Summoned by a cryptic letter, Thomas travels to the remote Welsh coastline in search of Sker Hotel and his trapped lover, Elisabeth. Here, Thomas learns the hotel is overrun with blinded occultists called the Quiet Ones. Unarmed, our protagonist must evade his enemies with stealth and silence while he unlocks the sinister mysteries that haunt the darkened alcoves and hallways of Sker Hotel.
Developed by Wales Interactive and based on the legend of the ghosts that haunt the real-life Sker House, Maid of Sker excels in its ceaselessly disturbing atmosphere, even when it falters with its gameplay.
Set in 1898, this first-person survival horror seamlessly utilises a number of cues from the Gothic literary tradition. This is perhaps most prevalent in the malevolently sentient Sker Hotel. Approaching the seemingly desolated Sker Hotel is reminiscent of Eleanor’s first impression of Hill House in Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House:
‘The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once. […] It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people and for love or for hope.’
There is a similar description in the inaugural passages of Edgar Alan Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher:”
‘With the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. […] There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart.’
Although not strictly part of the Gothic literary cannon, similar sensations of isolation and terror are evoked in Stanley Kubrick’s opening shots of the Overlook in The Shining or the hotel in the climax of the enduringly brilliant Silent Hill 2.
The unnerving exterior of Sker Hotel is matched on the inside, too. The hotel keeps the player perpetually unsettled with creaking floorboards, distant footsteps and flickering lights. Even the controller gently pulsates with a heartbeat that amplifies this relentless tension. Danger, it seems, is creeping around every corner, lurking behind every locked door. The voice acting and haunting soundtrack only add to the chilling, often beautiful environment.
It would be unfair to compare Maid of Sker to the finest contemporary examples of the horror survival genre (like Resident Evil: Biohazard or the seminal Last of Us Part II, which have the financial muscle of Capcom and Naughty Dog), but sadly the atmosphere of Sker Hotel isn’t equalled in terms of its gameplay, which can be frustratingly wooden with limited interactivity.
For gamers who can forgive these flaws, Maid of Sker has some wonderful eccentricities that are worth exploring. Like all cursed houses and buildings, Sker Hotel will haunt your dreams, beckoning you to return and uncover its unspeakable enigmas, if you give it the chance.
PC, PS4, XBOX ONE