In July last year, Wales Interactive released the incredibly tense and scary Maid of Sker, a horror game in which you must explore an abandoned hotel whilst avoiding blind enemies with enhanced hearing abilities. I initially gave the game a go, found myself becoming too frustrated and scared, so I gave it to my colleague to review for us instead (HERE) – I’m not great with immersive horror games that involve stealth and wearing headphones! However, today’s the day that the native PS5 and Xbox Series edition launches, so I decided to give it another go and see if I can make it any further whilst looking at the enhancements and the new game modes.
Wales Interactive are both the developer and publisher for this title, a studio we’ve worked with many times, which are probably more well-known for their publishing of FMV games on all platforms. However, this isn’t the first horror game in recent years which they’ve created, Don’t Knock Twice was also one of their games, playable in both Flat and VR modes (I’m glad Maid of Sker wasn’t VR, but a VR mode would be so much more intense!). Speaking of, the story and plot for Maid of Sker were crafted by people who had worked on Don’t Knock Twice, SOMA, and Battlefield 1 – with that talent, you know you’re in for a ride with this game!
So, having not played it in full the first time around, how did I manage with the newly upgraded version? What’s different between this version and the last-gen? And are the new modes any fun? Let’s step inside the Sker Hotel and see if we can find the answers to all of these and more…
Maid of Sker is a horror game, set in 1898, that requires you to focus heavily on sounds and stealth. You’ve come to the Sker Hotel to find your lover, Elisabeth Williams, who has been trapped within the attic, unable to escape for reasons unknown. She advises you not to come and find her until you’ve created a ‘counter song’ to the tune within her locket, a strange request yet one which you agree to do before jumping on a train to the isolated Sker Island, where all that remains is the run-down abandoned Sker Hotel.
After briefly exploring the grounds and the reception area, one thing is clear – there’s something not right here, something unnatural. Then you see it, or at least, you see something. A man screaming for his life as he’s thrown through a window then dragged away, leaving a blood trail across the floor that leads to his soon-to-be murdered bloody body. If this was modern-day, and the protagonist had a mobile phone, I’d have to give the hotel a less than favourable Yelp review – when I stay somewhere, I don’t want to see people being tortured and murdered!
Without getting too much into the story, you soon discover that the hotel has become overrun by ‘people’ who can’t see. They roam the hallways and the gardens with, what appears to be, potato sacks tied to their heads, listening out for the slightest noise so that they can home-in and target their prey (in this case, you). So, you must work your way through the hotel silently, utilising
the Apple of Eden a device that makes a sound to distract them when you can’t possibly work out how to avoid them without getting grabbed.
Can you make it to the attic and find your lover? Will you simply give up and jump back on the train (I wish this was an option)? Or, will you become food for the bag-head creatures? It’s all fun and games as you search for the Maid of Sker…
As mentioned above, a few times, it’s all about stealth in Maid of Sker. The enemies may not have sight but they have an acute sense of hearing, allowing them to target the smallest of noises. As such, you have a few mechanics to help you avoid being heavy-footed and stomping around the place like a toddler running for candy. First of all, you can crouch to lower the noise you make, along with pushing the control stick very gently, this will allow you to sneak right past those pesky ‘things’, just don’t bump into them or it’s all for nought.
Secondly, you can use the aforementioned device to produce a sonic blast and deafen your foes momentarily as you casually walk or run past them. The ‘ammo’ for this is limited though, so it’s best to only use it when you’re really stuck and can’t work out a more silent approach to the situation. Also, there’s a trophy for never using this tool, so if you’re looking at getting them all then you’ll have to shove it in your pants and never pull it back out.
Finally, you can use noises to your advantage, commonly seen in movies where someone throws something to lure the guards to the wrong location. In this case, however, you can ring bells or generally make noise in one area, watch as the stupid bag-heads run towards it, then you peacefully walk behind them and get on with your life. Although these beings are deadly and wouldn’t like anything more than brutally beating you to a pulp and ripping the limbs of your body, they aren’t the brightest enemies out there.
Stealth, is that it?
No. Maid of Sker reminds me of early Resident Evil games in that you have to find certain keys to unlock doors so you can venture further into the hotel. Another nod towards the Resident Evil series is that you can only save in set locations, interacting with a gramophone (remember, it’s 1898) within the ‘safe rooms’ lets you hear recordings from the imprisoned lover and her family whilst also recording your progress so far. You also need to answer the phone to communicate with Elisabeth whilst you’re snooping around, as you do in The Occupation, but if you’re not careful, something may grab you from behind mid-call!
As of today, the Challenge Mode has been added to the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game, launching as part of the PS5 and Xbox Series editions by default. This is a collection of four challenges that require you to escape the hotel – it may sound familiar but there’s one major difference… you have weapons! An axe, Shotgun, Rifle, and Revolver are here to make your life a little easier, although the halls are full of enemies who really don’t want you to leave!
Each of the challenges are slightly different, one gives you all the weapons, the next is the same only there’s no light (only a flashlight), the following gives you only an axe, and the final one has its difficulty cranked right up. I braved the first challenge and actually managed to complete it in just over an hour (video below), yet it was the tensest and scariest hour of my life! You would think that having a gun makes it easier… nope. You can hear the groans and footsteps of the enemies around the corner, but you can’t see them, hoping you have enough bullets to take them down before you become overwhelmed!
Thankfully, unlike Resident Evil 8, the enemies aren’t bullet sponges. One shot to the head will take down the simple enemies, setting in rigour mortis as their bodies become stiff and they make rather amusing poses on the floor or propped up against an object. However, later enemies require many more bullets, such as ones that fire frickin’ laser beams out of their face, a fatty that spews fire at you, and a rather dapper young lady who likes to vanish and teleport every time you hit her! Considering bullets are uncommon and limited, this mode gets very intense really fast!
As advised, this mode is now in all version of the game (PC got it a while ago). If you have the last-gen edition, there is a patch today that adds it. If you grab the new current-gen edition, it’s already there and you can play it straight from the menu. There are three ‘DLC’ trophies regarding this, all of which are going to be quite tricky to earn in my opinion. But, they’re just DLC ones, so you don’t need them for the platinum.
This is what you’re all here for – what’s been enhanced and is it worth the (free) upgrade? First of all, the upgrade is free, so yeah, it’s worth it. But, does it take advantage of the PS5 and Xbox Series’ additional power? Yes, obviously…
On the Xbox Series X and the PS5, you have two visual and performance options. The game can run at a native 4K on both, albeit at 30fps. I tried this mode in my video below and it stuck to 30 without any major dips. However, you can also run the game at 1440p with a 60fps cap instead (again, on both) – this provided a silky smooth framerate without any obvious dip in visual quality outside of the raw resolution. My advice – play the game in 1440p mode.
A previous patch in the last-gen edition added a 60fps mode toggle for the Xbox and PS (last and current-gen) consoles – this is still here. So, you ‘can’ play at a native 4K with the framerate uncapped, but this results in an inconsistent framerate, so I wouldn’t recommend it. You also have settings for film grain, motion blur, an FOV slider (which you don’t usually see), and even the option to pick from four different Anti-Aliasing types.
The textures have also received a bump in quality over the last-gen edition, resulting in things looking even creepier and spooky up-close. So, overall you’re getting a nice smooth experience with enhanced visuals. Sure, you could still play the last-gen edition through BC mode on both consoles, activating the 60fps unlock to give you smooth gameplay, but I believe that version is only 1080p and wouldn’t come with the following DualSence enhancements…
Maid of Sker takes advantage of the DualSense controller in a few ways. First of all, Wales Interactive have decided to use the lightbar to indicate how healthy you are – which is great. The game has no HUD, indicating your life by presenting a red-blooded banner around the screen that gets more intense as you become closer to death. However, if playing on the PS5, you can simply look down and judge if you should use a health potion based on the colour of the light, going from green to red via a number of stages.
Haptic feedback is also used to immerse you within this creepy world. As you walk, your footsteps can be heard, as the game is all about sound. But, if you’re using the DS controller, you literally feel each footstep as the haptics alternate the tapping of your feet from your left hand to the right, in time with the steps in the game. This is awesome to feel, it’s not ‘rumble’, it feels like the controller is literally tapping your hands with each step. The haptics also help enhance the gunshots by providing different impacts per weapon, and when you bump into things.
Similarly, the Adaptive Triggers have been put to use for the phonic modulator and the weapons. Each weapon has its own resistance, making it feel more realistic to play. It’s not as strong as other games I’ve played previously, but you can feel the force during the challenge mode.
General PS5 enhancements
In regards to the loading times, it’s good but not as good as the original press release stated. It claimed the game has one-second loading times on the PS5. However, loading a saved game from the menu or recovering from death takes around 4-5 seconds – it’s still faster than the PS4, but not as snappy as Resident Evil 8. Also, the game uses a single Activity Card, allowing you to ‘quickly’ load your game from the dashboard, but they’ve kept the unskippable title cards in there, so it takes a whopping 40 seconds to load your game via the use of that card.
