Maid of Sker represents a change of pace for Wales Interactive. After helping to spearhead a bit of an FMV renaissance over the past couple of years with The Bunker, Late Shift, and The Shapeshifting Detective, the publisher has returned to a genre it dipped its toes into back in 2017. Don't Knock Twice fell well short of expectations three years ago, but the same cannot be said of its latest effort. While it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, Maid of Sker serves as a slightly more promising foray into horror.
Indeed, the biggest knock against this tale steeped in Welsh folklore is that you've seen it all before -- gameplay-wise at least. Similar in vain to Outlast and SOMA, it's more about sticking to the shadows and remaining unseen than engaging with the horrible inhabitants of Sker Hotel. Or rather, in this case, unheard. Enemies will investigate the sounds you make when they're not strolling the hallways of the accommodation. And if you just so happen to still be in the vicinity upon their arrival, protagonist Thomas Evans will meet his untimely demise more often than not. As such, you'll need to smartly navigate each and every environment making as little noise as possible.
The most obvious implementation of this is the ability to hold your breath. Doing so will limit the sound you make to an absolute minimum, but at the same time, we don't need to tell you what happens if you do that for too long. It's a smart mechanic that allows you to get around enemies without too much trouble. However, it comes with the trade-off that the intake of air must be timed correctly or you could find yourself taking a heavy breath right next to a monster.
That's just about the only interesting thing about Maid of Sker's gameplay though. A playthrough just under the four-hour mark consists of rudimentary puzzle solving, exploring the hotel for musical cylinders, and restoring power in various rooms to progress. There are a handful of neat ideas here and there, but they never amount to anything more than a quick dose of satisfaction. It's serviceable horror that fails to stand out in a genre already brimming with copycats.
At least the Sker Hotel itself is genuinely pretty creepy. Consisting of three floors, the basement, and the grounds that surround it, you will explore the dwelling in a linear fashion before being let loose on the entire area. Maid of Sker actually plays out like a classic Resident Evil title in spots with keys that unlock certain rooms and limited ammo for a device that torments any nearby enemies should they discover your location. Because of that, you'll come to learn the abandoned guest house's layout fairly quickly -- it's this which gives you the chance to really appreciate its four walls. A moody and dreading atmosphere creates tension in even the most generic bedrooms while lighting adds character to corridors spiralling off of the grand entrance room. It really is the game's greatest triumph.
Contrasting that completely is the family named the Quiet Ones and its army of faceless goons. Tied closely to the narrative and the lover Thomas Evans is on a quest to save, these villains look completely ridiculous. They are led by a rip-off Mr X from Resident Evil 2 and the moment you lay eyes on any one of them saps the tension out of the air immediately. They just aren't scary whatsoever -- comically so in fact.
Even though they're not up to par with the latest and greatest of the PS4 generation, you could still say that it's the visuals which rescue this package. Sker Hotel is an impressive location that looks surprisingly close to lifelike with twisting pathways that cover the surrounding grounds and a creepy basement packed full of oddities. It's not on the level of a first-party exclusive by any stretch, but as far as indie games go, what Wales Interactive has achieved here is worth congratulating.
Maid of Sker may be this developer's best attempt at horror yet, but it still falls short of something actually worth playing. A tightly-designed breathing mechanic proves there's potential to be realised and an engrossing setting could have been the cherry on top. However, Maid of Sker is let down by monotonous gameplay and enemies that aren’t even close to being scary. And that's probably the worst thing a game that claims to belong in the horror genre could do.