heights, drowning, isolation, narrow spaces, the unknown … and of course death”.
Hey, don’t threaten us with a good time.
A Unique Perspective
Next came that alpha footage, which enabled us to see these enticing concepts in action (albeit very briefly).
First of all, we were shown a snippet of the game from before shit hits the fan, as our middle-aged protagonist “Caz” wandered around the oil rig and interacted with his various co-workers. It’s nice to know that there will be actual NPCs in Still Wakes the Deep, instead of just the usual walking-sim trope where everybody is either a disembodied voice over the radio or a distant memory recorded onto an audio log. Indeed, Caz got quite talkative with some of them, and we get the feeling that they’re going to be fully fleshed-out characters. One of the things that really struck us about each member of the crew — whether it was the friendly engineer making ideal gossip, or the cook who was maybe a little too prying into your marital troubles — was their dialect.
As a British gamer, I’m used to hearing American voices coming from most of the characters that I control and, if they are ever from the UK, then they’ll tend to speak with received pronunciation (like geographically-indistinct news readers). On the rare occasion that someone does have a Northern twang, it’ll be because the developers want to illustrate their socio-economic background.
Fantasy RPGs in particular have a habit of employing the Yorkshire accent (like the one used by yours truly) as a kind of shorthand for somebody being of lower status. We’re not the protagonists; we’re beggars, bandits, thieves and nomads.
But in Still Wakes the Deep every single character authentically sounds like they’re from a part of the UK that isn’t London. I think a lot of them were Scottish (others could feasibly have been from the North of England) but their dialect and turns-of-phrase were immediately recognisable to me anyway.
Hearing things like “Shite”, “Ta”, “Slagged off”, “Aye” and disagreements about Barnsley football club coming from the mouths of people on screen was quite a surreal experience, because that’s all so ordinary to me and yet I’m never exposed to it in these horror games. It was relatable and certainly made the rest of the alpha footage hit a lot closer to home.
Speaking of which …
Nightmarish Creatures & Beautiful Horror
We then cut to a bit later on in the game, as Caz traversed the crumbling facility post whatever disaster has occurred.
Battered by the elements, he had to crawl along steel girders, jump across gaps and clamber over various obstructions in order to get to (relative) safety. It was an exhilarating sequence that seemed to suggest that there’ll be a fair bit of quasi-platforming in Still Wakes the Deep. Not to mention, it also looked incredible from a visual perspective, boasting convincing weather effects and photorealistic details in the environments.
Of course, it’s when Caz finally got inside that things started to kick up a notch. Skulking through flooded sections of the oil rig, he was clearly trying his best not to make a noise, lest he alert the mysterious creature to his presence.
It was a proper stealth section and, unlike with some of The Chinese Room’s previous offerings, there’s apparently real consequences if you’re caught here. On that note, Jacson confirmed that the team have tried to emphasise interactivity a little more this time around, and that they wanted the gameplay to feel “dangerous”.
When we pressed for more detail on this, she confirmed that there is in fact a fail-state and that you can die should the monster finds you. This isn’t going to be one of those walking simulator horror games then — where there’s no jeopardy to speak of — and you will have to try and outwit your pursuer. Jacson added that you will be able to distract it somehow but didn’t let anything else slip beyond that.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good look at the elusive beast itself, as it was deliberately hidden from view throughout the alpha footage. What we can tell you though, is that the sound it makes is bloody harrowing.
An uncanny mix of human screams and inhuman shrieking, you can definitely tell where that Annihilation influence has come into play, as the bloodcurdling noise immediately brought to mind that mutant bear from Alex Garland’s 2018 movie. If the abomination producing that unholy racket is even half as frightening as it sounds, then it’s going to be a terrifying enemy to deal with.
In the ensuing Q&A, we asked if Annihilation inspired anything else with Still Wakes the Deep or if it was just the starting-point for the game’s creature. Jascon was again quite tight-lipped on this subject, yet did mention that the team were also looking to replicate the film’s idea of “beautiful horror,” whereby grizzly imagery is rendered oddly beguiling (like with those flower people).
