Maid of Sker Review – Made of Scare
Developed and published by Wales Interactive
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
I’ll be the first to admit I am seriously awful at stealth horror games. I don’t know what it is about me, but my default is to be a bang-bang shooty kind of guy. It’s how I’m built. However, that doesn’t stop me from trying stealth horror games from time to time. I thought that Maid of Sker seemed like an interesting one. What, with the blind enemies, the neat hotel setting, and getting a weird orb that emits sonic attacks? Sure, I’m in. Is it worth coming to this hotel though?
Maid of Sker takes place in the year 1898, and has you playing as Thomas. You see, Thomas made the mistake of falling in love, specifically with a woman named Elisabeth. However, Elisabeth’s parents were part of a cult that abducted people and turned them into strange monsters known as The Quiet Ones. They operated out of the Sker Hotel, and attracted visitors that they’d use for their nefarious plots. Elisabeth wants out, and sends a letter to Thomas asking him to bring a specific musical composition to the hotel to help bail her. How will this help? What’s the deal with The Quiet Ones? Is it really a supernatural problem? The story hits up a lot of interesting ideas, and it was good enough to keep me playing, although some of the voice acting is a bit iffy.
Once you get to Sker Hotel you’ll have to explore it, with more parts of the hotel opening up as you do. Generally it felt like the game was broken into two parts. About half the time I was exploring Sker Hotel in a sort of Resident Evil style open area. You get a map that shows you the layout of the building and marks a few important spots as you happen across them. You’ll find keys with symbols that let you open doors, and have to solve the occasional puzzle. Do some close searching and you may even find some collectables, like music dolls or sheet music. The other half of the time was spent in more linear missions. This was getting from point A to B, solving puzzles and dodging enemies along the way.
Yes, there are quite a few enemies in Maid of Sker. The Quiet Ones are blind, as you may expect, and patrol various areas of the hotel. You can avoid them with slow movement, and careful movement too. Bumping into furniture, stepping on sticks, knocking over bottles and the like is a good way to attract attention you may not really want. The Quiet Ones can’t kill you in one hit thankfully, but once they get close to you it’s pretty hard to lose their attention. Thankfully you do have one other interesting stealth tactic in your bag: you can hold your breath. That may not sound like much, but when the monsters can hear your breathing as well, it’s a hell of a benefit. It also allows you to pass through clouds of poison, which they may create by throwing vials, and dusty areas without coughing. Just don’t suffocate.
Still, sometimes you’re going to get caught. While you may have no way to kill the monsters, you’re not completely defenseless. About 60 to 90 minutes into the game you’ll find an orb that, when charged with these little test-tubes of electricity, will send out a musical shockwave that stuns any nearby enemies. You can only use the shockwave once per charge, so finding more charges is vital, but if used creatively then this is easily one of the biggest lifesavers in the game.
All of this combines into a surprisingly active stealth game. Since enemies can’t see, you don’t have to worry about being in front of them, or hiding behind cover all the time. I found myself moving a lot more than normal, which I really appreciated. When I came to a dark woods, I didn’t feel like I needed to spend that much time learning enemies move patterns. Instead I could get between them and focus more on my own movements. Sure I still had to pay attention, the last thing I needed was a blind enemy bumping into me after all, but it’s a different kind of stealth and one that I really came to appreciate more.
However, there’s the other end of this, which I believe was done to balance the game. Maid of Sker has way too many enemies on screen at once. Areas that feel like they should have one or two enemies tops instead seem to have five or six. While the purpose is likely to balance out the fact that dodging them is significantly easier than in most horror games, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s super frustrating to have to walk in weird circles and zig zags to avoid large patrols. Maid of Sker also features a save system where you need to find specific rooms with gramophones to save in. There are no checkpoints or autosaves of any kind, and the rooms are not clearly marked so if you happen to miss one you could be looking at losing up to 30 minutes of progress. Still, I enjoyed my time with Maid of Sker. All of it manages to come together into a generally interesting whole that made me, someone who doesn’t really like horror stealth, have a good time.
It helps that the package is all wrapped up kind of nicely on the audiovisual front. Maid of Sker looks technically nice, but it’s the art design that really sells it. I can buy that Hotel Sker was a real hotel, and the game manages to combine both realistic and steampunkish elements into a cohesive whole. What really stands out is the monster design though. The Quiet Ones manage to look just human enough to not be off-putting at a distance, but close up they appeared to have bags stitched and burnt onto their heads in a manner that is genuinely terrifying. Since so much of the game is audio-based, it makes sense that a lot of work was put into making sure the audio sounded right as well. From footsteps that let you know what and where something nearby is, to some impressive singing from recordings you can find, this is an auditory treat.
I’m not quite sure Maid of Sker will change the minds of people who already don’t like stealth horror. However, I think it may still be worth giving a shot even if you’re not a huge fan. I did enjoy sneaking through enemies and trying to remain quiet, something that surprised me because normally I’m just not a fan of that. There’s just something about watching a bunch of blind monsters stumble around when you’re secretly right in front of them. Just next time I have to come to this hotel it’s with a shotgun. Feels fair to warn.