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Maid of Sker Video Game Review

Written by Ryan Noble

Developed and released by Wales Interactive

2020, Rated 18
Game released on 28 July 2020
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch (October 2020)

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Review:

The events of Maid of Sker take place in Wales, 1897, taking inspiration from the lives, songs, and folklore of real people from Welsh history. You play as Thomas Evans, a young composer who follows his girlfriend, Elisabeth Williams, to Sker Hotel after receiving a letter declaring that she needs his help. She asks that he compose a new piece of music and bring it to her. At this point, we don’t know why, but music – and sound, in general – is very important to this game, as you’ll soon discover.

Elisabeth is the daughter of Prudence Williams, a famous singer who used her fortune to buy the Sker Hotel. Sadly, she passed away, but Elisabeth’s father is making Elisabeth return to the hotel to sing for its guests. She sees it as a punishment for not wishing to turn her talent into fame like her mother did before her, but when Thomas arrives at the hotel, it soon becomes clear that it goes so much deeper than that.

What follows is an unravelling of a story of myth and sacrifice, greed and hubris, and the far-reaching horrors it creates. And, damn, it’s a story I’m glad I got to experience for myself.

maid of sker 01 maid of sker 02

The most beautiful Welsh nightmare

The environments of Sker Hotel and the surrounding areas are a sight to behold. From the moment I stepped off the train in the opening scenes, I was in awe of the beauty of Wales.

Sunlight shone through the pines and everything felt almost dreamlike in its soft light, at odds with the abandoned carriages and the overbearing, yet stunning architecture of the hotel itself; upstairs the drape of a window left open billowed in the wind and I couldn’t help but wonder about the events of this doomed hotel.

Inside, the hotel is equally impressive, and you’ll find rooms and hallways filled with macabre, religious art and objects that both speak to the period in which the game is set and bely the more sinister goals of those who run it. Also, if you listen closely, you may hear the tell-tale tinkle of music boxes, the game’s take on collectibles; as a completionist, I was driven to find as many as I could, so I’m incredibly grateful they play music when you’re nearby, which also fits into the importance that music takes in this game’s narrative and atmosphere.

A world singing with atmosphere, silence, and an untold story

Speaking of which, Maid of Sker is full of atmosphere. Its soundtrack is first-rate, blending atmospheric music with the occasional recording of Elisabeth singing in Welsh, which is as haunting as it is beautiful. When the recording scratches to a halt, you become aware of just how quiet the hotel is and how anything out there might have heard the song, too.

As I mentioned, sound — and silence — are incredibly important here, as you soon realise the hotel, though seemingly abandoned, is not empty at all. The Quiet Ones roam its hallways, gardens, and rooms, and what these faceless creatures are becomes clear as the narrative of the game progresses. In fact, they’re even creepier once you know their origin, stemming from the ghastly depths of Welsh folklore. They may not be able to see you, but they can use sound to find, and, more importantly, kill you.

Naturally, this transforms the game into one of stealth survival horror – which, combined with the game’s penchant for puzzles in the form of ornately beautiful keys and missing pieces – made me feel like I was creeping through a Welsh remix of Alien Isolation and Resident Evil, which I absolutely mean as a compliment. Similarly, progress is well-paced and normally clear, meaning you mostly know where you need to go next, even if getting there could prove deadly.

The story is also magnificently delivered by Elisabeth, skilfully voiced and sung by Tia Kalmaru. As Thomas is never audible to the player, the story and emotion are mostly driven by Elisabeth across a series of hurried telephone calls and phonographs, which also double as the game’s save points. These are hidden away in rooms where the creatures can’t seem to go, and with the design of the doors and the soft music that plays after saving, also feels very much like a save room in Resident Evil.

More details of the hotel’s demise can be found in the form of notes and letters around the environment, but I thought it was a nice touch for the main story to be contained in these moments with Elisabeth. It meant the majority of the narrative was pretty much guaranteed to be found by the player and keeps the plot moving quickly even if you’re not someone who feels the need to search every nook and cranny.

