During the summer, most people head outdoors and are determined to soak up the sun’s rays. Then there are people like me. They sit inside with the doors shut and the curtains closed, trying to play horror games in the darkest environment they can create during the longest daylight hours of the year. The latest survival horror title from Wales Interactive almost requires players to put on the headphones and hang up a “do not disturb” sign as they make their way through the ramshackle Hotel Sker.
Maid of Sker is based on the very real Sker house and the Welsh folklore that surrounds it. One ghost that haunts the mansion is that of Elisabeth Williams, a young woman imprisoned in her room so that she couldn’t elope with her lover, Thomas Evans. She died of a broken heart. The second ghost is the captain of a ship wrecked on the nearby rocks. Both provide some inspiration, even if the game’s actual story bears few similarities.
Maid of Sker Review – History Doomed to Repeat Itself
The game’s Hotel Sker closed its doors after the death of the legendary Maid of Sker, Elisabeth’s mother Prudence. Many years later in 1897, Elisabeth’s father is trying to reopen the hotel and restore it to its former glory. Elisabeth will become the new Maid of Sker, singing to the guests. During the opening ceremony, though, something goes horribly wrong. Fearing for her life, Elisabeth goes into hiding and summons her lover, Thomas, to the hotel.
The situation doesn’t look good upon his arrival. The gate into the grounds is rusted shut, so Thomas has to take a roundabout route through overgrown gardens to even reach the hotel. As he gets through the front door, it closes and locks behind him. Bunting dangles from the lobby ceiling. Suitcases are carelessly discarded in the corners. There’s little lighting and paint peels from the walls. The eerie silence is broken only by the phone ringing in the booth. Hotel Sker is in an obvious state of disrepair, and you wonder how Elisabeth’s father even thought it could open in the first place. It does make for a very interesting environment to explore, though.
The hotel’s staff and guests have turned into Quiet Ones, and they’re prowling the corridors. Their cultish sack face coverings mean they can’t see, so they should be easy to avoid, right? Wrong. To compensate for their loss of sight, their hearing is impeccable. They can hear the slightest of movements or heavy breathing. If they find Thomas, they’ll beat him to a pulp. This makes the Quiet Ones incredibly dangerous and the source of most of the game’s scariest moments.
Thomas is unarmed aside from a single Phonetic Modulator device. When activated, it sends out a single sonic pulse that disorientates all nearby enemies for long enough to run away. The problem is that running creates a lot of noise, drawing even more attention to his position. When you can’t defend yourself, the best tactic is to avoid the enemies completely, but that’s easier said than done.
Maid of Sker Review – Ssh, Be Quiet!
Sound plays an incredibly important part in the game and it’s best played with headphones. Without them it’s difficult to tell the direction of footsteps, often your only warning of an approaching enemy. Many a scare came from walking straight into an enemy I hadn’t heard. Going against every grain of instinct you have, the best thing to do when too close to an enemy is to stay still. Thomas can hold his breath too, but the longer he holds it, the louder the gasp for air will be when he breathes again. Every single movement needs to be calculated.
Not only is sound important in avoiding enemies, music is vital in deciding the fate of Thomas and Elisabeth. It can antagonize enemies, or if Thomas is successful, it can lift the curse that’s befallen the hotel. The decision is ultimately down to the player, and can lead to one of two endings. Throughout the 8 hour story, players also get treated to haunting strains of reimagined Welsh hymns, adding even more to the unsettling atmosphere.
To reach Elisabeth, Thomas has to navigate a maze of rooms and corridors. Rubbish blocks some corridors and doorways so alternate routes need to be found. There are also the obligatory locked doors. Every now and again, you’ll need to solve simple puzzles that rely on clues or objects hidden within the nearby environment. Once solved, the mechanisms they unlock usually make a loud noise. You’d think the Quiet Ones would run towards the source of the noise, but at this point they instead have homing beacons. They will swarm Thomas regardless of how far away from the mechanism he is, or how quiet he is being. It’s one of the few issues the game has as all the usual rules are broken as Thomas sprints towards safety.
There are few truly safe spaces around the hotel. These rooms are hidden behind patterned green doors, are brightly lit and have gramophones on which you can save your game. All saving is manual and relies on you finding the safe rooms. Leave it too long and a death could cost you dearly. The first time a gramophone is used to save the game, it plays a recording that adds more context to the story, alongside other collectibles strewn about the hotel. Healing tonics and charges for the Phonetic Modulator also need to be found. Players who spend the most time exploring the hotel are those that are most rewarded.
Maid of Sker Review – A Worthwhile Visit?
Hotel Sker may have seen better days, but it’s well worth a visit for fans of the horror genre. The hotel is interesting to explore and rewards players who take the time to unravel its secrets. You feel constantly in danger not knowing where the next threat is going to be but knowing you can’t defend yourself. No, there’s nothing really new here, but that doesn’t matter if you just want to sneak around a Victorian hotel where the welcome is less than inviting.
Maid of Sker review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.