Devs need to take advantage of the quick resume option by having that feature skip everything and simply load your most recent save. Again, Resident Evil 8 does that and gets you back into the game within 7 seconds. If the game has to show the title cards, a warning, then load the menu followed by your save, you’re not really saving any time by using the feature.
Regarding the Activity Cards, there is only one of them, showing the progress you’re making in the single-player campaign. There’s no PS Plus help, no breakdown of the trophies, and no description of what your goal is. This would be fine if it was just a single-player experience, as we saw with Manifold Garden, but why isn’t there an Activity Card for the four Challenges? If they scrap the title cards and have four additional quick-play options to load straight into each of the Challenge Modes, I think it’ll make it more appealing to jump in for a quick game here and there.
After playing both the PS4 and PS5 version (on both the PS4 and PS5 via BC and natively), it’s clear to see that the PS5 version is the best way to play the game (obviously). The developers have used most of the technology available to them during the enhancement, giving us a more polished game at a solid 60fps (or 30 if you want to play in 4K), and a more immersive experience with the controller. I never encountered any crashes or technical issues (other than the enemies turning as stiff as a board instead of rag-dolling – but that may be intentional).
In terms of audio – play this game with headphones. Seriously, the game is based on sound and being aware of your surroundings, headphones amplify this a thousand times due to being able to pinpoint where the enemies footsteps are coming from and using that to your advantage as you devise a strategy of avoiding them. I don’t think the game takes advantage of the 3D audio within the PS5 hardware, but it still sounds great and delivers realistic directional audio.
Although most of the game is silent, relying on the ambient noises and terrifying footsteps, there is a decent amount of subtle music within the game, as well as some lovely songs that play visa the cylinders you have to collect and creepy music coming from various wind-up music boxes. As such, you can actually buy the soundtrack for the game on PSN – something I wasn’t aware of – for only £3.29! To find it on the PS5, search for ‘Maid of Sker‘ or ‘Soundtrack’ and move to the ‘games’ tab – it should be listed there. Alternatively, if you have the game installed, click on the three dots next to where it says Install or Play, and you should see it in there.
Don’t forget, this native PS5 edition is FREE to all owners of the PS4 version. The same is true with the Xbox Series X edition and owners on Xbox One. It ISN’T the patch that dropped today – that just adds support for the Challenge Mode – it’s a new version with a new set of trophies.
If you’re looking for a game that’ll make you afraid to turn out the lights, Maid of Sker is for you. The constant fear of bumping into something and alerting the blind bag-heads makes the game very tense and nerve-wracking. This enhanced edition provides silky-smooth gameplay, immersive DualSense controller support, upgraded visuals, and introduces us to the new Challenge Mode, although having a gun doesn’t make the experience any less frightening or anxiety-inducing. Considering the game is only £19.99 for both versions, I highly recommend you pick this up if you like horror games – it’ll scare the pants off you!
Alternatively, if you prefer physical media, Perp Games released the physical edition of the game on both the Xbox One and PS4 (and the Switch), currently selling for £14.99 on Amazon – this version also includes the free next-gen upgrade.
Additional Alternative (I’ve just spotted this) – Limited Run Games are publishing the physical edition of the PS5 version. So, if you’d just like the PS5 edition on disc, for preservation and ease-of-use (no need to download the next-gen version) then you can pick it up here: https://limitedrungames.com/products/ps5-limited-run-maid-of-sker– Pre-orders go live on the 4th of June.
Here are a few videos I’ve knocked together – an hour of gameplay from the main game in both 4K/30 and 1440p/60 (I swap halfway), an hour playing the Challenge Mode, and me facing the boss of the Challenge Mode a second time. The first two videos are recorded in full 4K/60 directly from the PS5 (the final one is only 1080p/60), so I’d advise you to watch them in either 1440p or 2160p as YouTube doesn’t compress those resolutions. I hope you enjoy them and be sure to subscribe to us for more PS5 videos going forward!
Maid of Sker£19.99
- - Very creepy and tense, you never know what's around the corner!
- - The new Challenge Modes are exciting, yet also very 'challenging'
- - The use of the controller enhances the immersion
- - I loved the soundtrack combined with ambient noises, it made the game even more intense
- - As someone who isn't very good with stealth-based horror games, it scared the pants off me!
- - I would have liked more use of the Activity cards for the Challenges
- - Similarly, I wish loading via the card removed all non-skippable messages and title cards, at the moment it takes over 40 seconds to resume you game using them
- - Some of the trophies sound very, very hard. But, that could just be me so doesn't affect my score