Maid of Sker Review: PS5

Will you answer the Siren’s call?

There is a new survival horror game out on PS5 this month (well, a newish next-gen upgraded version of the game anyway), and I’m not talking about Resident Evil. Maid of Sker was previously released by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, and has received the next-gen upgrade treatment for PS5 and Xbox Series consoles. Can the small Indie developer known for trying to bring back the ‘FMV’ style of game (baaaaaad idea) find some success with a game in a more mainstream genre? Read on my friends, read on…

Plot

The story of Maid of Sker bears little resemblance to the original Welsh folk song (or the novel of the same name). The game is set in 1898 in Wales and we embody Thomas, a silent protagonist (unless you consider grunts and screams as speaking). He is sent a letter by his lady friend Elisabeth along with her mother’s musical locket. Elisabeth requests that Thomas write a song, indeed a ‘counter song’ to the melody played by the locket (whatever that is), and to bring his music to her in the Sker Hotel managed by her father. Unfortunately, she cannot provide any further detail in her letter…how convenient.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Welcome to Silent H… I mean the house of Lady Dime… I mean the Sker Hotel.

Thomas of course obliges to Elisabeth’s request and rushes to the hotel via train. On arrival, Thomas is greeted not by a thankful Elisabeth, but by a ringing telephone in the lobby of a dilapidated hotel filled with crazy cult members. Upon answering the phone, Thomas is pleased to hear that Elisabeth is on the other end of the line. She explains that she has barricaded herself in the attic to protect herself from her father, her uncle, and the strange people now inhabiting the hotel. She tasks Thomas with locating four musical cylinders hidden throughout the hotel that if played on the organ/harmonium in the hotel ballroom will turn everything back to normal. What is it that needs to be turned back to normal you ask? The ‘Quiet Ones‘ – staff and guests of the hotel that have been driven insane. They roam the grounds with sacks over their heads, viciously attacking anything that makes a sound.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
Play me a song my darling Elisabeth.

Thomas is generally left to his own devices to complete the game’s quest and other than some brief phone conversations with Elisabeth there are no other verbal interactions of which to speak. However, there are a number of clues scattered around the hotel in journals and on scraps of paper that provide further plot exposition. Elisabeth’s family has been part of a cult for generations, after her ancestors appear to have encountered the mythical Siren out in the open sea when sailing back to Wales. What was it about the Siren’s song that was so alluring?

Gameplay

The main story mode of Maid of Sker can be best described as a survival/stealth horror game. We control Thomas from a 1st person perspective as he skulks around the hotel finding clues, solving puzzles and picking up the musical cylinders without being discovered by the Quiet Ones. Fortunately, the Quiet Ones wear sacks over their heads and are for all intents and purposes blind. They can only locate you when you are silly enough to bump into furniture or try to walk through a dust cloud and cough your lungs out when they are in earshot. Unfortunately, in what may be a frustrating choice for some players, for the majority of the game we are literally defenseless. Even when the game is nice enough to provide a ‘weapon,’ this can only be used to temporarily stun enemies and cannot kill them, and in typical style the ammo for this weapon is extremely limited. More frustratingly, there is a point when this weapon is simply taken away from you for the rest of the game.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
How do you know I’m standing here? Oh, I forgot deodorant this morning you say? It is only 1898 after all.

Whilst I must admit to finding this complete lack of any offensive power incredibly frustrating in the early going, by the later game it does provide you with some tense moments. Thomas does control well enough, and there were never any moments where I felt a death in the game was caused by anything other than my own poor choices.

The puzzles in the game are all intuitive enough to solve without needing to look up a guide, and there are typically ample clues around to help you if you get stuck. In truth I would have liked a bit more variety in the puzzles here, and there is nothing ground-breaking that you haven’t seen done in similar games elsewhere. Find item X to open secret passageway Y that leads you to key Z etc. etc. That being said, the offering here is solid and if you like this style of game, then it is an enjoyable way to pass some time.

I must point out that the main story is relatively short even for survival horror, and can be completed in about 4-6 hours (more if you want to find all of the collectable items and uncover the full backstory). Originally released as an Indie title by Wales Interactive for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in 2020, the team have gone above and beyond in providing something new for this next-gen upgrade with a collection of completely new game modes.

These 4 modes whilst all somewhat similar in their goal (escape the hotel with a limited number of lives/deaths) and do show that the game developers listened to some of the complaints of the original game. The two main differences in these additional ‘Challenges’ as they are called are:

  1. You now have access to 4 different weapons (Axe, Handgun, Shotgun, Rifle).
  2. There are a number of different enemy types that you need to mow down on your way out of the hotel.

The new experiences do give you that feeling of power that you severely miss in the main story and are worth a bit more of your time. But they probably won’t be something that significantly extends your time with the game as the FPS style controls and gameplay are just not up to par with dedicated FPS games.

Certainly my favourite element of the gameplay is the way that music and sound are utilised throughout the adventure. The crescendoing shrieks of a dissonant string orchestra will warn you of danger nearby. Alternatively, a simple change in the background music to a music box tune will alert you to an important item or save point nearby. What is that you hear? The rattle of a key turning a lock in the distance? You go to investigate… you have now opened the door to the next section of the review.

Presentation

Presentation is both a strength and a weakness of Maid of Sker. On the negative side, and as we might reasonably expect from an indie title with a small development team, the visuals here are rough around the edges. This was a late generation PS4 game, but it really wouldn’t look out of place on a PS3 when you compare it to the big AAA games on that platform (think Last of Us and Uncharted 3). Similarly to the lack of variety in the gameplay, there is also a similar deficiency here. The one main type of enemy is very bland looking and their animation is a bit janky, and the main boss is not much better.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5

That being said, there has clearly been a lot of care and attention to detail here in regards to the environmental details here such as the trimmings of the hotel, the art on the walls and the furniture strewn around the rooms. There are a number of brief/small set-pieces that made me stop and say ‘that was sick‘ (in a good way), whereas other moments seem to fall flat, or almost appear comical in nature due to the animation. Despite the game’s clear limitations in terms of visuals, the gritty, dark Sker Hotel and surrounding grounds provide a great atmosphere particularly when combined with the aforementioned best element of the game – the sound design.

Audio

I was blown away by the quality of the sound and music in this game. It is by no means perfect, but clearly sound design is the highlight of the Maid of Sker experience. Given that ‘music’ is a core aspect of the game’s story and gameplay, it is obvious that the developers really put some effort in to this part of the game. The soundtrack is haunting and the perfect fit to this game, particularly in the build up to the game’s finale. Sound effects are also generally good, but can occasionally be a little more miss than hit, for example some of Thomas’ falling/death screams seeming more funny/hilarious than scary. Thomas is silent throughout the game other than his breathing, screaming and yelling. Elisabeth, however, is fully voiced during the numerous phone calls with her, and the Gramophones that are used as this game’s save point (like the Typewriter in Resident Evil) will also play a recorded voice clip of Elisabeth and her family.

Maid of Sker PS5 PlayStation 5
If the screech of this device upsets you, wait until you hear me falling.

Some PS5 features also helped improve the experience such as the fast loading times and the utilisation of the Dual Sense controller’s haptic feedback. Thomas’ heart rate will increase and become stronger depending on the situation he finds himself. It is subtle but again helps build on the game’s strong atmosphere and overall experience.

Conclusion

Maid of Sker was made by a small core team of less than 15 people, and at times it does show. As noted above, the base game is very short for a modern game. Even in this game’s genre, this one feels a little bit short for me. This may be as a result of the repetitiveness in the enemies and the puzzles.

That being said, the atmosphere that is built though the soundscape of this game is excellent. You can feel the pressure and tension of sneaking past groups of enemies, and the relief of snatching the item that you need to progress without being found.

