Maid of Sker review: Welsh horror remains in the shadow of its influences
Looking back at Resident Evil VII and reaching the Baker’s mansion, the sense of foreboding that accompanied it was unparalleled to many other horror experiences. It’s a striking image that sets the tone for the rest of the game and cultivated a horror classic.
Maid of Sker starts fairly similarly with Sker Hotel waiting for your arrival. However, throughout the entirety of the game's runtime, not one single image or moment possesses the same feeling of dread that the first few minutes of Resident Evil VII created.
Once I saw the Baker Mansion, I never wanted to enter. By comparison, Sker Hotel simply felt like I’d been conned on Trivago.
Bathed in British folklore, you play as Thomas who is summoned to Sker Hotel by his beloved Elizabeth and a supernatural horror begins. The hotel is host to many beings, none of which are friendly and all of which want to kill you.
What separates them from other horror antagonists is the fact that they’re all blind, relying on sound to track you down. Being as quiet as possible and holding your breath is the key to survival, well, for the most part
The AI in Maid of Sker ranges from being immensely dumb to having the echolocation range of a bat. Sometimes you can stumble past without a care in the world and come toe-to-toe with many of the foes. Others you’ll be holding your breath to the point of passing out yet they’ll still hear you. It’s inconsistent and downright irritating.
Maid of Sker incorporates a nudge system, which means knocking into furniture can create a sound and alert enemies. Except there’s never an indication that you’ve made something go bump in the night, in fact, the only reason I found out about it was after I received a trophy for hitting 250 objects.
Enemies in Maid of Sker can be manipulated in many ways, which can be an advantage or disadvantage. Sometimes you can simply run past them all, grab why you need it and return to the safe room, turning Maid of Sker into a game of chicken. Other times you’ll evade enemies and hide in a safe room and they’ll stand outside, blocking your exit and resulting in a checkpoint restart.
A quarter of the way into the game, you gain a defensive sound device to get yourself out of a pickle. Acting as a sonic grenade, the device releases a blast of noise that staggers enemies and allows for a quick escape. It’s a useful trick and ammo is scarce enough to ensure it can’t be overused. Outside of a late game boss battle the idea is never explored further than it could have been and ultimately feels under-utilised.
Every time you visit a room, all interactive objects are highlighted on the map outside of collectibles. Having this ruins the sense of exploration and instead encourages players to beeline the narrative to the end. When the final play time clocked in at three and a half hours, having more reason to explore would have been beneficial.
Exploration is further dampened by the lack of character the hotel has. Every room has a striking resemblance and is most likely due to a tighter budget than AAA counterparts, but the lack of originality and different locales makes the whole experience blend into one. There’s no denying Maid of Sker is an atmospheric and moody game, I just wish the environments highlighted that feeling further through variety.
At times, Maid of Sker can be a beautiful game, drenched in gothic horror. The visuals have a strange sense of feeling soft, with only close sighted items being in sharp focus. It makes the world feel blurrier and less graphically impressive than it actually is. This issue may be less prevalent on the PC, but as it stands, the PS4 version can be a bit of an eye sore.
Maid of Sker review – Verdict: 2/5
Reviewed on PS4
Maid of Sker is filled with promise and great ideas, however remains in the shadow of the games it’s so heavily influenced from.
Resident Evil knew that the main mansion was the star of the show, with the enemies being icing in the cake. Maid of Sker favours the opposite and makes navigating the world a slog. Enemies are poorly orchestrated, the hotel feels soulless and exploration is meaningless.
I have no doubt that the team at Wales Interactive are filled with great ideas and I’m fairly confident its next game could be something truly special. As it stands, Maid of Sker feels like a replication of past ideas, none of which are strengthened.
Filled with potentially great ideas
Some moments of brilliance
AI ranges from average to downright bad
World lacks imagination and character
Some mechanics feel underutilized
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