Take a stroll through an old-timey Welsh-inspired horrorscape as you seek to navigate its bizarre secrets and terrors to rescue your beloved.
Developer: Wales Interactive
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Release date: 28 July, 2020
Although I’m big on horror, I’ve been running through an unlucky string of subpar titles that have disappointed me lately. I’m always on the lookout for a new Outlast (1 or 2), Resident Evil 7, or The Cat Lady, though it seems that they’re in short supply these days. If anyone has any good recommendations for me, I’m all ears!
Maid of Sker is the latest in my quest to find the next great horror game. While I can’t say that it’s an instant classic that immediately carved out a place in my heart, I can say that it’s good overall and easily one of the better titles in the genre in the last couple of years.
Hugs and Kisses
Maid of Sker begins with you arriving at the Sker Hotel after receiving a letter of distress from that special lady in your life. Odd events seem to have transpired though, as everything is in disrepair, everyone that you meet seems to be insane and inflicted by some kind of supernatural blindness, and your girlfriend has tucker herself away into a safe hiding spot in the attic that is surprisingly inconvenient to get to. You’ll have to use your head if you’re going to make it out of the other side of this nightmare with it still attached to your shoulders.
Keys, Switches, and Distractions
Progression requires you to explore a variety of locations while avoiding plenty of hazards and solving puzzles as you do. Hazards are more often than not the masked and brainwashed residents of the hotel. Although their inability to see can be used to your advantage, they’re highly sensitive to sound and you’ll need to keep that in mind or you’ll be spending plenty of time running away from them. Sneaking around is important to avoid their attention and keeping an eye out for noisy items that can be stepped on or bumped into is a must; there’s plenty of opportunities for the environment to mess up your near-perfectly executed ninja maneuvering, some of which is mandatory to move forward. TThese triggers can include anything from powering up machinery to dusty air that will make you cough if you happen to take in a lungful. For the former, always have an exit strategy helps, especially since there are no quick hiding spots, like lockers or under desks from other games. For the latter, the ability to hold your breath offers more advantages than you would think.
See the Sights, Walk the Halls
Maid of Sker’s greatest strength is its atmosphere. There’s usually a sense of tension as you explore, though it does tend to dissipate once you’re passing through areas that you’ve scouted out before. Enemies mostly follow predetermined routes that make them easy to avoid once you’ve had an eye on them for a few moments. Once you’ve gotten a hang of the controls, you’ll likely be navigating like a pro, only alerting the enemies when you get a little too arrogant and happen to run into one that’s been added in or had its route changed thanks to your progression. To top this off, you end up with a weapon that can be used against these masked lunatics that overwhelms their senses and makes them no threat whatsoever for noticeably longer than it would take you to escape. It uses ammo that you could quickly burn through if you were using it all the time, but the combination of healing tonics and easily avoided enemies tends to mean that you’ve got plenty to spare as long as you’re playing it safe.
The environment itself is impressive. It’s not only enjoyable to see as you explore, but it captures the era of the setting near-perfectly. The architecture, decorations, and technology really pushed it to the point of feeling much different from many of its horror peers. Even the short conversations that you have with your lady friend skillfully brought the setting to the forefront.
Puzzles are frequent and tend to be fairly straightforward. I only ended up stuck for more than a few seconds a couple of times throughout my playthrough. I don’t get much of a thrill of being bogged down when I want to be experiencing the tension of horror so I’d rather puzzles were too simple rather than too complex, though puzzle fanatics will likely not find themselves pushed anywhere near their limits here. I’d classify this as a horror adventure rather than a horror puzzler, for sure.
As far as recent horror releases go, Maid of Sker is easily one of the better ones. I enjoyed the atmosphere and the narrative, though the gameplay was a bit on the lighter side. I felt a continual sense of curiosity throughout, though the apprehension and dread that I was hoping for never really hit me as hard as I would’ve liked. It’s a middle ground between walking simulator, action/stealth, and puzzle varieties of horror, though it succeeds in performing admirably in each category.
All in all, Wales Interactive put together a solid experience that I could see most horror fans enjoying, even if it may not be the next great classic that defines the genre for years. I’m glad that I played it and recommend it to those who are looking for enjoyable titles in a genre that needs more reliably good titles. Just be aware that it can be beaten in three to four hours on your first go.