Maid of Sker review: A skery musical tale?

by MaddOx
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I love to sink my teeth into horror titles, much like vampires sink their teeth into their victims. To set the mood I ensure I play them in pitch black conditions, headset on to amp up the atmosphere (unless the other half wants to watch me), and a spare pair of underwear on standby just in case. Not had to use any yet though. But I took the precaution once again as I jumped into Wales Interactive’s latest release, Maid of Sker.

A first-person survival horror, much like the styles we’ve come to know with games such as Resident Evil, Outlast and many more, Maid of Sker was released last week on PC, Switch, PS4 and the Xbox One series of consoles. If you own the still hard to find next-gen consoles though, don’t worry, the games are playable on them too.

Inspired by the haunting Welsh tale of Elisabeth Williams, Maid of Sker is set on the fictional Sker Island and set at the late end of the 19th Century. It follows the story of a musician, Thomas Evans, who receives a letter from his love Elisabeth. The letter draws Thomas to Sker Hotel to assist his love, but before they can reunite, he must untangle the mysteries that haunt the grounds of Sker Hotel and its surroundings.

You’ll stumble across evidence of torture, slavery, piracy and the supernatural. But unlike some horrors where you take the fight to the enemy in order to survive, in Maid of Sker, it’s all about stealth and defending yourself. That is until you decide to try the challenge modes within the game later on. But we’ll touch on them in a bit.

Now, there are multiple endings to the game, and I won’t tell you what they are or how to unlock them as I’m not one for spoiling surprises. But you can discover both endings in one playthrough. Just save the game before you finish, and you can go back to the last save afterwards to alter any choices you could’ve made. It was definitely handy for me to be able to experience both endings in quick succession, but it would’ve been nice to see the endings determined by decisions throughout the game, rather than by one single decision at the end.

This purely takes away from some of the replayability elements of Maid of Sker, as you don’t feel the need to go back and start again to explore the game some more. That is unless you’re a trophy hunter, in which case, to get them all, at least 3 playthroughs will be required of the main storyline.

Maid of Sker gameplay screenshot of eerie environment

The core gameplay of Maid of Sker is incredibly simple. You must make your way around the hotel and its grounds in search of musical cylinders that when played together in a certain order, can break a curse that was activated by the family who own the estate. The curse has left every every enemy blind, with sacks covering their faces. Sound is their only sense that remains or so it would seem.

However, numerous times in Maid of Sker, I’d be stood silently, holding my breath which is an excellent feature that comes into play at times. That’s because you can walk through dusty areas or near bonfires that emit thick smoke, and coughing can alert those who lurk by to your location. But, despite remaining still and silent, enemies would still find me on occasion. They’d also see me and chase, but I’d get far enough ahead and hide, hold my breath to make sure I was quiet and they’d somehow still track you down.

It seemed a broken mechanic that in theory would work great if it didn’t fail numerous times throughout Maid of Sker. I understand if it was only when facing boss-type characters, of which there is one that operates a little like musical statues. But for the most part it just enraged me more than anything else, especially when I was being extremely careful. I ended up finding a small glitch in the game though, well not so much a glitch but a loophole. In that you can run to save rooms throughout the game, and enemies couldn’t follow you. So you could just camp out there until they went away.

I admit, not the bravest thing to do, but necessary in order for me to not launch my controller at the TV in frustration. That wasn’t the only issue I experienced sadly though, with the other main problem I had being, I wanted to explore more than I was allowed. You can get into every room of the hotel and the grounds outside once you’re there, but on your initial walk up to the hotel, the developers have created this beautiful scenic place and I just wanted to run around and explore it all. But alas, I could not.

So whilst that isn’t detrimental to the game, I feel cheated because I was shown this amazing scenic location in Maid of Sker, and I couldn’t even enjoy it. It was like entering lockdown all over again.

