Developer: Wales Interactive
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Rating: M for Mature
From the developers of Don’t Knock Twice, Maid of Sker is a survival horror game inspired by a Welsh folktale. You play as a man named Thomas Evans, who travels to the Sker Hotel to help his lover Elisabeth Williams. She is in danger from her family of cultists, and needs Thomas to help her escape.
Sexual Content: There are some anatomically correct nude statues.
Spiritual Content: Recurring books in bookcases are titled “Occultism.” There’s a cult called the “Quiet Ones” who ritually slaughter people in sacrifice to a siren from Greek mythology.
Language: F***, H***, and G** are used.
Violence: There’s a squishy, crunchy sound when you are killed. Corpses hang from trees and from cellar ceilings. Someone is thrown into a glass window. You see someone drenched in flammable liquid, then set aflame. At one point, you find a mini guillotine on a desk, covered in blood, with a pair of severed, rotting arms next to it.
Other negative themes: The antagonist family is abusive toward Elisabeth and her mother.
Maid of Sker’s intro reminds me of the beginning scenes of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, if it was set 120 years earlier. A distant, aerial shot follows a vehicle to a forested area, where the protagonist exits, then walks through the woods to an old, creepy building. Just replace the car with a train, Louisiana with Wales, and the plantation with a hotel, and you have Maid of Sker’s intro. I liked it, however, so I don’t mean this negatively.
Once inside the Sker Hotel, the atmosphere changes. I couldn’t help but think of Bioshock. Inside felt like Rapture if it were mixed with the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. It had a lot of potential, right from the beginning.
For the first twenty minutes or so, the tension slowly builds. The hotel is a mess, there are blood stains on the floor, and right inside the front doors you see a big, creepy altar to the late singer for which the hotel was famous. To top it off, it’s seemingly abandoned. It makes one wonder what could have happened there.
Soon, you encounter someone trapped behind a locked door, begging you to get him out. Before you can, however, you hear his panicked cries as someone takes him away. Further down the hall, he’s thrown into a glass window. There you get your first glimpse of the antagonists keeping Elisabeth captive: men with head wrappings covering their faces. You later learn they are cultists known as the Quiet Ones. They’re land pirates, luring people to the hotel with a siren’s song, then killing them and taking their valuables. They can’t see for the coverings over their eyes, but they have enhanced hearing, so in order to hide from them, you have to hold your breath.
Your main goal is to find four cylinders that contain a lullaby, so you can craft a counter song and eliminate the evil in the hotel. The song has special, hypnotic powers. It’s the reason for the cult in the first place; they worship the siren of the song’s origin, and they kill as a sacrifice to keep things going.
There are several ingredients to make a great game. The beginning shows a lot of potential. Unfortunately, myriad issues soon damage it irreparably.
After a little while, the game becomes a chore. Sneaking can only stay interesting for so long, and once you find the first cylinder, probably 90% of what you do is sneak everywhere. The Quiet Ones infest the hotel, and it’s impossible to move around without crouching. To make matters worse, there is a point where you have to sneak around a large garden and flip two switches in order to open a gate, all the while avoiding the three or four Quiet Ones. Worse still, when I finally got back to the gate and opened it, the screeching of the hinges alerted the enemies, and they came and killed me. Twice.
And speaking of the Quiet Ones, their prevalence is a large part of one of my primary complaints with this game: it’s not scary. If there were fewer enemies, then it would be better. The Quiet Ones are certainly creepy looking. The threat of the unknown added tension at the beginning. But once they’re roaming almost every single hallway and room, the scare factor vanishes. There’s no fear of what could be around the next corner; you already know.
Another thing that detracts from the scariness is how predictable it is. Every time you open a door, that becomes the nearest enemy’s next destination. Which means if you need to grab an item from a small room, you have to do it in about two seconds, or you’re toast. Sometimes the Quiet Ones roam around just a room until you open the door and let them out. But closing the door again does nothing, because apparently they suddenly remembered how doors worked. Others already know how to use doors, which just adds to the annoyance, as it seems like they follow you. For not knowing where you are, they certainly seem to know where you are half the time. And if they do “see” you, you’re done. You can’t run and you can’t defend yourself.
Which brings me to my next point. Why, oh why, is Thomas defenseless against the cultists? They’re not demons or spirits, and most of them are pretty thin. They’re regular people, so why can’t Thomas just punch one—or better yet, incapacitate them with a well-placed kick—to give himself an escape hatch? Instead, you’re stuck with having them slap you to death, since they’ll always catch you if you try to run. It makes everything unnecessarily difficult and tedious.
