Whilst Wales Interactive are probably best known for publishing an array of FMV adventures these days, they’ve actually developed and released their fair share of in-house titles too. One of those was Don’t Knock Twice, a horror adventure based upon the movie of the same name that was also playable in virtual reality. It was a decent enough game (you can check out our review through this link), but it underwhelmed a little when compared to other horror titles that were available at the time. With their latest release they’ve re-visited the genre, with Maid of Sker offering a harrowing first-person adventure that’s actually based upon creepy Welsh folklore. Does it actually hold its own and deserve the attention of gamers seeking some spooks though, or does it fall a little flat like their previous foray into the genre?
Maid of Sker takes place in the year 1898 andputs players in the shoes of Thomas Evans, who is looking to rescue his partner Elisabeth from within the ominous Sker Hotel in South Wales. With no idea of the threats that lie before him, Thomas has to explore the building and uncover some music cylinders and sheets of music in order to save Elisabeth’s life… simple, right? Of course, this is a horror game and things are never THAT easy, with plenty of twists to unravel and sinister threats to avoid that look to bring Thomas’ rescue mission to a swift end.
If you’re at all acclimatised with first-person horror titles, Maid of Sker’s main gameplay mechanics will probably feel pretty familiar from the get-go. You’ll explore an eerie and dark environment that’s full to the brim with grim enemies that’ll want to send you to an early grave, with the player tasked with stealthily avoiding them as a means to reach their goal. There is a unique touch added to proceedings though: the enemies are actually blind, with their own means of discovering Thomas’ position being through the noises he makes when scurrying around them. This means there’s an emphasis on taking things slowly, picking your moments to move, and holding your breath when an enemy is nearby.
It’s a formula that makes for some genuinely intense moments during gameplay, with some of the set-pieces of Maid of Sker feeling really chilling as I’d carefully navigate my way past these strange beings in order to find my way to safety. However, there were too many inconsistences that could just make avoiding enemies feel like a chore at times. Sometimes, I’d carefully hide from enemies and sneak my way past them from a distance only for them to notice me straight away; other times, they wouldn’t hear me when I was making obvious noises right next to them. There were a few times where I’d be completely still and out of the way of enemies only for them to notice me too, which was especially frustrating.
You can’t exactly run away either, especially since your running will make extra noise that will attract the attention of other enemies in the area. It means that you just can’t really get caught in the game, which could get a little bit annoying given that there’s a slight trial-and-error aspect in place to navigating the Sker Hotel. Oh, and the Nemesis-like enemy that shows up later in the game that’ll continually pursue you and make your life more difficult? I wish he would just f*** off. Don’t get me wrong, he adds plenty of tension to the game and he never feels as unfair in design as the other enemies thanks to his slower pace, but the amount of times he caught me off guard and frightened me was ridiculous…
At least you do eventually unlock a weapon known as the Phonic Modulator that can be used to momentarily stun enemies, making escape a little easier in some circumstances. It definitely saved me from a few tricky scenarios where I was being pursued by a foe, so not having to replay a section of the game just because I got caught was DEFINITELY a relief. Whilst it certainly improves the gameplay experience though, the weapon itself can be underutilised thanks to the limited charges that are actually available for it. It does add a sense of balance to its use, but it also made it feel a little redundant in places too.
The Sker Hotel is fairly open in design, though it’s always pretty clear where you need to head to for the most part. Between the constant threat of enemies, locked doors that need keys to open, and a few neat puzzles though, there’s plenty to keep you on your toes when exploring. The hotel itself is an impressive looking place too, with some great visual effects bringing its creepy corridors and rooms to life. I DEFINITELY wouldn’t want to spend a night there myself, but it’s perfect for Maid of Sker’s horror-fuelled romp.
Maid of Sker has some issues, but there’s no doubting that it manages to offer a REALLY creepy horror escapade through the Sker Hotel. The environmental design and set-piece scares are top notch, whilst the constant threat of enemies is certainly intense – even if they DO feel a bit frustrating in design. Pair that with a unique and genuinely eerie narrative and it really does have the right formula for what could be a fine horror experience… it’s just a bit of a shame that the execution isn’t always quite there.
Developer: Wales Interactive
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC