Maid of Sker is a survival horror game set in the remote Welsh country side, at Sker Hotel. Developed and published by Welsh Interactive
Let’s get spooked!
You are Thomas Evans, a composer, riding a train to Sker Hotel, after receiving a cryptic letter from your beloved, Elizabeth Williams. In it she provides you with her mother’s old music box, and requests you compose a counter melody to the song it plays. What does this all mean? Well, you’re about to find out.
Early on you begin to recognize how important sound is to this game. When you run, Thomas begins to pant after awhile, and the longer you’ve run for the longer it takes for him to catch his breath. When I arrived at Sker Hotel, after hearing the ringing of a telephone but being uncertain as to the phone’s location, I knew it was time to whip out the big horror guns – the headphones. For the 6 hour run time of the game, I played with headphones in, and that surround sound is a definite must for this game.
Not long after your arrival, you begin to unravel a cult within the depths of Sker Hotel, run by Elizabeth’s father. The hotel is riddled with it’s members, who are masked lumbering creatures, once denizens and workers of the hotel. And sound only gets more important from here on in – not just what you can hear, but the sound you make.
Your enemies, for the most part, are entirely blind. They can be an inch from you, or staring you in the face, and will not sense you. But should you make a peep – you’re in for a world of hurt. As such there is a mechanic in the game that allows you to hold your breath – sometimes you’ll come across dust or smoke, which can make you cough (there’s even a trophy for coughing a certain amount of times). This coughing will obviously point them in your direction, and you can, obviously, only hold your breath for so long.
Then it’s just all evasion, I hear you wonder? Not entirely. There is a sound based weapon you obtain during your excursion too, but like any survival horror, ammunition is limited.
But what if I get hit, is it game over? I hear you cry. Why no! Our dear Mr. Evans doesn’t ever seem to get particularly hurt by these creatures, but he certainly loses his cool. Luckily, there are plenty of Blodwin’s Nervous Tonic scattered around the hotel! Cures nervousness, irritability of temper, fear, dread, neuralgia – you name it! But most importantly, it restores your hit points in the game. As red creeps in at the sides of your vision, and Thomas begins to whimper and bring attention to himself, just crack open a bottle of Blodwin’s and you’re right as rain again, ready to creep by more unsuspecting masked cult members. Hurray!
Set in 1898, at the cusp of the 20th century, Maid of Sker has taken inspiration from many sources. Sker Hotel is inspired by Sker House, a real place in Wales, just outside of Porthcawl. Two ghosts are said to haunt the old house – a shipwrecked captain, and Elizabeth Williams. Yup, the same Elizabeth Williams our dear Thomas is hoping to rescue.
The title of the game takes inspiration from the novel Maid of Sker, written by R. D. Blackmore, which was published in 1872. But you won’t just see Welsh history within the game – you’ll also find many references to Greek mythology as well. You’ll see this in sculptures, and the naming of these mysterious cylinders Elizabeth tasks you with finding….
Beyond the setting and the inspirations, there wasn’t much more of a strong tie to Wales from what I could gather from the game. The times where I was reminded of the setting at all were when you hear singing. As someone from a Celtic country, I could clearly tell it was Welsh being sung, and I was greatly appreciative of it. If it was set in Ireland, you bet your sweet bippy I’d want all the haunting lyrics to be genuinely as Gaeilge. However, as I only got a C in Irish, I am not someone you want translating a song entirely in Welsh, so how accurate the song is I couldn’t tell you. But gosh is it pretty.
Like a lot of survival horror games out there, Maid of Sker has plenty of obtuse puzzles that you have to solve, hidden passage ways you have to find. I found them to be varied enough that I never felt like what I was doing was repetitive. Even as I traveled back over the same floor of the hotel, I’d find myself in areas I wasn’t previously able to explore, with different pathways open or closed depending on how far into the story I was.
The background of what had happened in Sker Hotel is drip fed through documents, ranging from newspapers to diary entries, and through the save mechanic – Phonographs. Each time you come across a new phonograph, it will play a recording from one of the characters in the game, adding more to the story.
Not for the faint of heart, or the hard of hearing, Maid of Sker is a very interesting game, and well worth its reasonable price. If you like survival horror, or are intrigued by the genre, I’d recommend booking a room at the Sker Hotel. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to neck a bottle of Nerve Tonic…