Quick Look – Toy Tinker Simulator (#JustOnePercent 101/100)

Ok, I know I could technically be done, but I’m going to finish out the month since I still have a handful of really cool looking games already in my library that fit the project!

Developer: Turquoise Revival Games
Release Date: November 20, 2021
MSRP: $12.99

Some genres just seem to be especially attractive to indie developers, and it feels like [Mundane Activity] Simulator has been really gaining popularity over the past couple of years. If there’s something you think you might like to try your hand at, there’s probably a simulation game for it! Unfortunately, the playability of these simulation titles varies wildly, which is why you get a handful of breakout hits, and the rest kind seem to be pretty much doomed to obscurity.

I feel like Toy Tinker Simulator missed that spark of originality that tips this kind of game from niche to mainstream, but it definitely sticks the landing for playability. The gameplay loop of taking on the job, disassembling the toy, working on the individual parts, and then putting the whole thing back together is very chill. There is money (which is needed to buy supplies & equipment), and experience (which opens up more advanced jobs), but neither one matter very much. Once you have picked up a few pieces of equipment, which your start up cash will more than cover, most beginner toys only need a few dollars worth of supplies, and each job will pay far more than you’re spending.

In fact, Toy Tinker Simulator feels positively un-fail-able. If you like your simulation games challenging, this one won’t be at all satisfying. The game won’t allow you to make mistakes – a toy that has not been completely disassembled cannot leave the workbench. You can’t choose the wrong color paint or use the wrong tools. The game will give you the proper steps for each job you take on, and you won’t be able to deviate from those in any way.

While this makes playing a completely stress-free experience, it also disallows any sort of creativity. Maybe there will come a time in the game play loop where you’re required to use your best judgement, but it isn’t in the first hour or so of game play. This makes a game that while, not completely unsatisfying to play, isn’t particularly exciting either. I personally don’t mind this sort of simulator, but I can see how a lot of folks would find it tedious and boring.

I didn’t encounter anything that felt like a bug, and although the controls are a little floaty, no precision is ever required so it doesn’t actually matter. The sound effects are fine, but don’t really add anything to the experience, and I wasn’t impressed with the music. After my first short play session, I played without sound – this game would be a good candidate for something to keep your hands busy while listening to podcasts, audiobooks, or even watching a show on a second monitor. I didn’t fall madly in love with Toy Tinker Simulator, but I really can’t find much to complain about either.

SteamDB estimates that Toy Tinker Simulator has sold between 4,300 and 11,900 copies on Steam. Reviews are mixed, as many players wanted more realistic gameplay and a whole lot less tedium. It is ranked 6963 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Factory Town (#JustOnePercent 100/100)

Developer: Erik Asmussen
Release Date: November 17, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

If you like city builders with automation, super cute graphics, and have almost infinite patience & time, well, then Factory Town might just be your new favorite game. Ok, so I may be going a little harsh here, but as someone who does really like city builders with automation, and is fine with all my workers looking like Weebles, I found that this game tried my patience. Not solely because there appears to only be two settings (paused or unpaused) for the passage of time, I played for well over an hour on the first introductory campaign scenario. See, I built myself into a corner, as it were, and needed to restart because I couldn’t figure out how to unbuild something.

When I did it again, I was bound and determined to find a way to get rid of the part that was mucking everything up, and if you go into the build menu under tools, there’s a “remove block” button, which will take out a section of path or conveyor belt. There’s also a different option to remove a resource, allowing you to get rid of anything in your way that you didn’t put there. I feel like these are very basic things in this genre, and they should not be hard to find.

Which is to say, there may also be speed settings, but those I did not find.

The tutorial is actually pretty solid, but it takes quite a bit before you can get to the “factory” part of Factory Town. You have to grow your town big enough to unlock your first research level, and you have quite a few steps of research to do before you can build the most basic wooden conveyor belt. Everything prior to this point requires you to have a little worker weeble to harvest resources, and bring them either to a production building, storage area, or shop. If you are, say, turning wood into planks, you’re then going to want another worker weeble to pick up the planks, and then take those where you need them to be. If, like me, you tend to build in tight little clusters to minimize walking time, you are going to be screwed when it comes time to build those automated stuff movers. You just won’t have any space for them.

In the end, I did manage to complete the first scenario with a single, sad conveyor belt. It was a frustrating start for me, who wouldn’t have minded if workers were all I had, so I can’t imagine how annoyed an factory-focused player would have been. The fact that it’s pretty economically simplistic might be either a pro or a con, depending on a player’s taste, but the absolute density of the menus is not doing this game any favors.

