First released back in November 2020 for PS4, Xbox One and PC, Maid of Sker was an interesting horror survival game from Wales Interactive. Having at the time just reviewed the live action interactive game ‘The Complex’, I was interested to see how the same player choice mechanics would work in horror survival game that would offer multiple endings for how you played as well as a surviving without weapons mechanics. What was noticeable at the time was that the game launched here in the UK right between the launch of the Xbox Series X on November 10th and the PlayStation 5 on November 19th yet there was no optimized version for either console at time. Skip ahead to the end of May 2021 and finally the new generation console update released. The question for me was, could it help improve a game experience that was already less than perfect?
For those who may not have played ‘Maid of Sker’, it is a horror survival game set in the year 1898 based on an old Welsh folklore tale about one Elizabeth Wilson. The player takes on the role of Evan Thomas who receives a letter from Elizabeth requesting he travels to the Hotel Sker, though no more detail is given in the letter other than it arrives with a musical locket belonging to Elizabeth’s Mother and an instruction to write a song based on the one played by the locket to counter it and bring it to Elizabeth without explanation.
Maid of Sker’s gameplay focused a lot on stealth, and you instantly see the impact of having some of the writers behind SOMA working on this game as well as a little inspiration from Outlast. Gameplay is very much based on stealth as you move around the Sker Hotel which staff have all been affected by some strange force and are now roaming the building attacking anything that makes a sound. Using a rather clever ability to hold your breath in order to make as little sound as possible as you move in the shadows and has a remarkable interesting non-combat focused gameplay style and quite different to say Resident Evil. Revisiting the game in 2021 and you can also draw comparisons to the ‘A Quiet Place’ films where any sound will draw enemies to you.
With puzzle solving, a need to be stealthy and a character that will have no verbal interaction with any other character bar a few phone conversations as Elizabeth directs you around the Hotel to discover what has happened and to find the solution to solve it. On release this was a game with issues, the controls were quite janky to say the least with the gameplay becoming rather tedious for me with little action and just the need to hide all the time. The game itself, much like The Complex can be completed relatively quickly, it was a short 4-6 hours of gametime depending on which of the endings you wanted to see but it was a good “play it in a day or two game session” kind of experience and was not a terrible first attempt at doing a horror game by Wales Interactive.
Quality of life patches and updates since November, have helped improve the game’s performance on the Xbox One X that I originally played it on but I was very intrigued to see what this new upgrade for both PS5 and the Xbox Series X/S consoles would bring as well as some other new content to the game experience. Just as with the recent upgrades given to previously last gen release titles, the new version now allows the game to run utilizing the new consoles hardware power, though whilst Maid of Sker will run at 4K and 60FPS on the Xbox Series X “Fidelity Mode” it can only manage 4K and 30FPS on the PS5’s Fidelity Mode where in the Performance mode for PS5 it will run 60FPS but at 1440 resolution. Now as someone who prefers to have that lovely 60FPS smooth gameplay on my PS5, I usually go for the Performance mode and whilst some games with a Performance mode can do 4K and 60FPS, it is not a deal breaker for me.
The gameplay certainly benefits from the 60FPS now with the controls feeling more fluid and on PS5, the upgrade also makes use of the haptic feedback of the Dualsense controller and its Adaptive Triggers. Visually of course, the improved textures even on Performance mode look much better than the original PS4(Pro) version and they really come to life in 4K with Fidelity mode though sacrificing that additional 30FPS for a game that prefers you to stick to the shadows feels redundant to me. Naturally, the new faster loading times are perhaps the first thing you notice with the original 10-15secs it would take to load a section now doing it in under 2 seconds which to anyone fortunate enough to own a new gen console of either a PS5 of Xbox Series X/S will know is an instant game changer when loading times no longer slow down and interfere with the immersion factor. The sound system is still highly impressive and used to great effect when with the musical score playing and audio effects to raise the tension and a sound design system to provide little nods on where to go to investigate next.
Sadly though, whilst the power of new console technology has improved many elements of the gameplay, the same issues with the original campaign largely remain, if you have played this game before having faster loading times, a prettier view and smoother 60fPS movement can only do so much when the gameplay still becomes tiresome and a main character who never speaks but makes grunt noises still makes the campaign a niche taste for some.
Which is why the new game modes that were added along with this new generation console release have been added. These Challenge modes bring actual combat with actual weapons into the mix, injecting a much-needed change in the gameplay style outside of the main campaign with their more CoD Zombies style play. Each has several weapons and a theme such as “Axe of Kindness” where you are armed with an axe and all the modes use a “you have 3 lives, lose them and it is game over” mechanic to the challenge mode. Some will feature types of enemy players will recognize from the main campaign, but some new ones have been added as well, with powers and attacks that will make you grateful to be finally holding a weapon. Having some action along side a campaign that really has no action, is a welcome one and though these challenge modes are far from perfect, it is a genuinely nice change of pace that compliments the campaign in a surprisingly nice way.
This version of Maid of Sker is far superior to that of the original 2020 release version thanks to the enhancements the PS5 offers, and the additional Challenge Modes now offer a more rounded game experience than before. One of the additions I am very fond of is the new “Safe” difficulty which removes all the threat of being hurt and killed and just lets the player focus on discovering and solving the mystery of the main story in the campaign. If you have never played Maid of Sker before than you will have more to do, the only real issue is that not all the problems with the original version of the game were due to technical limitations of last gen consoles. It is still an average horror survival mystery game and once you have played and complete it enough times to see the multiple endings, much like I found with ‘The Complex’, it still feels like a One and Done experience unless the challenge modes give you a reason to fire it up more than once a week which Im not sure it will.
I welcome any game that brings itself up to date for the new consoles for those lucky enough to have one, but it is a shame that the PS5 is unable to have both 4K visuals and 60FPS, making the player choose between pretty 4K and clumsy controls or good but not amazing visuals and 60FPS. Perhaps this is something that can be improved in the future for the PS5 version. Maid of Sker still sadly remains a game experience where you would be hard pushed to find a reason to fire it up again after you have seen it all. Whilst the new upgrades and Challenge modes bring improvements to the game, the game itself remains an average title.