Arts

Games: Maid of Sker's Welshness make it a creepy counterpoint to mega-budget horror-thons

Maid of Sker, from the boyos at Wales Interactive
Neil McGreevy

Maid of Sker (PS4)

By: Wales Interactive

FROM mahogany minstrel Tom Jones to Gavin and Stacey, Wales punches well above its pop-cultural weight. Yet while renowned for singing and comedy, our Celtic cousins aren't exactly synonymous with sci-fi and horror – though it's been a quiet constant.

None more 60s cult acid-trip The Prisoner had Patrick McGoohan chased around the place by a giant white balloon 40 years before James Corden followed suit with Nessa, while this century's Doctor Who output has taught us most alien worlds look like a quarry outside Cardiff.

On the horror front, 1941's The Wolf Man was set in Wales while recent years have seen Darklands' sweary Welsh take on The Wicker Man, along with Sean Bean and Michael Sheen chewing up the valleys in The Dark and Apostle.

On the gaming front, survival horror has taken us from American backwoods to outer space, but the boyos at Wales Interactive have crafted a creepshow much closer to home.

Having made a name for themselves resurrecting the 90s fad of full-motion video, the Pencoed-based code jugglers turned to Welsh folklore for their latest and the tale of Sker House, an actual mansion in the Welsh countryside and inspiration for RD Blackmore's follow-up to Lorna Doone, The Maid of Sker.

Pronounced "Scare House", musician Thomas Evans travels to the dilapidated estate to save his gal, Elisabeth Williams, from sightless, grimy locals. Part walking simulator, part Outlast-style escape-a-thon and all Welsh, Maid of Sker employs no-combat tactics as players creep around a country pile in need of renovation as faceless, blind codgers go on the rampage.

Rudimentary puzzles are of the power-restoring, switch-flicking variety, but with The Quiet Men (thankfully, not a bunch of drunken, fisty John Waynes) on the prowl, you'll have to soft-shuffle your way to success.

Timing your breath to avoid nearby baddies is a sweaty-palmed affair – a tactic not helped by Thomas hacking like he's on 40 a day – but Maid of Sker's frights come down to how disturbing you find a bloke with a burlap sack over his mug.

Despite a meagre budget, Sker's production values are surprisingly lush, with lashings of plummy voice acting, spine-tingling sound design and crisp period visuals that wouldn't look out of place in a first-party Sony title. The cracks do show, though, with spotty enemy AI, cramped environments that make success more luck than skill and much backtracking.

With atmosphere by the (burlap) sackload, the unholy screaming in the valleys, for once, isn't colliery choirs in this pretty skery National Trust-style period panicker. A handsomely mounted indie effort, Maid of Sker's greatest triumph is its sense of place, making it a creepy counterpoint to the usual mega-budgeted horror-thons.

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Arts