Maid of Sker by Wales Interactive
Maid of Sker is a traditional first-person survival horror game based on a classic Welsh folk tale. Dripping with atmosphere and foreboding from the outset, Maid of Sker embraces many of the traditions of the genre, from light puzzles to inch-by-inch exploration and stealth-based terror.
It also brings a couple tricks of its own to the table, but are they enough to set it apart from similar titles?
The introduction to Maid of Sker is unsurprisingly cryptic. A letter from Elisabeth, the titular maid, calls upon the protagonist, Thomas, to both come to her aid and to create a musical composition to counter the one contained in a locket sent with the letter.
As Thomas disembarks the train, we are treated to a beautiful sight: the train platform gives way to a calm and idyllic forest scene.
Inside this forest is a hotel, equally stunning at first sight, but within the hotel lies a vast array of far uglier, more horrific settings.
Shortly after entering the building, I discovered a ringing phone. Here Elisabeth provides more exposition, coupled with a warning about impending doom if Thomas doesn’t help her. This also comes with an objective: collect four music cylinders spread throughout the hotel.
This initiates the item-hunting journey now familiar to fans of older Resident Evil games. The hotel hosts many locked doors, hidden items, collectibles and – of course – dark secrets.
One nifty addition is that save points have been merged with expository dialogue in the form of phonographs that play recorded conversations or monologues from key characters. These are placed in rooms that serve as semi-comfortable safe places between each of the more dangerous sections of the hotel and its surrounding grounds.
Hiding with Bated Breath
Speaking of danger, the main threat in Maid of Skey comes in the form of blind, apparently human enemies roaming the various areas of the hotel. These creatures will aggressively pursue any source of noise, leading to some of the main features unique to Maid of Sker.
A key counter to alerting these roamers is holding your breath. I found this to be somewhat inconsistent in effectiveness, but it is an interesting mechanic.
More importantly, the developers have thought through a few ways to throw complications into the mix. Dust, bonfires and other ambient effects can cause Thomas to cough, and this necessitates a quick breath-hold or trouble will follow.
Obviously, the crucial limitation to holding one’s breath is that it cannot be done forever, and of course, gasping is rather noisy. All of this makes for a neat addition to the well-trodden formula of inching through dark corridors.
It would be fair to say that those same dark corridors are the star of the show in Maid of Sker. The visuals here are nothing short of stunning, and it’s almost tragic that the sepia-toned beauty of the sun-soaked earlier areas can’t last.
There’s a kind of haze over everything in Sker, giving the nature an almost fey wonder and the dank corridors a barely penetrable fog that intensifies their unnerving qualities.
A nod should also go to the sound design, which is fantastic. From creaking floorboards to stranger, indistinguishable noises, the hotel is full of sounds designed to cause any exploration to grind to a tip-toed snail pace.
It’s a pity, then, that when the enemies are alerted and they rush you down it is such a disappointment. After being caught a few times, I soon began to be desensitized to the atmosphere so artfully crafted in Sker.
Not Made of Scares
The enemies are unpleasant, to be sure, but their brutish attacks and clunky movements don’t feel particularly creepy. All that being said, this is a problem shared by many horror games; the unknown is invariably more frightening than the familiar.
Still, given that Sker works so hard to engage our imaginations to fabricate all manner of dread horrors, it’s a shame that it cannot produce something at least comparably horrifying to leap out of the shadows when the time comes.
Maid of Sker is an engaging horror title that features some surprisingly beautiful renditions of its titular locale. It also manages to craft a wildly atmospheric and unsettling set of nightmare-locations within which to stage its fairly traditional mystery-solving and exploration scenario.
Maid of Sker has a couple new ideas of its own to throw into the survival horror ring, but these aren’t exactly game-changers. If, however, you’re looking for a well-crafted horror experience that is filled with atmosphere then Maid of Sker could well be worth your time.
Maid of Sker is available via the Sony PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store and Steam.
Watch the official Maid of Sker trailer below: