HIGH The visuals are often a thing of beauty.
LOW The inconsistent and infuriating central mechanic.
WTF Making the game harder when the player has low health.
Maid of Sker follows the trend made popular with Amnesia: The Dark Descent — survival horror that removes the ability to fight back, and instead concentrates on avoiding and fleeing from enemies. I have a love/hate relationship with horror games, and have never been able to fully get into this type of experience as being unable to defend myself made it too unnerving. When the opportunity to play Maid of Sker came up, I saw it as a chance to try the genre again.
Maid of Sker is a first-person title based on elements of British folklore. The player controls a man named Thomas Evans as he explores a remote hotel with a macabre and gory history, with the goal of rescuing his lover Elizabeth. To do that, he must use stealth to avoid the attention of the Quiet Ones — enemies who cannot see, and rely on their hearing to locate Thomas.
Sker gets off to a fantastic start thanks to an opening scene with shades of The Shining’s famous helicopter shot as a train is tracked while making its way to the remote Sker hotel. Straightaway, it’s noticeable how pretty a game Maid of Sker is, with sunshine piercing through lush trees and the vibrant green colors of the foliage.
This excellent visual style continues when the player reaches the hotel, which looms intimidatingly large. The interior and main hall have an appearance that appears to be an homage to the Spencer mansion from Resident Evil, and this homage becomes clearer via the save rooms and locked doors that require corresponding keys. Enemies don’t appear for a while, and this quiet start does a great job of building tension and atmosphere. However, things go downhill quickly when the Quiet Ones appear.
Since the Quiet Ones are blind and react to the noises that the player makes, they must be careful as they maneuver in the environment — any bumps or sounds result in enemies quickly locating the player and killing them. When close to the player, enemies can also hear his breathing, so in these instances the player holds their breath with a button press.
Early on, these felt like great mechanics as they ensured that the player has to be cautious and aware when moving close to the Quiet Ones. However, doing so soon became frustrating and tedious as the AI is inconsistent — there were times when enemies would locate my position and kill me despite holding my breath and being silent, and at other times I could make some obvious noises and not be detected by enemies nearby.
As a result of this inconsistency, many of my deaths felt unfair, and with save points often far apart, frustration built up quickly and was compounded by long loading times — any tension successfully built was extinguished by repeating sections due to no fault of my own. Towards the end of the game an invulnerable enemy is introduced, and whilst this does bring some of the fright factor back, it was too little too late.
Making a bad situation worse is that Thomas becomes louder as he loses health, making it easier for him to be spotted when he’s in a bad way. This mechanic nearly halted all my progress at one point when I was low on health and without any healing — I just couldn’t get past one of the Quiet Ones despite being behind a wall and holding my breath. After spending hours on this section, I was only able to continue after turning down the difficulty.
These issues are a shame, because much of the experience is visually striking, and without spoilers, I can say that I enjoyed the suitably macabre story too. However, as a survival horror game it fails since any fear I experienced was quickly replaced with frustration — the broken central mechanic terrified me in all the wrong ways.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Wales Interactive. It is currently available on XBO, PS4 and PC. This copy was obtained via publisher download and reviewed on PS4 Pro. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single player mode and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language and Violence. This is a survival-horror game in which players assume the role of a musician on a quest to save a woman from a haunted mansion in 19th century Britain. From a first-person perspective, players explore the environment, solve puzzles, and avoid detection from humanoid monsters (the Quiet Men) that stalk the mansion. When detected, the Quiet Men attack players by strangling or bludgeoning them to death. As players progress, they can encounter additional instances of violence: a bound man set ablaze by the Quiet Men; a character thrown through a glass window. Some sequences depict the hanging bodies of victims and a mutilated deer carcass with exposed entrails. The word “f**k” is heard in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Maid of Sker is themed around sound, and even if the AI was consistent this could be frustrating for those with difficulty hearing. Progress depends on hearing the Quiet Ones’ locations via their footsteps, and the player must avoiding making noise themselves. It also contains musical cues that play when the player is heard. There are subtitles, but these do not depict noises. Subtitles cannot be resized. I also had problems with the darkness of the game, and had to turn up the brightness and gamma settings significantly.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. This game does not offer a controller map diagram, but movement is on the left stick. Camera is the right stick. Using and inspecting items is X. Inventory is Triangle. Journal is Square. Running is L3. Crouching is R3. Map is Touchpad. Healing is R1. Holding Breath is R2. Loading the sonic sphere “weapon” is L2. Using the sphere is L1.
Gareth has been a gamer most of his life, starting all the way back with Pong. It was cemented as a lifelong love in the PSone era, with the likes of Final Fantasy 7, Doom, Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid showing him what games can be.
He has an eclectic taste in games, and likes to try new experiences. For him, Bloodborne and Silent Hill 2 remain at the top of his list of favorites, and considers Silent Hill 2 to be a work of art.
Alongside his love for videogames, Gareth views himself as a film geek and has a large collection of vinyl records. He is also a keen ranter and considers himself to have a sense of humor (mistakenly.) Examples of this can be found on his twitter page, when he isn’t being too lazy to go on.
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