This probably isn’t a city builder game I’ll be returning to, although I’m a big fan of the genre. I have many far more user friendly city building games sitting unplayed in my library, and without the ability to (easily?) increase the game speed, I found myself bored pretty much any time I wasn’t frustrated. This is a game that should have been for me, but there are some quality of life features I’m not willing to do without in this type of game, and the obtuseness of the build menus was a big turn off as well.

SteamDB estimates that Factory Town has sold between 73,000 and 200,600 copies on Steam. From looking at the reviews, I’m clearly in the minority here – it’s gotten almost no negative reviews. It is ranked 357 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Next Space Rebels (#JustOnePercent 99/100)

Developer: Studio Floris Kaayk
Release Date: November 17, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going in to Next Space Rebels. Sure, I knew I was going to be building rockets (which – as expected – I’m not all that good at). I knew there was a social media component to it. What I didn’t realize is that I would be spending far more time answering social media messages than I would be doing … well, anything else.

Because you’ll be spending so much time networking, the game can feel like it drags, a little bit. Do you want more parts to build rockets to make rocket launch videos? Better get networking. Want some challenges to unlock the potential to build more complex rockets? Yep, those also come from messages. In Next Space Rebels, clout is the only currency. You’ll need to post more videos to gain more followers to get more comments, and find more people to talk to to get more stuff and more unlocks.

The actual rocket building is done via a – rather clumsy – 2D interface. Initially, you have only very basic rocket parts, but before long, you’ll be adding a bunch of toys and trash items, which don’t make particularly aerodynamic rockets, but they do make some for some absolutely ridiculous ones. The first couple of challenges are pretty simple, and serve mainly to acquaint you with the mechanics of building rockets, launching them, and posting videos.

For me, the gameplay element balance was tilted far too far in the direction of learning how to become a social media success story. If what you’re looking for is a social media simulator (complete with a side of commentary about how algorithms are bad, mmkay?), then this game might really work for you. If you just want to play with model rockets, you’ll likely find yourself frustrated by all the filler.

Although I didn’t get very far into the story (at least, I don’t think that I did), I can see the potential for a good – if somewhat unbalanced – game. Towards the end of my playtime, I found myself really struggling with the challenges I had, and assumed that further progression was locked behind that, but I realize now I could have also tried just making more videos, increasing my follower count, and continuing to network my way to more parts and more challenges. I’m honestly not sure how rigid the progression path is.

Although Next Space Rebels will be disappearing from XBox Game Pass for PC in a matter of days, it is available through the Humble Trove if you have an active Humble Choice subscription. I’m not sure yet if I plan to revisit it, but I found myself continuing to rethink my strategies after closing the game.

SteamDB estimates that Next Space Rebels has sold between 4,300 and 11,900 copies on Steam. Reviews have been mostly positive, with the negative reviews mostly focusing on lack of satisfying rocket building game play. It is ranked 2066 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Roboquest

After a good streak of months where I was at least moderately interested in one or more games from the Humble Choice bundle, the November offerings were – at least for me – kind of blah. I very nearly paused this one! While Roboquest was not the game that tipped the scales for me into leaving my subscription unpaused, it did look interesting enough for me to take it for a spin and talk about it a bit for UnwiseOwl’s monthly group review. Roboquest is an FPS rogue-lite which retails for $19.99.

I am nowhere near an FPS aficionado, but every once in awhile, I get the urge to just run around and shoot things. These fits usually don’t last terribly long, because despite being moderately competent with a (video game) gun, I don’t have much in the way of “avoiding getting shot” skills. When most people were blasting demons in DOOM, I was crawling my way through the dungeons of Daggerfall. It’s not unlike my experience with platformers, where I feel like I didn’t develop the requisite muscle memory when I was still young enough for it to stick.

So, Roboquest. The first thing you should know is that, while the game is still in Early Access (and has been for over two years now), and considering they haven’t yet announced the full release yet, it’s unlikely the developers will meet their “end of 2022” target. Now, I didn’t come close to playing through to completion, so I can’t speak to how “finished” it feels, but I can tell you, that it does feel pretty damn good to play – with some caveats.