She wouldn’t say much more on that topic, but suffice it to say we were very, very intrigued. Which pretty much sums up how we feel about the entire project now that we’ve finally been given a taste of it.
If it managed to unnerve us amidst the hustle and bustle of Gamescom, then we can’t wait to see how well it’s gonna play once we’re alone at the dead of night, desperately trying not to get caught by that shrieking monstrosity.
Published by Secret Mode, Still Wakes the Deep will be released in 2024 on Xbox Series X|S, PC and PS5. It will also be available at launch on Game Pass.
Opinionated, Verbose and Generally Pedantic. Loves Horror in all of its forms.
‘Gamescom’ 2023 – 9 of the Best Horror Games We Previewed
‘Lords of the Fallen’ Gamescom Report – How the Dark Fantasy Game Has Been Polished to Perfection
Pre-alpha Gameplay Footage Released for ‘Bye Sweet Carole’ [Watch]
At this year’s Gamescom we tried to stack our schedule with as many horror (or horror-adjacent) titles as we possibly could.
Rushing around the expansive halls of the Koelnmesse venue — trying to make each of our back-to-back appointments — we barely had chance to catch our breath across the jam-packed three days we were there. Among other things, we previewed nearly an hour of Alan Wake 2, got the inside scoop on Still Wakes the Deep, had a lengthy hands-on session with Lords of the Fallen, and then went on a perilous expedition into the bowels of Moria.
But that only represents a small fraction of the exciting projects we saw here. In addition to those big tentpoles, we also took a look at the efforts of some plucky solo devs and indie studios who’ve been working away on interesting little titles that you might be sleeping on.
Here are 9 of the best that we think you should be on your radar.
There’s been something of a resurgence lately in old-school survival horror, with scores of indie releases trying to ape the feel of PSOne classics like Silent Hill. Between Puppet Combo’s Murder House and last year’s phenomenal SIGNALIS, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the 1990s never went away.
CONSCRIPT is yet another example of a game that’s hoping to tap into this nostalgic craze. It has all the elements you’d expect to see in one of these throwbacks; from the low-res visuals to the top-down perspective, deliberately stilted combat, and obtuse puzzles.
However, what sets it apart from all the other titles that are cashing in on this voguish trend is its unique period setting. Dropping players into the trench boots of a French infantryman (at the infamous Battle of Verdun), CONSCRIPT renounces the schlocky thrills of Raccoon City or Derceto Manor, in favour of the very real atrocities of WW1.
A much more human enemy substitutes for the usual zombie throngs here, as you futilely try to repel the advancing German forces. On that note, none of the threats that you’ll be facing were concocted in a secret lab by avaricious supervillains, nor is there anything remotely supernatural afoot. It’s just the everyday horrors of war; pure and simple.
Explaining the concept to us at his Gamescom booth, Solo Developer (and history graduate) Jordan Mochi said: “We’ve all played enough survival horror titles that have monsters and ghosts. And I didn’t want to do that in my game, because I felt it would just cheapen the experience. I believe that depicting one the world’s bloodiest conflicts should be scary enough in its own right.”
On that point, we’re inclined to agree. After all, the short demo of CONSCRIPT that we played assured us that Mochi has been able to do justice to his heady subject matter. Indeed, his game envelops you in the hell of trench warfare, and authentically conveys the sense of impending doom that comes with harbouring the terrible knowledge that you may have to go over the front lines at any moment. Published by Team17, you can add CONSCRIPT to your Steam Wishlist now.
Hellboy: Web of Wyrd
Through no fault of its own, this one has a bit of a pall hanging over it, given that it features a posthumous performance from the late Lance Reddick.