On the topic of difficulty, I encountered an issue with the difficulty settings at the beginning of the game. I chose Easy, so I could enjoy the story and atmosphere without the risk of being thrown off by tough enemies. But the game changed it to Normal as soon as it started. The settings menu claims it’s on Easy, but the stats menu says Normal. How hard of a time I had backs up the stats menu. The issue has since been fixed.
The door “puzzles” are monotonous as well. There are at least three instances where, just to get through a door, you have to activate two different switches in the vicinity. But it’s not as easy as just flipping them and heading for the door. You have to do the first switch, go to the door to undo the first lock, then go to the second switch. Oh, and they’re typically on opposite ends of the area, and you have to sneak past enemies the whole time. It takes far longer than it needs to, and it’s already annoying after the first time.
All of the back and forth while sneaking, and every other tedious puzzle—of which there are several—just serve to feel like artificial fluff. There are far better ways to extend playtime than making the player crawl everywhere.
After retrieving the first cylinder, you get an item called the Phonic Modulator. It gives you a chance to stun enemies and, if you’re extraordinarily lucky, escape. But you can only use it if you have ammo, which is rare to find. Therefore, you should only use it as a very last resort, and hope you don’t need that ammo later. Worse yet, the game at times seems to force you into situations where using it is your only option.
There is no autosave feature. Phonographs work as the save points, and all saving is manual. Each time you save at a new location, the phonograph plays a recording that develops the backstory leading up to the game’s events, which I thought was pretty clever. And each save point is also a safe room, indicated by a green door. Quiet Ones can’t bother you while you’re in there.
I have mixed feelings about the manual save system, more negative than positive. On one hand, it hearkens back to the olden days before autosave, so it’s kind of nostalgic. However, it’s because of that feature that I lost around thirty minutes of progress after an enemy that I thought I had escaped from continued chasing me and knew exactly where to find and kill me. Few things make me want to stop playing a game faster than that.
A similar problem happened later, where after more than twenty minutes of progress—that long primarily due to needing to sneak everywhere—a Quiet One walked right into the closet I silently hid in and killed me. There was no apparent reason for him to know I was there. Normally, when they see you, a screeching sound effect plays. That didn’t happen. They run when they see you; this one did not. He somehow just knew I was there, and set me back twenty minutes.
Easily the most frustrating part for me was late in the game, where I had to go to an upper floor of the hotel to get the third cylinder. A particularly large Quiet One steals the key you need, then proceeds to chase you around the floor once you cross an invisible line. In order to get the key, you have to outrun him and get to a certain room where you run in circles, activating a machine that emits a lot of noise and incapacitates him. It sounds much easier than it actually is.
I finally did it, after an hour or so of trial and error, and got the key. I saved it immediately after, because I might have thrown my controller across the room if I’d had to do it again. But then as I made my way to the elevator, I turned a corner and came face to face with another enemy. The big guy was the only one on the floor the entire time I fought him, so this one took me by surprise. After he killed me, the game reloaded the last save. Not a big deal, usually, since it was all of twenty seconds after saving.
Except, when it reloaded, the big guy was back up and walking around. Even without making any noise at all, the second I stepped out of the save room, he knew exactly where to find me, regardless of where on the floor he was. There is no sneaking past him, so I had to outrun and evade him while I grabbed the third cylinder and got back to the elevator. I don’t know if that was a bug, or if it was intentional, but it made things ten times harder than they needed to be.
Another issue I found is that the Exit option on the pause screen doesn’t make you confirm that that’s what you want to do. And I, clumsy as can be, clicked on it accidentally, and it took me straight to the main menu, making me restart my progress from the last save point. Ultimately, it’s a minor thing if you’re careful, but if you bump the control stick without realizing it, goodbye progress.
One good thing I found is that some of the puzzles are clever and require you to be observant, not only of the environment around the puzzle, but of things seemingly detached from it. For example, one puzzle required me to pull levers in a specific order. Each lever has a picture on it. Earlier, there is a hallway with those same pictures hanging on the wall, and you need to pull the levers in the order of the wall hangings.
The soundtrack is probably the best part of the game. Piano accompanies the pause menu, and while you snail across the hotel, strings join in as well. When the scene is subdued and ominous, the music complements it nicely. Each cylinder contains a different part of the lullaby, and the singer has a beautiful voice.
My experience with Maid of Sker was, to be quite honest, aggravating. I quit playing several times out of sheer frustration. I think the only time a session didn’t end that way was when I finally finished the story. It’s riddled with poor design choices, it’s boring, repetitive, and not at all scary. I love the atmosphere, and I wish I could recommend this game, but I can’t.
The Bottom Line
Maid of Sker could have been great, but a plethora of problems ruin it.