Maid of Sker is a survival horror game in every sense of the term. You are not in the wonderfully Gothic Sker hotel to kill and gun your way through hundreds of mindless enemies. Instead you are barely equipped with any offence at all and must reach your goal at the top of the hotel by not making a sound at all. In fact the use of sound is what drives Maid of Sker’s gameplay for better and for worse.
The first thing that struck me when I booted up this beautiful little indie title was the surprisingly strong visuals. Actually that’s a lie, the first thing that struck me was the opening title which acted as a very efficient jump scare that left me needing to replace my underwater. See for yourself in the video below..
Anyway back to those visuals. There’s been a few “indie” titles of late that actually carry a very AAA look to them, Hellblade and A Plague Tale being the two shining examples. These games give players the feeling of playing a full priced game at half the price for a shorter and slightly more stripped back experience. On the surface I believed Maid of Sker may be added to that list, unfortunately that wasn’t always the case.
Most locations do look stunning and the games aesthetic is undeniably what stands out the most. The game is set in 1898 and based on old Welsh folklore, the story of Elizabeth Williams and her horrific family is a nice change of pace from most of the other silly horror tropes we usually get in these games. Sker hotel is a joy to explore and every unopened room left me wanting to find the key just to see what horrors lurked inside. I do have to question the Williams family however, having your grand reopening of Sker hotel (pronounced ‘scare’ because why not) at Halloween is probably a slight give away of the atrocities that wait inside but I digress.. The few character models in the game sadly don’t hold up as well but given the majority have their faces hidden, it’s not a game breaker. Its a shame though that the brilliant visuals are let down by some frustrating gameplay mechanics.
One thing that really stuck out to me is how many games Maid of Sker isn’t afraid to take inspiration from. The art style has a very Bioshock-esque feel to it and the entire idea of solving puzzles to find items that unlock rooms is old school Resident Evil at its finest. When these inspirations are done well like the two examples I just mentioned, the game is a joy. The other side of that coin is the way the game looks to The Last Of Us for its enemies. No, there aren’t zombies running around but the enemies are completely blind and as long as you stay completely still and silent, they will walk straight past you.. well sometimes.
Having to remain completely silent and use noise as a weapon is the main gameplay mechanic used in Maid of Sker. For the most part it works quite well even if there were a few comedic moments along the way. As Lance pointed out during my live stream of the game, if Elizabeth wants me to remain completely silent then I wish she’d stop ringing those damn phones all the time!
One great bit of originality in the gameplay is that you can hold your breath to remain completely silent, this creates a really nerve wracking experience as you can only hold your breath for a certain length of time so timing when to start your painful stint of silence creates genuinely great tension. All of this is ruined though by the fact that when these scary peaky blinder fools do catch you, they just kind of pathetically slap you to death while Thomas (our protagonist) just stands there and takes it like a pathetic wimp. You can choose to run away and try to find a safe room but more times than not you’ll get caught as Thomas seems to run out of breath a little too easily. I just wish these enemies were a bit more threatening or carried weapons as I was left feeling I could easily take them on more than one occasion.
The part of this that enraged me the most was that you then get sent back to a manual save point once you die. There was nothing more frustrating than making my way through the hotel at a snails pace (best way not be be slapped to death) only to be spotted by peaky blinder and start my slow crawl all over again. Yes I get that this is survival horror but when the enemies are this repetitive and the game requires you to act so slowly, it becomes more annoying than scary very quickly.
I was also let down by the lack of enemy variation. Outside of one or two exceptions, you’ll be slowly creeping past the same dudes who all act the same way through the entirety of Maid of Sker’s 4-6 hour adventure. I understand that this is an indie title so we’re not going to get twenty different enemy types but it would have been nice to change up the pacing every once and while.
You are given one weapon use against these enemies and that comes in the form a ball that emits a loud wave of sound that sends the peaky blinders into a fit of pain. It’s not enough to ever kill them and the best you can do is use it to distract them for long enough to get away when overwhelmed. This was a welcome addition but your use of the weapon is limited and I would often forget I had it.
There are a few puzzles to be solved, especially when it comes to collecting the four musical cylinders which are needed to complete the game. These were a lot of fun and once again reminded me of the puzzles you’d find in early Resident Evil games. These puzzles were great and acted as the only break from the tiresome gameplay.
The use of sound is fantastic. Whether it be the high shrieking noise to make you aware you’ve been spotted or the tense build up of a door you know you shouldn’t open but will regardless. I would highly recommend playing Maid of Sker with a decent set of headphones as you will be rewarded with an excellent soundtrack and incredible audio quality.
The story is a tough one. I did enjoy the story which they were trying to tell but the fact that pretty much all of it is told through letters and gramophone recordings left me feeling a little detached. Basically the story has already happened and me as the player was just wondering around hearing about it until I finally reached Elizabeth. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t decent, it was. It’s just hardly memorable when I feel that it didn’t really involve me.
Overall Maid of Sker is a good first person survival horror which takes a lot of inspiration from other great horror titles while adding a sprinkling of its own originality. The visuals, locations and atmosphere feels horrifying, unique and is unquestionably the highlight of the game. The games brilliant soundtrack only adds to the tension which the atmosphere creates but a lot of this is let down by repetitive and frustrating gameplay. It’s because of this that the pacing often feels so slow which might have worked out if the horror elements weren’t stripped away due to comically bad game overs and pathetic boring enemies. If you’re a massive fan of horror games then I would definitely recommend giving Maid of Sker a go because you will find a lot to enjoy with both the aesthetics and pretty decent story, but for everyone else the disappointing gameplay will probably be too much to overcome.
I give Maid of Sker
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