GAME REVIEW | 'Maid of Sker' Uses Sound to Bring On the Scares
Sound is one of the most crucial aspects of any horror experience. Games use sound to great effect by ramping up the tension using the music and sound effects. Since the player inhabits the body of the protagonist while playing a horror game, every creak in the floorboard will leave you on edge. Wales Interactive, purveyor of great FMV games like The Complex and Late Shift, are certainly not new to horror, having previously released Don’t Knock Twice. Their latest release, Maid of Sker, is both an excellent example of how sound can be integral to a horror experience but is also a love letter to survival horror from a crew that clearly loves the genre.
Inspired by Welsh folklore, Maid of Sker is a survival horror game where you play as a musician named Thomas who has set out to rescue his love Elisabeth from her family who have her captive at Sker Hotel. Once you arrive at the foreboding hotel, you realize that much more is at play there and have to avoid the Quiet Ones, blind brutes who are hunting you down, in order to rescue Elisabeth. One of the best things this game pulls from its Welsh roots is the music, which features hauntingly-performed songs like Calon Lân (A Pure Heart), Suo-Gân (Welsh Lullaby) and Ar Hyd Y Nos (All Through the Night) all sung beautifully by Tia Kalmaru.
While the enemies, the Quiet Ones, that Thomas are avoiding are indeed blind, they are very good at hearing. This adds another layer to how Maid of Sker uses sound to great effect. Thomas must be as silent as possible when sneaking past the Quiet Ones and will even need to hold his breath if they get close enough. You can hold your breath by holding R2 on the PS4, and it is a great way to ramp up the tension as you traverse through the hotel. Many games recommend using headphones while playing, but Maid of Sker truly earns the recommendation since the creaks and groans of the Sker Hotel floorboards, the muffled breath of a nearby Quiet One, and the haunting songs are elevated by wearing headphones.
The survival horror inspirations of Maid of Sker are worn on its sleeves and anyone who is a fan will recognize them right away. The game features safe rooms where a different, more peaceful, song plays and there is a typewriter in all of them. This is a not-so-subtle nod to the Resident Evil series and while you never use the typewriters for anything, you use gramophones to save in this game, the nod is appreciated. There is evening a hulking Mr. X-like presence in a part of the game, which was very scary and the location and map system evoke the Resident Evil series in the best way possible. Since this game largely does not involve attacking the Quiet Ones, the influence of Amnesia: The Dark Descent can also be felt here. There are large wardrobes throughout the hotel beginning me to step inside, but that is not a feature of this game.
The one thing that was a little frustrating while playing Maid of Sker was how the game communicated when you have been spotted by the enemy and when you are safe. The are musical stings that let you know when you have been detected, but not spotted, and when you have been spotted. Considering the Quiet Ones are blind, it would make sense that it should be fairly easy to lose them if you go quiet and sneak around a corner, but they usually continue to chase you. Usually it is some one of distance from their usual path or running into a safe room that ended their pursuit, but it always felt very unclear. You do eventually get the ability to temporarily stun them, but the same rules applied once the stun wore off and I was surprised at how often they still found me afterwards.
All of the locations in Maid of Sker look absolutely gorgeous, even in the dilapidated and chaotic state that Thomas find them. The game takes you on a brief detour from the hotel itself early on, but the small, but focused, location of the Sker Hotel allows some depth to be added and makes for a survival horror experience that feels very true to the genre. You’ll learn the halls of the Sker Hotel very well by the end of the game and there is a decent amount of both mandatory and optional revisiting of locations throughout the game. If you like the puzzles involving finding an item that needs to be slotted into an opening (valve handle anyone?) then you will enjoy the puzzles for this game. The first floor of the hotel had a lot of very cool flavor that I will let you discover for yourself.
- Sker Hotel’s focused design makes it feel like a realized location
- The sound design is great and you should definitely wear headphones
- It has many fun nods to other horror games, movies, and concepts
- It’s hard to know when you have lost an enemy
- Normal and Easy difficulties seem pretty similar
- The early departure from the hotel is less interesting than being in the hotel
I knew that I was going to enjoy Maid of Sker from the moment I first stepped inside the hotel towards the beginning of the game and opened the map. If you enjoy survival horror games, then this is an easy recommendation with some enthralling sound and world design. The scares themselves are fairly mild as well, at least for a seasoned fan like me, so if survival horror games stress you out this might be a good one to give a try. Maid of Sker is available today, July 28th, for the PC, Xbox One, and PS4. It will also be available for the Nintendo Switch in October of 2020 as well.
Promotional consideration provided by HomeRun PR. PlayStation 4 version played for this review.