Slowly creeping down the halls of the Sker Hotel, Maid of Sker evokes tension and horror through its quiet moments, the eerie silence only broken up by footsteps. One sudden movement and the threats lying within the estate will be drawn closer. Taking a quick look around the corner while holding my breath, I press forward to solve the mysteries set before me.
Maid of Sker is a first-person survival horror game from Welsh developer Wales Interactive. The studio has been developing games with a focus on Wales, with Maid of Sker being based on a Welsh piece of folklore. For players unfamiliar with the tale of Elizabeth Williams, Maid of Sker lays the foundation of this adaptation in the opening moments.
Facing your fears as you explore the Sker hotel will surely get your heart racing in the game’s opening hours. Beyond the front doors, a cult of sightless enemies awaits you. With no weapons at your disposal, you must evade them by staying silent. This interesting twist on survival horror is a novel concept. However, beyond that, the loop of eluding enemies while solving the hotel’s many puzzles can only go so far. Maid of Sker struggles to maintain that fright the longer you play, although it does its best to keep you on your toes.[Plot and gameplay spoilers below!]
Welcome to the Sker Hotel
Maid of Sker is set in 1898. Thomas Evans, our protagonist, arrives at the Sker estate after receiving a letter of distress from his beloved Elizabeth. Thomas discovers that Elizabeth has been locked away by her controlling father who has been engaging in some unsavoury experiments. The hotel has now become the grounds of mindless enemies who creep throughout the halls. Performing rituals and enslaving those who dare to stop them, the Sker hotel is anything but a prime vacation getaway.
Elizabeth informs Thomas that he must search the hotel and exterior grounds to find four musical cylinders which hold the supernatural powers of the enemy. To do so, you must complete the many puzzles littering the hotel all while staying alive.
The Sker Hotel offers various locations that – as is typical of the genre – are unkempt and barely lit, setting the atmosphere in a truly unsettling fashion. Add to that a sound design that will keep the hairs on your neck standing. Maid of Sker breaks up the voids of silence with the thuds of footsteps in the distance. The game also incorporates re-imagined Welsh hymns such as Calon Lân, Suo-Gân, and Ar Hyd Y Nos to send chills down the player’s spine.
A familiar feeling
In many ways, Maid of Sker reminds me of the early Resident Evil titles. Often I came across a locked door with a symbol on it. The corresponding key would only be found hours down the line. Backtracking my way through the hotel, I’d uncover new shortcuts and unlock additional doors. This would then give me an advantage as exploration between areas was now streamlined, and I had a better escape route if things got hairy.
Like navigating the Spencer Mansion in Resident Evil, progression is usually tied to solving puzzles. Maid of Sker incorporates puzzles that typically require you to find a missing item or interact with objects in a specific order. This would then, in turn, open a secret passage to the next objective. I was delighted to see how much inspiration Maid of Sker took from classic horror franchises like Resident Evil and Silent Hill in this regard.
Growing to learn the various areas and becoming familiar with the halls, I found Maid of Sker’s biggest achievement to be that the game treats its setting as a character itself. Over the course of a few hours, I began to feel more comfortable with my surroundings. The labyrinth that is the hotel is fairly linear, funneling you through each major section naturally. While exploring all the rooms and corners of the estate, you’ll find several maps to assist in navigation and highlight collectibles.
While optimized with enhancements on console, Maid of Sker was noticeably lacking in the framerate department. On many occasions, the framerate stuttered to such a degree I found myself bumping into furniture and enemies accidentally. These sections of dips in the framerate were all too common and disrupted the game. Playing on PlayStation 4, my hope that a patch is implemented soon.
Light on your feet
The enemies of Maid of Sker are unique in that they have no vision. The ‘Quiet Ones’ slowly walk through the halls and exterior portions, only reacting to sounds. This forces the player to literally tread lightly as the game’s 3D-sound based AI system will catch unwanted attention if you’re too loud. In a way, Maid of Sker is akin to Red Barrels’ Outlast in that you must avoid enemies at all costs, rather than fight.
I found myself crouching for most of the game. While I did move at a slower speed, I was able to control myself and avoid bumping into furniture which would attract the Quiet Ones. I was also able to avoid them simply by standing still while they walked by. However, they can also hear Thomas breathe. This would then force Thomas to cover his mouth and hold his breath until the coast is clear. This mechanic has its risks – hold it for too long and Thomas will gasp for air.
Throughout the map, there are areas where dust or poisonous gas will make Thomas choke. Overall, the best course of action is to always be aware of the surrounding before getting caught by the enemy.
The enemy’s bark is worse than their bite
I’ve always been of the mind that a horror game is the scariest during its first few hours. It’s when you don’t fully understand the “rules” of the enemy, what they are, and how they react. This same principle applies to Maid of Sker. As soon as I realized what enemies actually do when they catch you, the sense of danger more or less vanished. The Quiet Ones are more daunting when you hear them in the distance or behind a door.
Maid of Sker does incorporate some surprise enemies to spice things up. One, in particular, resonates to a similar level as Resident Evil 2’s Mr. X. His footsteps are louder and more menacing. His presence was the highlight of the game’s cast of goons.
While the Quiet Ones aren’t always haunting, they are a constant threat. The game only offers one method to defend yourself if you are found. Early on in the game, I acquired a device known as the ‘Phonic Modulator’. This device uses charges found throughout the map to make a sonic frequency, causing the enemies to freeze. While it wouldn’t kill them, it would temporarily stop them, allowing me to run away freely.
Maid of Sker is far from the most ambitious horror game on the market. It draws a lot of inspiration from the timeless classics without putting its own mark on the genre. The environments and sound design do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating satisfying moments. Unique enemies are a pleasant addition, but the standard enemy type is more of a nuisance than a frightening force to be reckoned with. The gothic sceneries mixed with the unsettling hymns playing in the background are above and beyond the most chilling aspects the game offers.
Ultimately, Maid of Sker is not the deepest experience in the survival horror genre, and is plagued by technical issues from the get-go. But if you are only looking for another bite-sized horror game to play and forget, you’ll find a handful of standout moments throughout Maid of Sker’s six-hour narrative.
Maid of Sker is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
A copy of Maid of Sker was provided for PlayStation 4 for review purposes.