For what it’s worth, we think he’s done a great job in the lead role here and brings a suitably cantankerous quality to his portrayal of Anung Un Rama. It’s pitch-perfect voice casting and you could envision him having one day become synonymous with the part (much like how Mark Hamill made the Joker his own) had circumstances been different.
In general, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd is shaping up to be a faithful adaptation of its source material that will no-doubt please fans. Created in partnership with Dark Horse and original creator Mike Mignola, it nails the recognisable art style of those comic books by seamlessly translating it into 3D. With thick heavy lines, bold colours, minimalist detailing and heavy shadows — plus a deliberately lower frame rate in certain places, recalling the Spider-Verse films — it’s a veritable feast for the eyes.
Elsewhere, Mignola’s world-building and lore have been respectfully preserved too, with one notable exception. This version of Big Red has had to quit chomping on cigars, not for the sake of his health, but rather for the game to secure its desired ESRB rating.
That one trivial concession aside, Web of Wyrd delivers practically everything you’d want from a Hellboy brawler. There’s opportunity to interact with your B.P.R.D colleagues, to wield the iconic Samaritan hand cannon, and to unleash the devastating power of the Right Hand of Doom. Throw in some weighty punch-ups against a diverse roster of eldritch creatures and everything falls into place.
Developed by Upstream Arcade and Published by Good Shepard Entertainment, Hellboy: Web of Wyrd will be released on the 4th of October. It will launch on Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist here.
Forgive Me Father 2
The original Forgive Me Father was one of the better boomer shooters to come out in recent years, distinguished by its Lovecraftian theming and hand-drawn aesthetic.
When it came to the latter, developer Byte Barrel told us that their ambition was for every single frame to look like it could have ripped straight from a comic-book panel, and it was certainly very screenshot-worthy in that respect. Whether you were just standing around admiring the gothic scenery or blasting weird fishmen into tiny giblets with your shotgun, you could pause the action at any given juncture and just marvel at the grotesque artistry of it all.
Capitalising on what worked so well last time, Forgive Me Father’s upcoming sequel is aiming to crank up the splatter to an even more ludicrous degree. While one of the highlights in the first game was how you could shoot a zombie’s head off, only for them to then replace it with a spare noggin that they happened to be lugging around, that’ll seem positively tame compared to some of the outrageous sights you’ll witness in this follow-up.
The preview we saw at Gamescom was a non-stop orgy of blood, guts and eviscerations that reached near-comical levels of excess. After a frenetic shootout, you often couldn’t make out the environments anymore because every square inch of them was now covered in some kind of fleshy viscera.
On the less gloopy side of things, Byte Barrel is also making a few technical improvements to the established formula. Namely, Forgive Me Father 2 will have more interactive levels, an expanded upgrade system, a new hub area, and sprites that can face in up to eight directions instead of just one (meaning that you can now appreciate all that sweet, sweet gore from different angles)!
Brought to you by Fulqrum Publishing, Forgive Me Father 2 can be added to your Steam Wishlist here.
A fellow boomer shooter (and Fulqrum Publishing stablemate), Diluvian Ultra has a lot in common with Forgive Me Father 2. At least on the surface.
Both titles have embraced a retro design philosophy, whereby success is dependent on you constantly moving, unloading ammo with reckless abandon, and generally making a mess of the place. Indeed, taking things slow and playing cautiously in either of these upcoming releases is highly discouraged.
Which makes perfect sense in the case of Diluvian Ultra. After all, you wouldn’t expect a game about an undead, space zealot who’s hell-bent on getting revenge to exercise much in the way of restraint.
If you’re wondering what differentiates this one in such a crowded field, it’s the innovative approach to calculating damage. You see, enemies in Diluvian Ultra effectively have two colour-coded health bars; one measuring the integrity of their armour, and then another (sitting just beneath that) for displaying their life force. In order to whittle down the former, you’ll need to hit opponents with matching yellow projectiles, while the latter is depleted exclusively through the use of red attacks.
