One thing this world always needs is a good old horror game and thank god, Wales Interactive have delivered in that department. What with the fanboys constantly crying out for a new Silent Hill game that’s never going to happen, something that I touched on in our first ever podcast, there is always room for a great horror game to take that mantle.
Survival horror is a genre that can never be killed unlike a lot of the monsters that we encounter within the games. It has a knack of keeping you on the edge of your seat whilst playing sucking you in enough to give you some great jump scares when you least expect them. Maid of Sker may not quite hit the mark as far as some other horror games go, but it certainly isn’t far away from that mark.
The Maid of Sker is originally a three volume novel by R.D. Blackmore published in 1872 and the game is set in 1898 and inspired by the haunting Welsh tale of Elisabeth Williams, this is a story of a family empire driven by torture, slavery, piracy and a supernatural mystery that suffocates the grounds of the Sker Hotel. Also featuring re-imaginings of famous Welsh hymns Calon Lân (A Pure Heart), Suo-Gân (Welsh Lullaby) and Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night) from the spine-chilling voice of Tia Kalmaru.
Legend has it that Sker House (yes, a real place) is haunted by two ghosts; the captain of a ship that wrecked on nearby Sker Point, and Elizabeth Williams. Williams’ father locked her in a room of the house to prevent her from running off with her lover. Legend has it she died in that room of a broken heart. So you can guess where the story is going to go.
You play the part of Thomas and when the story starts you are on a train travelling to Sker Hotel to meet your beloved Elisabeth who written to you about darkness overtaking her home. Once you enter the lobby of the hotel a telephone rings in the distance. When you answer it you hear the familiar voice of your beloved. From that point on the game begins to unfold, throughout which you will uncover the reason behind why the darkness is taking over Elisabeth’s home and to jump straight to the end of the game there are multiple endings to unlock.
Along the way a lot of the story is revealed through the use of collectible documents as well as phonographs which serve as manual save points. Telephone calls with updates from Elisabeth frequent the game which does seem to give the game a slight BioShock air to it. As a fan of the BioShock games I spotted it straight away and loved it. Unlike the BioShock games however, Maid of Sker is built around stealth. There are no weapons and no way to kill off the monsters that walk the halls and gardens and what these monsters rely on is sound! They are actually blind, cloth-hooded men. One of the games mechanics is to hold your breath as they can even hear you breathing if they’re close enough. I actually found myself doing it as I was playing, which is always a good sign of a horror game that you get so involved within the game.
Throughout the game there are also poisoned gas clouds which you will need to hold your breath through as well as dusty particles, but obviously the longer you hold your breath the darker the screen will become as the oxygen within your body decreases. This obscures your view, so if you are wanting to move around slowly to escape the hooded man you will need to be careful; even bumping into furniture or hanging items will alert them to your presence killing you off in an instant.
The environments used within the game are beautiful in places, especially during daylight hours. When I first started the game and departed the train I rode in on, my first job was to actually get to the front doors of Sker Hotel. The main path is rather obviously blocked as they always are, and the route that you have to take winds its way through the expansive land and gardens of the hotel. There feels as if there is a slight grain overlay which I presume is to give the game a more dated feel especially when this is set toward the end of the 18th century. I spent more time within the opening 10 minutes looking around and taking the beauty of everything in than actually moving toward my goal. Everything is overgrown and unkempt which gives off that certain feel of beauty with your surroundings but an unease at the same time.
In stark contrast to that uneasy feel of freedom within that opening sequence, once inside the house it does start to feel rather claustrophic, especially hen you are trying to hide from the hooded men with your own breath echoing loudly in your ears within a confined space. Wales Interactive have done a very good job of backdrops within the game as well as the overall dynamics. For an Indie team, Maid of Sker is something to be proud of.
You can tell that there is inspiration within the game from other horror games, especially the likes of Resident Evil with locked doors that you cant open until you find the right key hours later. There are also a few puzzles dotted around to keep you on your toes, but the team havent gone overboard with them. There is a fine balance at the best of times when it comes to puzzles within a game for frequency. The great thing however is that Maid of Sker keeps the tension high throughout the game and this is a rare thing to be able to achieve within a horror game.
Added as a feature to the game is a 3D sound design, something which I could really sense coming through my TV’s sound bar and Sub, but what I would really like to see for full emersion with this game is PSVR support. Resident Evil 7 was good playing it on a TV, but the second you played it with the VR headset it became a whole new game giving the player total emersion within. Maid of Sker, for me at least, would have hugely benefitted from the addition. That being said, when you are hiding from the enemies the AI footfall changing depending on the surface they are walking on gives a great indication of where they are without you feeling the need to have to stick your head out to check and get grabbed as they were stood right beside you.
There are issues with the game and its down to graphics. On the whole the game plays brilliantly and like I said, it does feel like there is a purpose added grain over the top of the screen so there are some slight graphic blurring, but I think that is there by choice. What isn’t there by choice is when I am turning my view from left to right there is a very strange blur to the edge of the screen and does seem to be there quite often. Only when moving my view in game, otherwise it is nowhere to be seen. That however was the only issue that I could find within the game and I have to say, ‘Goddam you Wales Interactive! I like to find a lot more faults than just the one, and I couldn’t’.
Maid of Sker looks and feels amazing, especially playing it on my PS4 Pro running at 1080p with 60fps plus enhancements. Who doesn’t love a haunting tale set within the confines of an old hotel? It’s just great that Wales Interactive have nailed this release for me and given us a great horror game to easily loose 12 hours in, and thats before you try to unlock the different endings. I’m sure there will be a lot of horror aficionados out there that will scorn at the game as its not polished enough for them, but factor in the following..
The voice acting on a budget is brilliant. The clever use of old Welsh hymns that have been reimagined to give a serious chill to the atmosphere. The fact that Wales Interactive are an Indie developer and they have managed to get everything right whereas the likes of Capcom cant even do that reimagining their Resident Evil games of old. And come on, who doesn’t love to take on a cult of cloth face covered people at the best of times? Not to mention that the game has been published by Focus Home Interactive who as far as I am concerned have a great track record with games they send out to the world under their name.
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were kindly supplied with a review copy of the game. This has in no way influenced our views as per our Review Policy**
There is something haunting yet inviting about an old Welsh hotel that has been lost to time and the horrors that await you within are gonna seriously scare you