Still, I managed to work through both issues, my own jealousy and the broken mechanics of Maid of Sker, and persevere with my quest to break this curse. The way in which the story is told is through conversations between yourself and Elizabeth over these early-styled telephone machines dotted around the hotel. Each time Elizabeth checking you’re ok, and you likewise. My only concern was, whilst you could select the responses Thomas would say, there was no voice acting on that side. Only in responses from Elizabeth. Which seemed a bit of a shame personally, as I’d like to have felt like Thomas himself had some kind of personality of his own.

Maid of Sker gameplay of two bag-faced enemies

Whilst Maid of Sker is heavily about stealth, you do find one weapon you can use at your disposal. A special device that emits a sound frequency that disables your enemies for a short period of time. Ammo is limited for it, but it does come in handy when you’re getting slightly overwhelmed. Feel free to use it whenever you want to as well, because whilst uses are limited, the device becomes damaged later in the game and just leaving them all until it is too late isn’t going to be handy at all. Just be careful when you do use them so you aren’t blocking yourself in.

There were occasions in narrow corridors that I used it but then couldn’t get passsed the enemies and would just then let myself die so I could restart that section. There were also more issues with climbing stairs, where sometimes I couldn’t get passed the top step. Going backwards and forwards worked sometimes, sometimes walking up at different angles worked. I’m not sure really what the issue was in Maid of Sker, but it was a pain in the backside at times. Especially if it happens when you’re being chased.

If you do take damage though, don’t worry about it too much as there are tonics you can pick up from around the game, and these will heal you up nicely. These items you will have until the end, so I would save these for when you’ve taken a couple of hits at least. Although, that is easier said than done because when damaged, the outside of the screen begins to glow red, and it stays like that until you heal, in which the outside turns green and then returns to normal once the healing effect has taken place.

The one last tool you have at your disposal is bells. There are little bells in the grand hall and elsewhere, the kind you ding to call a bartender to let them know you are there. As well as controls to bell systems that activate bells in different rooms within the hotel, whether that be the chapel, the library or the grand hall. These are useful for distracting your enemies and buying you the space you need to sneak around them. It’s a shame there aren’t more items to be used in Maid of Sker, whether it be stones to throw to distract enemies away from yourself, or little bells you could pick up and place down to cause distractions.

If you take your time and use all of these items wisely, Maid of Sker won’t be difficult at all. In fact, if it wasn’t for the times where I felt the game was broken, I’m pretty sure I’d have made it through the game with no damage taken. As it is though, I did take damage but it is what it is. I still enjoyed the tale though, it was told quite well through notes you collect as you progress through the game, revealing snippets of information as you progress, including some educational pieces about Sirens. Who knew they were originally bird-like creatures and not mermaids?

One nice touch to Maid of Sker though which adds to its replayability factor is a number of Challenge Modes that were added as a free update. These see you face certain scenarios on various difficulties as you have to escape the hotel. However, unlike the main game, now you’re armed with an axe and a range of weaponry that lets you aim down the scop and lodge bullets into the skulls of your enemy. This was a really fun version of the game that felt like it gave me more of the experience I wanted from the main title, as you run around trying to scavenge for additional ammunition.

Maid of Sker holding breath as an enemy walks passed

Was Maid of Sker all that skery?

As nice as it was to live out the tale of Elizabeth Williams, it was rarely that Maid of Sker gave me a fright. There are one or two jump scares in there that will catch you off guard. And no one likes being chased around a decrepit old hotel, but other than that, it wasn’t so much horror in the sense that you felt you were under constant threat. But more of a thriller as you look to solve a mystery surrounding what is going on.

I’d love to see more from Wales Interactive though because Maid of Sker was an enjoyable title to play through. It’s just a case of it leaving me feeling like I wanted more. There was plenty of detail in there, both in information within the game and the environments you’d explore, but there were so many avenues where things could have been expanded or polished up to take it to the next level that could’ve made this game one of the great horror titles of the year.

Maid of Sker is developed and published by Wales Interactive. It is available now on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and the Xbox One family of consoles. Read more of our game reviews by clicking HERE.

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