There is nothing here that can be considered broken or otherwise gamebreaking. The game is a solid package and everything works. I played through the full story and multiple attempts at the challenge content and did not come across any bugs or crashes on PS5. Maid of Sker can’t compete at the level of a game like Resident Evil: Village – but we have to accept that a AAA game would have had at least 10 times the number of staff working on the game as Maid of Sker.

For what it is Maid of Sker is an enjoyable, if not short, experience that provides an intriguing story, a creepy atmosphere with some occasional jump scares and a cracking soundtrack.

So, why should you play it?

  • You are a survival/horror buff and want to experience a different and unique story.
  • Zombies, Vampires and other common horror tropes bore you and you want something more.
  • Not much time to play? No worries with this, you can get through it easily without too much of a time sink.

But, why shouldn’t you play it?

  • BOO! (did that scare you?)
  • You prefer a game that you can engage with for a long period of time.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.

Resident Evil Village Review: PlayStation 5

There’s no Professor Layton here to help you in this curious village.

It’s no stretch to say that Resident Evil is videogaming’s most iconic and influential horror series. What started with humble beginnings on the PlayStation 1 in 1996 (“Jill sandwich”, anyone?) has evolved and morphed like many of the series’ grotesque enemies into a beast that has become a momentous cultural phenomenon. Boasting an extensive library of 27 separate videogames, eight main titles, numerous films (both live-action and animated), and now an upcoming Netflix TV series, Resident Evil is Capcom’s best-selling franchise and has been hugely influential in popular culture.

Resident Evil Series Compilation PlayStation
A picture I took earlier this year showcases RE games across multiple console generations.

The original game, set in the eerie Spencer Mansion, introduced the enigmatic characters, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, and almost single-handedly created the genre for which the series is now so well-known: “Survival Horror”. Having been over 25 years since the launch of the inaugural title, it’s no surprise that the gameplay has needed to change and adapt significantly. Fixed camera angles soon became outdated, and as of Resident Evil 4 the player was given complete control over the camera and would play through an over-the-shoulder third person view. This style of gameplay became a series staple for many years.

Resident Evil 4 Gamecube Chainsaw
Resident Evil’s over-the-shoulder camera was used for many of the series’ entries.

Fans were polarised upon the release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which saw another dramatic shift in gameplay to a more immersive first-person perspective. This was the first main Resident Evil title to be experienced entirely from the view of the main character, Ethan Winters, which allowed the player to become completely absorbed, especially when playing in virtual reality.

Four years since the launch of RE7, we once again step back into the shoes of our ever unfortunate protagonist, as the franchise slowly shuffles away from its zombified roots and instead takes a bounding leap into the realm of vampires, lycans, and dark, grim fantasy in its newest entry: Resident Evil Village.

Plot

Set three years after the terrifying events of the Baker Mansion in Resident Evil 7, the incredibly-unlucky Ethan Winters is happily settling down to live out a quiet life in his gorgeous house nestled in the mountains of Europe. Having rescued the love of his life, Mia Winters, years prior from the clutches of a deadly mutagen, Ethan can finally enjoy a moment of peace with his infant daughter, Rosemary.

…or so he thought.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mia winters Ethan Winters Home
You’re given a brief glimpse into Ethan’s peaceful life before that dream is shattered.

During a dramatic turn of events, Ethan’s life is ruined in mere moments and he finds himself abandoned on the outskirts of a mysterious village. Much to his dismay, there’s no Professor Layton to help him in this curious village. Despite the occasional puzzle, it is mostly “filled with blood and death” as one of the NPCs so appropriately describes it. In a state of disarray and dilapidation, this once humble hamlet is now overrun by hordes of lycans and horrific creatures thanks to a most mysterious figurehead whose name is whispered by each of the residents: Mother Miranda.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mother Miranda
Ethan’s new family welcome him to the Village.

