I must admit to actually not knowing of this game before the review code was sent to me. Technically, it was originally released in July 2020. However, it’s recently been given a bit of an upgrade for the newer consoles and I’m playing the Xbox Series X version for this review.
Maid of Sker is a survival-horror game, based on Welsh folklore. Coming from actual Welsh developer/publisher that is Wales Interactive, I guess they know what they are talking about. Anyway, the game draws inspiration from an old ballad called Y Ferch O’r Scer (The Lady of Sker), The Maid of Sker novel by R. D. Blackmore and the real-life Sker House. The game is set in 1898 and tells the story of Thomas Evans (you), who arrives at Sker Hotel after receiving a letter from his lover, Elisabeth Williams. Elisabeth’s letter tells Thomas that she has locked herself in the hotel’s attic because someone or thing is after her. Upon arriving at Sker Hotel, Thomas begins to unravel the many mysteries of the hotel and Elisabeth’s family too.
Okay, so, if you’ve ever played any kind of first-person, survival-horror game before, then you’ll know what to expect here. Walk around a big, scary building, solve puzzles and unravel the truth. Starting out, Maid of Sker is actually pretty good. It’s very atmospheric and really draws you into the world in which the game takes place. Starting out on a train heading towards the Sker Hotel, you leave the train and find yourself in a lush, green forest. You then make your way along a path to the hotel and that lush scenery changes to a much more dark, gothic and macabre setting when you finally make it to Sker Hotel. The pacing is great as you make your way through the hotel and the game’s mechanics are fed to you. Soon, you’re introduced to the main enemies, lumbering and hefty human figures that can’t see due to the fact they have sacks on their heads. This lack of vision means they rely on sound to find their way around, and to find you.
You’re soon introduced to a hold your breath mechanic, as walking through dust particles, or getting too close to fires and their smoke will cause you to cough. Coughing will attract those hulking enemies and they will quite gladly beat you to death. This use of sound really is effective and you have to be careful of where you walk and even how you walk too. Being too heavy-footed and one of those Lurch-like bad guys will soon be punching you in the face until you’re dead. You can get really close to these guys, literally stand inches next to them and as long as you don’t make a sound, they will not harm you. This can create some tense scenes quite early on in the game.
However, after a couple of hours or so, Maid of Sker just becomes very ‘meh’. Do you walk along a corridor with glass on one side, setting up for a cheap jumpscare where something or someone smashes the glass? Yup. Is there a cutscene where you are hiding from one of the main enemies and keep popping your head out to see where they are, then they get closer so you hide until it’s all clear…Only to pop your head out and the enemy is standing right in front of you? Yup. Is there a part where you are watching the torture/death of another person from afar, through a small gap, only for an enemy to pop into frame for a scare? Yup. It’s all been done before and Maid of Sker just feels very cookie-cutter. It goes from a very intriguing and strong opening, to a very bog-standard survival game that’s just all too familiar. The scares become predictable, the hotel itself (while graphically very nice indeed) is just a bit bland as a setting and the gameplay is nothing to really shout about. It does have a pretty interesting story though, and I have to admit to really enjoying reading all the notes and memos that you find that fill you in on what’s been going on.
Really, Maid of Sker doesn’t do anything ‘wrong’ and that makes it a very difficult game to review. If a game is outright bad, I can very easily explain why. Same for when a game is outstanding, it’s easier to put into words what makes the game stand out. When a game is as distinctly average as Maid of Sker is, it really is tricky to get across why. This is not an outright bad game, it is not a great game either, it just kind of is what it is. Maid of Sker doesn’t do anything that other games haven’t already done plenty of times before it. Even more so, it doesn’t do those things badly either, nor does it bring anything to the table that really makes it a talking point. The puzzles are not exactly taxing on the brain and I guarantee you’ve solved the same/similar puzzles in other similar games. It’s all too frustratingly mediocre.
For a small indie studio, Maid of Sker is just fine. As I previously mentioned, it looks good, the graphics are well designed and very moody. It certainly is an atmospheric game too… But we’ve seen all the jumpscares before, we’ve seen this set up before, to the point where Maid of Sker feels like a copy of other titles instead of it being its own thing. It is nice to see a bit of British talent, I’ll always champion for some decent British gaming, I have a major soft spot for British gaming (I did write a book on the subject). I also believe that indie games offer far more rich, textured and original games over most AAA titles and that indie talent really can outdo some of the bigger studios. But when that talent is just copying what has come before it so many times already, it’s just not going to stand out.
If you’re a fan of these Layers of Fear, walk around a scary house, jumpscare centric games, then you might get more out of this than I did. For me, this is just a very ‘seen it all before’ type of game that really is just perfectly okay. And that is what Maid of Sker is, it’s okay. A perfectly serviceable and playable game, it’s just all been done before so many times now.