There are also two endings to the game, all decided by one final choice regarding your beloved Elisabeth. One ending brings peace and resolution, whereas the other will see you delving into the depths of madness along with the Quiet Ones. Choose wisely.

maid of sker 03 maid of sker 04

The tools for survival

You can’t kill your silent stalkers, but you do have a few tools at your disposal to avoid or incapacitate them. The first is simple, and something that you may find yourself doing in real life when things get tense: hold your breath. You can hold your breath for a limited amount of time, which is necessary if a creature passes nearby and at times when you need to pass through areas of dust, ash, or even poison gas. It doesn’t last that long and once you let go, you’ll gasp for air, so it’s a risk-reward tactic if you can’t put distance between your opponent in that time.

There are also a few items waiting around the hotel, such as bells and instruments, which can be used to distract these creatures, although I often found myself too on edge to break the silence. Sometimes, however, you’ll be forced to do exactly that to solve a puzzle…

A much less natural tool, but one that I loved using – and even looking at, since it captures the Victorian steampunk aesthetic so well – is the Phonic Modulator. Using cartridges found around the world, this tool uses sound waves to briefly stun your pursuers, giving you enough time to find somewhere to hide and regain your stealthy composure. Don’t rely on it too much, though, as it doesn’t work on all hostile creatures, including a single-minded brute you’ll meet later in the game, not dissimilar to the Tyrant or Nemesis of Resident Evil, stomping relentlessly toward you. Once again, though these parallels exist, it still feels different enough to be uniquely unnerving.

A few bugs for the maids of Sker to clean up

Maid of Sker is a really solid, spooky experience and I truly enjoyed my time with it, but that isn’t too say there aren’t a couple of issues.

Remember the dream-like visuals I mentioned earlier? Well, while they’re perfect for the period and vibe of the game, they can sometimes make the world around you feel a bit out of focus. Sometimes I thought that I might even be on the verge of a headache after trying to focus my eyes on objects in the distance, and I also missed unopened doors or key objects on occasion because it disappeared into the blur of the game’s soft-edged beauty.

This beauty seems to come at a cost, too, as the framerate occasionally slows down when exploring details areas or moving quickly, though this doesn’t happen so often as to ruin the experience in any way – I’m looking at you, Deadly Premonition 2.

One final issue I experienced was the inability to climb stairs while crouching. This only seemed to happen in one area, once I’d unlocked a gate in the main hall, as if the game wasn’t aware that I’d opened the way through. To progress, I had to stand up and run at them, which was dangerous in an area so filled with sightless spectres.

Overall, these are minor things and not anywhere near enough to tarnish the world created here.

maid of sker 05 maid of sker 06

Time for check-out at Sker Hotel

Maid of Sker delivers an experience I won’t soon forget and a story so complete I feel I only need to hear it once. It is a consistently tense, stealth-driven horror wrapped up in the melody of an interesting, evolving narrative and it delivers everything I wanted in just the right amount of time. It feels like one of those Netflix series with just one season that you binge in a weekend, always excited to find out what happens next and then left with a story that’s been fully told.

Bringing Alien Isolation and Resident Evil vibes to the musically-moved world of 1897 Wales is something I didn’t know we needed so badly, but this is a Welsh horror whose praise I won’t stop singing, and you need to experience it for yourself.

As of today, Maid of Sker is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Steam (Windows), and will be released on Nintendo Switch in October 2020. Allow yourself to be beckoned by its siren song.

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Grades:

Story: fivestars Cover
Buy Amazon Uk
Cover
Buy Amazon Uk
Graphics: fourstars
Gameplay: fourandahalfstars
Sound: four stars
Replayability: four stars
Overall: 2.5 Star Rating

About The Author
Ryan Noble
Staff Reviewer
If Ryan isn't watching, reading or playing some form of horror, he's probably writing about it. He used to be an Editor at Indie Game Magazine so he has a soft spot for independent creators, especially when they're creating fear. Whether you're one such creator, or a fellow horror fan, let's speak about spooks on Twitter or email.
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