As a horror fan, I am perfectly fine with the number of horror titles we’ve seen this generation. That being said, many of them tend to lean into a stealth version of the genre where you’re defenseless and must sneak your way through untold numbers of enemies and monsters. It’s scary, sure, but it can get exhausting and repetitive very quick.
Better for me are the games where the tension has an ebb and flow that doesn’t always pressure you into being in “stealth” mode. A way to partially defend yourself is also welcome. Maid of Sker, a new horror game from Wales Interactive, enters the fold with an interesting setting and the writer of SOMA to pen its tale based on Welsh folklore. Color me intrigued, but let's find out if this game manages to stand out in an otherwise crowded genre.
A Familiar Setup With Some Fresh New Ideas
In Maid of Sker, you play as Thomas who is a musician brought to the Sker Hotel after his love, Elizabeth, contacts him with a haunting message asking him to compose a very specific song. Upon your arrival, you notice that the hotel has seen better days. Indeed, it seems that Elizabeth’s father has fallen on hard times after the loss of his wife. He now seeks to make his daughter the new “Maid of Sker,” and has locked her in the attic of the hotel to ensure she doesn’t escape.
With several difficulties to choose from, you can tailor how quickly you get into the game’s many enemies that wander around the hotel and through its halls. The story in the game is delivered in a similar fashion to others in the genre, opting for documents and gramophones that double as save points.
It’s an interesting tale, one that brings to mind one of my favorite horror titles: Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. Maid of Sker invokes a similar tale of a dangerous cult, the blind worship of a deadly deity, and the cost of throwing ourselves so deeply into our beliefs.
It also feels a bit like a classic Resident Evil, thanks to the excellent detail and freedom afforded to you as you explore the floors of the hotel and the grounds surrounding it. While the first part of the game is linear, you’re soon able to explore at your own pace, using ornate keys to unlock new areas and various items to solve puzzles.
The puzzles themselves are usually not very taxing if you know what to look for. What may seem like a random order to pull levers in could be revealed with a careful look at the surrounding environment. This kind of approach to organic puzzle clues is great, but many players may look to their collected documents for answers (a tried and true formula, but I prefer Maid of Sker’s approach in this regard).
While it’s a narrative structure we’ve seen before, Maid of Sker kept me interested in large part because of its atmosphere and sense of mystery surrounding everything. Unfortunately, the fear factor started strong and started to wane after a couple hours with the hotels’ denizens.
The enemies in Maid of Sker are fairly simple looking from a design standpoint, though their covered faces can be unsettling. The fact that they can hear you but not see you also means that the stealth is more focused on sound, which I liked.
This is enhanced by a mechanic that allows you to hold your breath when enemies pass close to you. Certain things like smoke or dust in the air will also make you cough loudly, something that had my blood running cold the first few times it happened.
Once the game opened up and gave me freedom to explore at my leisure, I started to feel the fatigue set in, thanks to the near constant stream of enemies always patrolling the hotel. What makes matter worse is that walking into any room is a sort of Russian Roulette where you may or may not walk directly into one of the shambling enemies.
The tight corridors of the hotel as well will push you towards tense situations where you need to wedge yourself against a wall and hold your breath, praying the enemy walking by doesn’t bump into you. Moments like these can certainly create tension, but given how often they happen, it can become annoying.
The interesting thing about Maid of Sker is that its environments and sound design (more on that in a moment) do a better job of creating horror than the actual enemies. While they are certainly scary at times, their presence becomes more of a nuisance as times goes on. Thankfully, a device you earn early in the game with limited uses gives you the chance to temporarily stun enemies in an area so you can escape if you get on lady luck’s bad side.
I think using the enemies more sparingly, and building tension through the already excellent atmosphere could, along with some different enemy types, could have really brought the whole experience together. As it stands, the game’s horror has great moments of tension, but they become less effective as time goes on.
Exquisite Atmosphere and Suitably Effective Sound Design
The presentation in Maid of Sker is easily the game’s strongest characteristic. The muted color palette, combined with excellent use of smoke, dust, and brief moments of bright color really sell the antiquated setting and the sad state of the Sker Hotel. While the enemies themselves could have looked a lot scarier, the way they howl and hunt for you can be quite terrifying.
All of this is bolstered by a haunting soundtrack and some truly excellent ambient noise that adds tension to every room, especially the ones that appear empty. In the end, Maid of Sker gave me flashes of moments where I thought it could become a new favorite in the horror genre for me, but it doesn’t quite keep up its momentum throughout.
Despite this, I would still recommend Maid of Sker to those hungry for more horror. There are plenty of secrets to uncover in the Sker Hotel, and The Quiet Ones will not give them easily.
Final Score: 8.0/10
A copy of Maid of Sker was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 7/27/2020