I will say I very nearly bounced off the game before it even got started. It took me almost half a dozen tries to complete the tutorial level without getting dead … excuse me, knocked out. It wasn’t a problem of wonky controls, or overtuned difficulty, it was 100% a “I’m bad at this sort of game” problem.

I did, however, get faster at losing every time, which I suppose is its own form of improvement?

The good news is, once you get through the tutorial, which should take any moderately competent player approximately one try, you can change the difficulty settings. I immediately changed the difficulty setting to easy. After a couple of unsuccessful runs, I knocked it down again to what the game calls “Discovery”. As you can see in the screen shot below, this is story-mode for roguelites. I am particularly fond of the increased duration on health and currency pickups, since it seems like the only way I can successfully play is to hide around a corner and poke my head out to pick things off one at a time.

Having managed to appropriately tune to game to my level, I found myself having – pardon the pun – a blast. You are a friendly robot, rescued by what seems to be a child explorer, who found you and got you fixed up. Now, you’re her scout, taking out all the rather unfriendly robots hanging around, and seeing what’s what in this almost obscenely colorful post-apocalyptic world. The story is merely a picture frame for an awful lot of gunplay, and while I suppose it might get more involved as you proceed, it doesn’t necessarily have to. Its doing its job just fine, and for most players, it’s totally not what they’re here for.

Well, I think I’ve probably already convinced you that I am completely unqualified to tell you whether or not Roboquest is a good FPS. Let me also assure you that I am completely unqualified to tell you whether or not it’s a good roguelite! It does have unlocks and metaprogression, so I’m fairly confident that it is – indeed – a roguelite.

Each time you start a new level your weapon choices are randomized, although you can always elect to stick with the very basic energy pistol. Ammo or energy is only a concern (at least on the lower difficulties) in that you need to either reload or cooldown, but you never seem to run out. As you gain experience throughout your run, you will level up, unlocking random perks to choose from which you get right away, but enemies only drop loot in the form of currency, which you can use to make purchases mid-run in a break room or after completing a level.

Even on discovery difficulty, I was neither very good nor very fast, but at least I was finishing things.

Now, let’s talk about a few quirks of the game. First off, there is co-op, but it only supports two players, which I thought was kind of an odd choice for this type of game. Secondly, and this is probably not going to surprise most roguelite fans, there is no mid-run saving. The first couple of levels go fairly quickly, but if you’re doing well, you might be in it for a rather long haul, and there seems to be no way to skip levels you’ve beaten over and over and start further in. I expect both of these things to be fairly common genre conventions, but I really prefer to have at least one of the two; either the ability to save or to skip already completed levels. I don’t always have a lot of time to commit to a game in a single sitting, and when I find myself looking for a roguelite it is precisely because I want to be able to dip in and out as I need to.

Still, it’s a fun little romp, and I appreciate the extreme nature of the difficulty settings, which manage to make you feel somewhat like a god, if you’re okay with the idea that gods sometimes have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. As is typical for me, I feel like I’ve selected one of the “fun bonus” games to talk about, instead of one that determines whether most customers buy or skip.

…and that’s sort of by design, these weird little extra games are really why I almost never skip a month, even when the headliners are very much not for me.

Quick Look – Hammerting (#JustOnePercent 98/100)

Developer: Warpzone Studios
Release Date: November 16, 2021
MSRP: $24.99

There is little I find more frustrating than a game that is almost good. Mind you, I’m not talking about games that, while completely playable, lack a certain something that makes them great. No, rather, I’m talking about games where you can clearly see that the concept is good, that the bones of the thing are quite all right, but somewhere along the way, something was skipped or overlooked, and what you end up with is actually a pretty big mess.

Hammerting – at least for me – should be a good game. I love the loop of dig, explore, gather resources, craft, research, and then go right back to digging. I can’t explain why that loop is something I find satisfying, but usually when I bounce off one of these games, it is because the game just cannot seem to get out of its own way.

It feels like the developers really wanted to take this loop – which at its core is pretty damn simple – and complicate it until it resembled denser “colony builder” games. I can’t tell you if I kept failing because I’m impatient, because the game is buggy, because the game is poorly balanced, or just because the overly dense tutorial just leaves out some pretty critical steps for success. My first trio of hard working dwarves died of thirst because I didn’t realize I had to both find and produce water. Ok, that one is on me. My second trio? Also thirst. Not because I didn’t know, but because I could not find any water, and the trading post also didn’t sell any.

