Maid of Jump-Sker
Maid of Sker is a first-person survival horror game set in 1898 within a remote hotel by independent game studio Welsh Interactive. It takes its inspiration from R. D Blackmore’s 19th century novel of the same name, which is about a heartbroken woman called Elisabeth Williams, whose spirit is said to still haunt an 800-year-old mansion. The story follows Thomas Evans, a musician who is trying to save the woman he loves, armed only with a defensive sound device.
The tone of this game was set with the opening credits via jump-scare, which is then used frequently throughout the game. The game begins on a train as Thomas makes his way to the island of Sker, at the request of Elisabeth Williams. She has also requested he compose some music to counter that which is contained within her mother’s locket, which he has with him.
Once you get off the train, you start to investigate the apparently deserted island. Once Thomas enters the hotel, he speaks to Elisabeth, who gives him an objective. You are also given dialogue options to select each time you talk to her. But it would have been nice to hear Thomas’ voice, as he’s pretty mute throughout the whole game.
The main objective Thomas is set, is to find cylinders throughout the hotel. This makes up the overall objective of the game, although there are numerous puzzles along the way. As he works his way through the hotel, Thomas is being hunted by men who seem to be blind, but are sensitive to sound, requiring him to hold his breath to hide from them. Thomas will also need to hold his breath to avoid coughing, a feeling I’m sure most people are familiar with at the moment.
The enemies are slow, lumbering, generally easy to avoid and lacking in variety. They seem to follow set paths and can be heard approaching. The music will also warn you when there is someone close by. Due to this, I didn’t find them particularly challenging, just annoying as I had to take my time sneaking past them and they usually felt like they were just in the way. For a horror game, I also didn’t find them scary due to their predictability. Once you reach a certain point in the game, you’ll also obtain the sound device that temporarily incapacitates enemies, you are not given any means of killing them and this is the only weapon you obtain throughout the whole game. It needs to be used sparingly as the game doesn’t give you much ammo for it. I also found that if stealth is used effectively, you rarely need to use it. Stealth is a must throughout this game as it doesn’t take many hits to kill Thomas. Because of this, the pace of the game often feels quite slow, especially when you obtain an item from one end of the map, which then needs to be used at the other end, with multiple enemies blocking a quick path. I did find it a bit odd though that there are numerous wardrobes and cupboards throughout the game, but no option to hide in them. This would have been a helpful edition as the maps are cramped and claustrophobic. The unfolding story and puzzles to solve keeps things interesting though, and I was intrigued to keep finding out more.
As Thomas continues his investigation, he finds journals which give insight into the sinister history of the hotel, and regular phone calls with Elisabeth help drive the plot forwards. There are also collectibles throughout the game in the form of music boxes, so be sure to listen out for these.
This game has many similarities to the recent Resident Evil games, particularly the style of map, which is almost identical. It will highlight points of interest and some collectibles, and shows when you haven’t explored a particular room. This was actually one of the highlights of the game for me and made it very easy to navigate. Although the game is very dark and set at night, it has effective use of lighting to draw attention to points of interest. Elements of gameplay are also familiar, where you’ll need to find keys to access certain areas and puzzles to solve to access items. The game even has an antagonist that is rather similar to Mr X from Resident Evil 2 whom you can hear stomping down hallways as he stalks you through the map. Unlike the other enemies, he can also see you.
In order to save, the game uses phonographs, where you’re subjected to creepy recordings that explore the mystery behind what has happened at Sker hotel. The game doesn’t autosave, so you’re reminded to manually save during loading screens. However, I couldn’t even see the option to save in the main menu, so had to look this up. For reference, there are manual save rooms, identified by ornate green doors. Once inside, hit the record player and the game will save. This is another similarity to Resident Evil’s saferooms. I’d recommend saving as often as possible to avoid having to replay too much if you die.
The sound design in this game is great and does a fantastic job of building up suspense and maintaining a tense atmosphere using 3D audio. I played this game with surround sound and it really added to the experience being able to hear creaks, bangs and footsteps all around me. You’re even able to pinpoint exactly where an enemy is, which is also utilised during a particularly trippy part of the game. The game also has a beautiful soundtrack including the reimagining of Welsh hymns. Visually, the Victorian setting provides a beautiful backdrop and the hotel is well-designed.