Ethan’s only hope in recovering that which he lost is to delve deep into the village, confront the terrors within, and unravel the macabre mysteries behind the mysterious Mother Miranda and her subordinates.

Gameplay

Fans of any previous Resident Evil game are likely to be thrilled with the gameplay offered in Village, as it draws inspiration from some of the series’ most popular titles. As a direct continuation, the base gameplay is most similar to that of Resident Evil 7. Through the eyes of Ethan Winters, you’ll once again be thrust into horrific locales and fend for your life in tense situations that will often require you to think on your feet.

The pacing of the game changes dramatically with each hour of gameplay – initial areas are slow-paced and allow exploration, while others will halt you and require you to stop and solve a puzzle in order to advance. In complete juxtaposition there are certain segments that quickly become frantic, involving swarms of enemies, where a split second could be the difference between Ethan’s life and death. Combat in these situations is often quite fast-paced, and the game provides an array of weapons at Ethan’s disposal to defend against the vast horrors he encounters. While the standard enemies are easily dispatched, boss fights become bullet sponges that will require you to use all weapons at your disposal.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Blood Pool Puzzle
Simple puzzles can be a nice break from running for your life.

Those who have played Resident Evil 4 (my personal favourite of the series), will be able to make some clear connections to Leon S. Kennedy’s romp through another unwelcoming village. Exploration has a feeling much like RE4, with detailed maps, sprawling village areas, secret passageways, and shortcuts scattered throughout. You’ll also need to obtain and combine key items in order to progress, many of which give off a distinct RE4 vibe and are stored in an inventory not dissimilar to the Attache Case. Enemies regularly drop items which can be collected and sold to The Duke, who is essentially Village’s version of the mysterious Merchant. By visiting The Duke’s establishment, you’ll be able to exchange currency for weapon attachments, ammunition or items that can be used during combat. The game also includes a weapon upgrade system almost identical to that of RE4.

There is plenty to be “enjoyed” with respect to the gameplay of Resident Evil Village, and I found myself most immersed when exploring the game’s narrow hallways, cramped caves, or derelict ruins. Though it does not manage to achieve the same degree of terror as Resident Evil 7 (which was truly frightening, especially when played in VR), these situations create an incredible atmosphere that will not necessarily frighten, but instead immerse the player in the game’s gripping setting.

Visuals

If the devils in the detail, as the old adage goes, then Village is truly demonic. Graphical finesse in Village far surpasses any previous game in the series and is one of the most breath-taking games available for the current console generation. When played on a large 4K screen in a dark setting, your eyes will sometimes deceive you with environmental graphics that appear close to photorealism.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Environment Graphics
Simple environments devoid of colour are completely packed with detail.

Gorgeous, intricate, gothic architecture like that of Castle Dimitrescu is a sight to behold, and offers stunning sights that will have most players pausing to appreciate the extensive detail. At times I had to remind myself I was actually playing a Resident Evil game and not something along the lines of Bloodborne, as you’d easily be mistaken from some of the screenshots below.

While you’ll have plenty of time to appreciate the detailed environments, it’s in the games most fast-paced, intense moments that you gain brief glimpses into the horrific, grotesque enemies who reside within the village. In a series that once had such a focus on zombies, enemy designs now instead seem to draw heavily upon fantasy, as if inspired by some sort of R-rated Brothers Grimm adaptation. You’ll encounter unfathomable abominations, swift and relentless lycans, and of course, Vampiresses whose thirst for Ethan’s delicious man-blood is unquenchable.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Lady Dimitrescu Claws
Not many characters have received quite as much internet attention as Lady Dimitrescu.

Audio

With sound design as detailed as its graphics, Resident Evil Village manages to replicate realistic 3D audio and attention-to-detail that will truly engross when experienced with a quality headset. At times I found myself having to guess whether a sound had occurred in the game or in real life. Eerie ambience will have you on the edge of your seat, minute audio details like creaking floorboards or a curtain flapping in the distance will alert you to threats that would be otherwise missed by your vision. This helps significantly when trying to avoid combat, as not only will the audio help the player determine the direction of an enemy, but subtle changes to sound will also help gauge distance.