Where things get really interesting is that your so-called “lethal damage” fluctuates according to how much of the red bar is exposed on screen. So, if you’ve not worn down the enemy’s shield whatsoever, then your next lethal hit won’t even make a dent in their health pool. On the other hand, if you’ve completely sapped them of all their armour, then you could be primed to deliver a one-hit kill.
It’s an intriguing gimmick that promises to add an extra layer of strategy to combat and to get you thinking on your feet. Be careful though, because the same rules governing how your foes take damage also apply to you. You can add Diluvian Ultra to your Steam Wishlist here.
If you prefer your shooters to be of the slower, more methodical variety, then Ripout ought to be your jam.
A procedurally generated, co-op experience, it tasks you with exploring derelict spaceships that (surprise, surprise) are overrun with killer cyborgs. As with something like Left 4 Dead or last year’s The Anacrusis, there are only a finite number of missions to choose from here, but the scaling-difficulty, randomised objectives and unpredictable enemy spawns should keep you coming back for more.
Yet what most stood out to us was the relatively measured pacing. Taking a leaf out of Alien: Isolation’s book, you could feasibly go several minutes without encountering a solitary bogey in Ripout. Instead, the developers at Pet Project Games are content to let the mounting dread and anticipation do all of the heavy lifting, before then unleashing some unspeakable body-horror abomination just as you’ve let your guard down.
Where a lot of similar games feel like they have one tempo (i.e.: hordes endlessly pouring in without a second’s abate) Ripout has a nice ebb and flow that makes its scares all the more effective once they arrive.
Not to mention, it also featured our standout weapon of Gamescom 2023: the versatile pet-gun. A firearm that’s affixed to what appears to be a baby xenomorph, this can be used as your standard-issue assault rifle, but its true potential comes from that detachable critter.
With the mere press of a button, you can dispatch your pet to either distract opponents or to graft onto them. When it returns, it will then come furnished with their cybernetic enhancements and a new secondary fire for you to try out.
In our demo, we saw the pet fuse with a gelatinous sac that discharged poisonous gas, as well as a powerful laser capable of vaporising monsters to a crisp. Suffice it to say, we can’t wait to see what other tricks it has up its sleeve when the full game releases.
Published by 3D Realms, Ripout will be coming to PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC later this year. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist now.
Rounding off our list of shooters that we sampled at Gamescom, Remedium is more of an arcadey, twin-stick affair.
Although the gameplay is pretty typical in that regard, it was still worth a gander in our opinion thanks to its fascinating setting. Blending together aspects of post-apocalyptic sci-fi, renaissance history and viral outbreak horror; it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen before in the genre.
The central conceit is that all progress in this world came to an abrupt halt after a dreadful plague began spreading throughout the population, infecting both humans and animals alike. You yourself have contracted this nasty disease — which, in a subversive twist, actually gives you some cool buffs in combat — and thus embark on a quest to find a cure.
Along the way, you’ll be gunning down waves of mutant dogs, birds and even rhinos with your old-timely blunderbuss. Speaking of which, the other distinguishing feature here is that almost every piece of equipment in your arsenal can be augmented with elemental properties, through the era-appropriate science of alchemy.
In practice, this means that you’ll be able to transmute grenades into water bombs, coat your rounds in flammable liquid, or reconfigure your weapon as an electrical conduit. Judging from our brief test drive, it looks like there will be great scope to fiddle around with these options and to create your ideal builds.
Don’t just take our word for it though. You can see what all of the fuss is about right now by signing up to the Remedium playtest on Steam!
Open-world survival crafting indies are a dime a dozen nowadays, and you no longer count on such overused keywords to turn heads. If anything, those labels are more likely to provoke beleaguered eye-rolls than they are to pique anyone’s interest.
Fortunately, Vorax has found a way to spice up these tired proceedings by chucking in giant deformed babies, bloated mutants, and creatures that resemble Belial from the Basket Case movies. Who knew that breathing fresh life into a genre could be so simple?
