03rd Jun2021

‘Maid of Sker: Enhanced Edition’ Review (Xbox Series S)

by Phil Wheat

Developed and published by Wales Interactive who have previously worked on games we’ve reviewed here on Nerdly such as The Complex, Late Shift, The Infectious Madness of Doctor Decker, and The Shapeshifting Detective; Maid of Sker is not unlike those games in the sense that there’s a strong story at the core of it, and everything else is secondary to a degree. This game, however, unlike The Complex and another Wales Interactive title, The Bunker, is less linear and more explorative, giving the player a chance to make their own decisions (to some degree). I liked that aspect, as well as the fact that the game goes deep into horror territory.

The story follows Thomas, who we play the game as. He receives a letter from his love, Elizabeth, about strange things happening at Hotel Sker where she is locked up in the attic, hiding from danger. Once you reach the hotel, you find that things are indeed problematic, with creaking floorboards, banging and rattling overhead, and strange folk with sacks over their faces walking the halls and grounds. The game develops into a stealth like game. You don’t always hold any sort of weapon, but merely have to avoid these enemies at all costs by attracting their attention away from you with sounds, or holding your breath, which you can only do for a limited amount of time. Your weapon in Maid of Sker is the diversionary concept of distant sound. I like that. It’s a cool idea.

I was fine with the simplistic story, because it brought you into the game quite quickly, but there are big problems to be found in Maid of Sker. The stealth, in which much of the game rests, is sometimes clunky and the enemy AI can, again at times, feel off. For example, when trying to avoid enemies, it was almost impossible at times to use the game mechanics properly and do what the game seems to want you to do. The enemies sometimes walked right up to me when I was holding my breath and avoiding them, and began throwing fists. The other side of the coin would see me making a lot of noise and the enemies not reacting at all. Though the enemies, who are blind so unable to see you, are designed well and resemble horror enemies from games like Resident Evil or Silent Hill, somewhat. That aspect, I think, is where I was impressed with the game.

The visuals are really nice though. Whether you’re walking from the train and into the grounds of the hotel, seeing fields and trees and giant iron gates, or wandering the old antique-style corridors of Hotel Sker, the game looks pretty bloody lovely. The enemies are creepy in their design and the overall creativity of both characters and locations are on-point, making the lack of solid strong gameplay all the more disappointing (can you tell I’m not the biggest fan a games than allow TOO MUCH free-roaming?). I felt like this was a missed opportunity, a clumsy misstep that could have been a really interesting and fun horror experience.

While you have a map that continues to grow as you collect shards of it around the hotel, I did find myself wandering aimlessly at times, with many corridors looking very similar, and objectives being kind of vague, causing you to have to walk around for a long while until you stumble upon the next thing you’re meant to be doing. This happened to me a few times. It’s almost like it doesn’t know what it wants to be, offering you an open-world element with your ability to walk wherever you like sometimes, but also wishing to guide you into one single direction, making nothing else particularly interactive. There are lots of books, chests, suitcases and items around the hotel, but 99% of them are just there to look atmospheric (which this entire ame certainly does). I would have liked a little more interactivity with things, it would have made this very nicely designed hotel feel more like a living, breathing and real thing, and not merely a canvas to the story being painted slowly on top of it.

The story unfolds at a steady place, and within an hour or so of the initial section that teaches you how to play and introduces your objectives you’re into the swing of things. There’s a definite tense and creepy atmosphere here, which I did think was cool, with the sound design being a big contributor to that, but as the game went on I found myself increasingly agitated and flummoxed rather than scared witless. Well not as scared as I was in the earlier parts of the game – its like the familiarity made the game LESS scary rather than more… Perhaps something that could’ve been improved on in this edition (though undoubtedly that would’ve just entailed more jump scares a la Resident Evil – which themselves tend to get tiresome; it’s a double-edged sword for sure!)

There’s some wonderful creativity here, and the soundtrack and sound design is haunting and splendid, as are many of the visuals – which are much improved in this new edition (even moreso on the Series X).  The biggest difference with this version of Maid of Sker are the challenge modes which, for me, more resemble the Resident Evil games rather than the typical Wales Interactive FMV titles we reviewed in the past. Essentially the same “level” played out four ways, the challenge mode(s) see you basically trying to escape Hotel Sker, facing a myriad of monsters from the main game – you can make your escape fully armed, armed only with an axe and even – if you are a total masochist – fully armed BUT without the opportunity to respawn AND the enemies are more difficult to kill! This challenge mode really did feel like Wales Interactive’s stealthy way of producing their own survival horror game… a teaser for a future title perhaps? An it works, It works very well!

If you’ve played and own the original version of Maid of Sker, the challenge mode update is FREE right now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S. Though if you haven’t grabbed the game yet this “enhanced” edition is the perfect excuse to step a scary toe in this terror tale.


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