A vital element of the game’s audio is in the form of voice acting, particularly from Todd Soley, who plays the voice of Ethan. Cries of agony and anguish are almost 100% believable and at times had me wincing and needing to avert my eyes during particularly confronting scenes. Ethan’s pleading for mercy or panicked screams are a brilliant and disturbing voice acting performance that undoubtedly deepens the level of horror. This is unfortunately contrasted with some of the game’s villains who have exaggerated or whacky voices, which become more comedic than horrific.

Extras

Now it wouldn’t be a Resident Evil game without some added bonuses, right?
Shooting galleries? Easter eggs? Boulder-punching competitions?

Thankfully Village provides multiple incentives to keep playing both before and after the credits roll. Throughout the game you’ll be tasked with additional optional challenges to complete, some of which will aid Ethan’s plight significantly. Much like past RE games, there are hidden breakable objects scattered throughout the village in the form of wooden “Goats of Warding” (much like the Mr Everywhere bobbleheads or Mr Raccoon toys). Additionally you’ll be able to take advantage of the game’s photo mode, which can be used at any time to pause and take in your surroundings (even if at times you’d rather not).

The strangest addition comes in the form of four “Labyrinths” to complete throughout the game – these are intricate scale-model structures created by an artist that play out like a combination of Monkey Ball and Captain Toad. You’re first tasked with finding a steel ball hidden somewhere in the village, then upon returning to the Labyrinth you can drop the ball in and guide it through the level. In completing each Labyrinth you’re rewarded with highly valuable items which can be exchanged for some serious coin. Though I can’t help but feel this was a very odd inclusion.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Labyrinth Steel Ball
Take a moment to forget about your looming death to play Super Monkey Ball.

These extras, however, pale in comparison to the most alluring additional content in Village: Mercenaries Mode, which is unlocked after completion of the main game. Initially introduced in Resident Evil 3, Mercenaries plays out like an action/time-attack in which you’re tasked with fending off a set number of enemies within a limited amount of time. Levels reuse familiar locales from the main story scattered with various enemy types, and you’ll be able to accumulate money in order to upgrade your weapons as well as gain perks that will assist in future levels. It’s fun, frantic, arcade-style gameplay that will appeal to series veterans and newcomers alike.

Resident Evil Village PS5 PlayStation 5 Mercenaries Mode
Even in minigames, poor Ethan still has such a hard time.

Conclusion

Though less terrifying when compared to its predecessor, and by no means a game that will require a change of pants, Village still offers one of the most gripping, immersive and thrilling experiences in the entire franchise. Intricate level design and captivating audio combined with smooth gameplay and gunplay create an unforgettable survival horror experience. As a direct sequel, fans of RE7 will get the most out of the game’s characters and narrative, though newcomers will easily be able to dive into the horror without feeling too lost.

With approximately 10 – 15 hours required for completion of the story, difficulty levels to suit all players, and enough detail and extra content to keep you engrossed, Resident Evil Village is an impressive foray into the newest generation of consoles and should not be dismissed by series fans or those seeking a thrill.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve enjoyed the gameplay any of the previous Resident Evil games, particularly 4 and 7.
  • Looking for a horror game to play on the newest generation of consoles? Village is the perfect place to start.
  • You appreciate high levels of detail and realistic graphics in games.
  • Resource management and smooth first-person gunplay appeals to you.
  • Fans of dark fantasy will be thrilled by the game’s enemies and bosses.
  • Big mommy vampire.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Don’t do well with jump scares? Definitely avoid this one.
  • Seeking a game to truly traumatise and terrify? Try RE7 in VR instead.

A review code on PlayStation 5 was provided for the purpose of this review.