06th Aug2020

‘Maid of Sker’ Review (PS4)

by Chris Cummings

Developed and published by Wales Interactive who have previously worked on games I’ve reviewed here on Nerdly such as The Complex and Soul Axiom, 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 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 clunky and awkward and the enemy AI is very off. 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. It’s inconsistent and odd, making the main aspect of the gameplay something of a black hole. 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. 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. 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 pretty. 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, but sadly, in my view at least, the opening section was more intriguing to me, perhaps because the early parts happened before the game fell apart. There’s a definite tense and creepy atmosphere here sometimes, 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.

A lack of intelligent enemy AI and a frustrating lack of direction make for a disappointing horror game that could have been so much better. There’s some wonderful creativity here, and the soundtrack and sound design is haunting and splendid, as are many of the visuals. It’s just a shame that by the end you’re left feeling frustrated and let-down by the awkward enemy interactions and constant wandering around and repeating your steps. It’s a shame, because Maid of Sker had the violin-parts of a damn good horror title, but the string-bow had been snapped over the knee of all the annoying things it basically doesn’t do well.

** 2/5

Maid of Sker is out now on PS4 and Xbox One.


Comments are closed.