Interest in horror games has been steadily rising over the years with the likes of gore fest Outlast and the tense Alien: Isolation helping. Whilst Wales Interactive is mainly known for interactive film like games, it’s now released the more traditional horror game Maid of Sker.
Now Maid of Sker starts out with a somewhat inviting premise. The player’s character, Thomas, is invited by his lover, Elisabeth, to come see her at the hotel where she resides with her family. The hotel has been closed for years and its grand reopening is supposed to happen around the same time that the young man arrives.
As with most horror games and other media, it soon become apparent that something has gone terribly wrong as soon as Thomas steps inside the hotel. It looks more like a rave has been going on for days inside it and it’s not entirely fit for your typical human being to stay in for a relaxing holiday in the countryside. This is a theme that unfortunately stems to the very game itself. What seems like a promising start soon turns into a charade that makes Thomas seem more like a bellboy than the hero that this hotel needs.
Admittedly the hotel and its grounds do make for an authentic scary place to explore. Even if the layout of the various areas players can explore does feel unnecessarily complex at time. The better parts of the game take part in the grounds area where player must navigate their way around the likes of a maze garden filled with enemies. It makes it that much harder to return inside the hotel where rooms begin to look the same.
One of the main problems with exploring inside the hotel is the amount of backtracking that it involves. It happens outside as well, but the idea of being given more space to explore makes it easier to not notice it as much. Too much time is spent inside each area not doing particularly engaging tasks that can make it seem like it’s just padding to make it take longer than necessary to complete the game.
There are several puzzles to contend with throughout the story and they can either usually be too simple or not make that much sense. Sometimes it takes longer to solve these because of the lack of clear information on what is supposed to be done to solve them.
This being a horror game, means that there is plenty of gore and violence, but the game has a pendant for unintentionally making it look more weird than terrifying. More so when singing can be heard during these moments. It’s a shame since there is potential for some of these scenes to be as horrifying as those found in games like Outlast.
As already mentioned there are enemies to contend with and blind ones at that. The idea is to just walk past them without making a sound and that is achieved by making Thomas hold his breath. It’s certainly a novel idea, even if one that is a bit awkward to make use of in practice. There’s also a fancy gadget that makes their heads temporarily hurt, but it needs cartridges to work and there’s not a lot of these to find. What the game does right is how it makes use of its somewhat pacifist approach to boss battles where Thomas must make use of the environment to temporarily defeat each boss.
Oddly enough the game’s checkpoint system forces players to find the nearest room with a record player to manually save. Maybe it’s a callback to the likes of Resident Evil that made players do the same to save progress, but the issue here is that good design made it easier to do so in other games. In Maid of Sker, the rooms with record players are so few that it becomes a trek to save after doing something important and dying can result in losing a lot of progress at times. More so when being made to go back and forth to fetch items and having to navigate the often unnecessarily complex layout of some sections.
The way that the character walks and runs is also odd and will be something that most players will notice at first. This odd walking/running pattern is all the easier to spot whilst occasionally feeling lost because of the lack of clear instructions and the already mentioned layout.
It’s a terrible shame that a game that was initially brimming with potential squanders quite a lot of it by the time that it’s almost over. More so when considering that the story is actually quite good and it has some clever moments towards the end. There’s definitely a good game here buried beneath some dodgy ideas that can make playing Maid of Skar feel like a chore at times.