Maid of Sker is what you get when a horror game is technically flawless, but suffers from identity theft so drastically that it fails to differ itself from other horror games. It was surprising to discover the game released just last year in 2020 as it feels straight out of the early to mid-2010s, around when gaming videos started to boom with watch time. Like many other horror games, Maid of Sker feels like one of those passable horror titles only to eventually get lost in the mix of forgettable, low-budget, first-person horror games that a bunch of YouTubers would have played then never touched again.
Clearly, this isn’t the case we’re dealing with, though, so what Maid of Sker feels like is an amalgamation of the popular remnants from that era. Monsters with roaming cycles who lack sight and only react to sound? It’s nothing new. Colossal, labyrinthine, creepy house? That one’s probably been done a hundred times. Yet, Maid of Sker doesn’t feel like a total waste as just some clichéd horror game. Because of its fine-tuning and formalized structure, Maid of Sker manages to be a fairly decent horror game by Wales Interactive.
Although the game starts slow and takes a while to reach the monsters, Maid of Sker immediately establishes a visually hazy atmosphere that lets the player know what they’re dealing with once they step foot in the hotel. Though there are no enemies present in the first area, you still get the unsettling vibe that something’s going to attack you at any second because of the foreboding environment, constituted by the creaking floorboards and dimly lit ambiance.
This leads me into the most important element of the game — sound — which as I mentioned earlier, is nothing new or exciting to play around with, but the sound design in Maid of Sker is constructed so strategically and meticulously that it acts as the most crucial element for immersing the player within Sker Hotel. Much of the sound design is targeted at screwing with the player’s ears, making them constantly vigilant and aware of the surrounding structures.
Not only is sound important for listening for enemy footsteps, but also vastly important in assuring you don’t make any noise yourself so as to avoid attracting the attention of the faceless beings. It is possible to bump into furniture, create noise by rustling bushes, and even attract attention through your own footsteps if careless. The devs also implemented dusty areas in which the player must hold their own breath to avoid coughing, and it must be done wisely and timely as exhaling that breath could be just as disastrous.
The map design in Maid of Sker is also fairly good. There’s never really a point where the path towards your destination is an entirely linear one and the player can freely explore the different routes, corridors, and vents however they please. Collectibles, while sparse and often superfluous, are spread throughout in the less significant rooms. Areas can be revisited later to find new items once the player acquires the correct key, in which there are four.
Specific parts of the map design (actually, most parts, now that I think about it) go hand-in-hand with the placement of enemies and how the areas are structured. No area in the game feels like it’s designed unfairly so as to render impossible to complete without failing. There’s just enough wiggle room and branching pathways to stealthily maneuver around the monsters (maybe except one area that’s a dead end — but it’s kind of the point of that particular obstacle: to time when you enter so as to beat the monster there).
And now, the one broad problem with Maid of Sker: the gameplay, more specifically the dynamics of the gameplay, in which there are rarely any. The overarching objective in Maid of Sker is to find four music scrolls. Okay, fine. To find them, you obviously need to explore by finding keys, completing tasks, and avoiding the monsters and whatnot. While there is nothing inherently wrong with the base objective, it’s the fact that with most of your time playing Maid of Sker, this is all the player is ever asked of.
Rarely did the developers ever try to spice up the less significant moments of the game to create anything indelibly worthwhile. Enemies all act the same and the tasks don’t require any crazy risk-taking. A puzzle or two are spread through the game but they are either terribly lazy or just plain nonsensical.
The only exception to the entire last paragraph is the second floor area when you meet “uncle.” He moves way faster, is a lot more sensitive to hearing, and I’m almost certain he’s able to see, unlike the others. The player must run and dodge constantly to avoid dying by his hand until they are able to lure him into a room and time a shocking device in order to neutralize him. This part of the game delivers ten times the thrills and intensity than any other area. More sections should have capitalized off of this one creative area of the game.
It feels weird that I spent most of this review commending Maid of Sker when I don’t think very highly of it. My explanation lies in what I stated in the first sentence: that Maid of Sker could be considered as having no flaws but the problem being that Wales Interactive almost never pulls any punches nor takes any necessary risks to make the game truly distinguishable. It is a game Markiplier would have played in 2015 but no one would have remembered.