Survival horror games have had a bit of a renaissance over the last decade or so. Instead of arming players to the teeth and sending them against hordes of monsters, most more recent horror games take away the player’s ability to fight back at all.
Not being able to fight enemies invokes a true sense of helplessness. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is probably the first game I can think of that really made you feel helpless as you had to dodge various horrifying creatures. Maid of Sker follows in that tradition.
In Maid of Sker you play as Thomas Evans, who is looking for the woman he loves: Elizabeth Williams. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s actually based on an old Welsh ghost story that was also written as a novel at the turn of the 18th century.
I wasn’t familiar with the tale, but from what little research I’ve done, it seems like the ghost story is merely an inspiration for the game. That said, the story certainly has some of the same beats: shipwrecks, pirates, and a woman locked in a room—but the story in Maid of Sker centers around a hotel and the surrounding grounds.
When you get to Hotel Sker, things have obviously gone awry. Blood smears the ground, and trash is strewn all over the place. Soon, you’ll discover that creatures stalk the halls—blind and attracted to the noise you make. So much so that there’s a button to hold your hand over your mouth so you don’t breath heavily, or cough when you’re walking through particulates and the like. As I mentioned before, you can’t fight against the creatures—so your best option is stealth–but it’s not your only option.
While most of the time you’ll be sneaking past enemies, you do receive a device that allows you to incapacitate them. The capsules that drive the device are pretty rare, though, so you can’t run around and stun these creatures anytime you like. In fact, scarcity of resources and safety is a big part of Maid of Sker. You can only save your game if you come across a phonograph—and those saves are limited if you’re playing on the hardest difficulty. Unfortunately, Maid of Sker suffers from a few issues.
While the graphics are decent, Maid of Sker suffers from a strange, dream-like haziness much like recent stinker Waking, but thankfully it isn’t as blurry. But that issue aside, Maid of Sker manages to be atmospheric, and presents a convincingly spooky hotel and surrounding grounds which you can explore (almost) at will. Exploring, and unlocking new paths is my jam. But in Maid of Sker there are a few issues that make it less than fun.
I don’t mind stealth. I used to hate it, but I’ve grown to appreciate it as I’ve gotten older. Maid of Sker requires most exploration to be done while stealthing around. In fact, the density of enemies is such that you can barely go anywhere or do anything without having to avoid them. What makes it worse is the random purple gas that likes to appear in some locations, with only the sound of breaking glass warning you of its dispersion. As far as I can tell, there is absolutely no visual warning before you’re stuck dealing with the coughing gas.
Another issue Maid of Sker had for me was the inability to walk over even small obstacles. It’s normal in games to not be able to jump or climb over barriers most normal people probably could, but in Maid of Sker even suitcases, handbags and other items were too much for Tom Evans to handle. It’s an annoyance that pops up a few times, and annoyance, for me, is often the antithesis to scary.
Maid of Sker lacks in any compelling things to do, too. Sure, you’re given a series of McGuffins to fetch, but in so doing, you don’t encounter many compelling puzzles or much more than a few lore tidbits, and lots of roaming blind enemies. It’s too bad, because there’s some good stuff here, as you encounter the deeper, darker secrets on the hotel grounds. Unfortunately, despite the atmosphere, the helplessness, and even the enemies Maid of Sker is kind of boring, and rarely scary.
Even boasting designers who have had multiple horror games under their belts, including those that worked on Frictional Games’ Soma—one of my favorite survival horror games of all time–little of that brilliance made its way into Maid of Sker. As a result, the whole package just never becomes what it promises: a scary game where sound is a killer. It’s competent, but it’s also full of missed opportunities that keep it from being brilliant.
Maid of Sker is available today on PC, PS4 and XboxOne.
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