Developed by IndieGala (who are primarily known for being a digital storefront, but recently have branched out into development), the game has all of the usual trappings of this type of fare. You’ll be gathering resources by day, boarding up windows at dusk, and withstanding infected swarms when night falls. Just like in countless other games.
Yet it still managed to get on our radar due to its insane bestiary, more story-driven approach, and immensely satisfying chainsaw.
If you want to give it a spin for yourself, the very same demo that we played at Gamescom can now be downloaded off Steam.
Gori: Cuddly Carnage
A frenetic candy-coloured bloodbath, Gori: Cuddly Carnage more than lives up to its homophonous title.
The team at Angry Demon Studio (another fantastic name by the way) have delivered a balls-to-the-wall hack & slack, wherein not a millisecond of playtime can elapse without somebody being graphically dismembered.
The attention-grabbing hook is that you control an anthropomorphic, hover-boarding kitty cat who has taken it upon themselves to *checks notes* depose an occupying army of sentient unicorn plushies. Having somehow passed by quality control at the factory, these innocent-looking toys come in many different shapes and sizes, but are united by a common goal. That being to wipe out their human makers.
With mankind having sealed its own fate then, it’s up to you and your A.I. skateboard to defend the planet; one day-glo massacre at a time.
Yes, it’s every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. However, what took us by surprise was just how polished and mechanically refined Gori is.
A game with such a quirky premise could easily coast by on the strength of its zaniness and use it as a crutch, yet that’s not the case at all here. On the contrary, we found the platforming to be incredibly responsive, the combat to be buttery smooth and the vibrant spectacle to be consistently eye-popping.
Published by Wired Productions, Gori: Cuddly Carnage will be heading to PlayStation 4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC and Nintendo Switch in 2023. You can add it to your Steam Wishlist now.
The Time I Have Left
Overflowing with ideas, The Time I Have Left ended up being a real dark horse and quite possibly our star of the entire show at Gamescom 2023.
Structured as a desperate race against the clock, it casts you in the role of a woman (residing in some far-flung, dystopian future) who discovers that she has only 6 hours to live, owing to a fatal illness of indeterminate origin.
Resolved to make the most of these precious last moments, she makes it her goal to escape from the underground facility that’s currently holding her captive before that hourglass runs out. Even if doing so means fighting until her literal dying breath.
Of course, this proves to be easier said than done, given that the mysterious affliction is also causing her to flit back and forth between the real world and some kind of nightmare dimension that’s inhabited by demonic creatures.
Unlike Remedium — which similarly features a protagonist surviving on borrowed time — there is a proper countdown mechanic for every chapter here, forcing you to make tough choices about where you want to explore and what parts of the story you want to meaningfully engage with. Complicating these matters further, if you are ever defeated in the game’s turn-based combat (against bizarre monsters that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Hieronymus Bosch painting), then you’ll skip ahead a few minutes, further increasing that sense of urgency.
There’s a lot going on in The Time I Have Left and we’ve hardly scratched the surface with this description. While we waited for our hands-on session, developer Ground Game Atelier told us all about their lofty aims, including how they wanted to explore the psychological blow of getting a terminal prognosis, and how an individual is supposed to process that and ultimately get their priorities straight.
With that said, if you’re in the market for something that’s not afraid to tackle hefty themes, this one could be quite special. Planned for release in 2024, you can add The Time I Have Left to your Steam Wishlist now.Still Wakes the Deep GamescomAnnihilation meets The Poseidon Adventure The Chinese Room’sJade JacsonA Unique PerspectiveNightmarish Creatures & Beautiful HorrorGamescomAlan Wake 2Still Wakes the DeepLords of the Falleninto the bowels of MoriaCONSCRIPTHellboy: Web of WyrdForgive Me Father 2Diluvian UltraRipoutRemediumVoraxGori: Cuddly CarnageThe Time I Have Left