In fact, you won’t receive a quest to produce either food or water until you build a farm. Now, if you’re the type to follow the quest path while learning the ropes of a game, you might have the same problem, since although you can unlock farm tech fairly early, you’re never actually told to build a cave farm. Even once you can build it, it doesn’t actually seem to produce food (although weirdly enough, you can produce water even if there’s no body of water anywhere on the map) – rather, you just use it to store mushrooms you’ve harvested. Or do you? It’s not clear, but it didn’t seem to be making any new food, and once I ran out of wild mushrooms, I was well on the path to starvation again.

It’s rare that I’ve played a game where it wants to dump so much information on you, and yet, makes so little logical sense. Usually, when I start out in a more complex colony management style game, although I fail a lot, I learn from every single failure, and the next time, it goes better. Hammerting felt more like trying to learn a skill from a manual that had never been fact checked.

And it’s possible that’s exactly what happened. Hammerting was available in an Early Access state for just over a year before hitting full release in November 2021. During the Early Access period, updates came fairly regularly, but there have only been a handful of updates since then, and the general consensus is that the game is still quite unfinished, and will probably never be given the attention it needs to be more than just barely playable. Which is a shame, because in its current state, it’s nothing but a whole lot of wasted potential.

SteamDB estimates that Hammerting has sold between 42,100 and 115,900 copies on Steam. Reviews are currently sitting at Mixed, with recent reviews trending heavily negative due to the perception that the game is abandoned. It is ranked 6809 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – DYSMANTLE (#JustOnePercent 97/100)

Developer: 10tons Ltd
Release Date: November 16, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

If you’ve ever been playing a zombie survival game, and found yourself thinking that the game would be so much better if only there was more stuff that you needed to smash with a crowbar, well, then DYSMANTLE might just be right up your alley. Years after the fall of civilization, you emerge from your no longer so well-supplied shelter to see what the world has become, and find a zombie-infested disaster. Obviously, there’s nothing else to be done than to smash absolutely everything that seems like it might be smashable, including the aforementioned zombies.

I may sound like I’m being unnecessarily hard on the game, but I really want to make sure to convey how critical to absolutely everything else that breaking things will be. You will want to upgrade your crowbar, sure, for more damage as it’s also your primary weapon, but mainly so you can smash up stronger items of furniture to collect more and different materials. In fact, you’ll likely want to avoid zombies as much as possible early on – even the most basic enemy will take multiple hits to kill, and you have so very little health.

But death is merely a setback – you will lose any materials you were carrying (although not any crafted items or anything you’d previously stashed away in your camp storage), but if you manage to make it back to your corpse, you can just loot them again. No, the most annoying thing about dying early on is this – all the enemies you previously killed will respawn. This is also true every time you use a campfire to replenish health, upgrade gear, or craft new gear. It’s tremendously annoying, and the game realizes this. In fact, one of the first quests you get it to craft an item to make sure the undead stay dead this time.

Sounds like a plan, except you need to be level 7 in order to craft the item, and the two main methods of gaining XP are smashing zombies and, well, breaking stuff. Now, while the zombies come back, the items you’ve broken will not. Before hitting the requisite level to craft the item that makes the dead stop coming back to life, I managed to kill the first mini-boss, and move onto the next area.

At which point – over 90 minutes into the game – the opening credits started rolling. The opening credits. This has to be a new record.

I personally found the pace of DYSMANTLE ping-pong-ed between being tedious and frenetic. It took me far longer than I want to admit to start to get a handle on the attack patterns of the most basic zombies, which meant I did an awful lot of corpse runs. Material costs for upgrades and new equipment seemed almost prohibitively high, presumably to keep you moving forward through the game rather that turtling for 90 minutes in the opening tutorial-esque area. That first mini boss looked terrifying ok?

Since I’m not normally a huge fan of zombie survival, I’m not sure what intrigued me enough to purchase this in the first place. This has been in my library since February of 2021, when it was still in early access. In fact, I recall being very frustrated by it when I played it then, and I’m glad I took the time to give it another whirl – while it’s still not exactly my cup of tea, there was something about it that kept me playing, wanting to see what I was going to unlock next.

SteamDB estimates that DYSMANTLE has sold between 155,800 and 425,500 copies on Steam. It clearly has done well, both in sales and reviews, and sits at Very Positive. Clearly, it’s a hit with its target audience, and it is ranked 232 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – To The Rescue! (#JustOnePercent 96/100)

Developer: Little Rock Games
Release Date: November 2, 2021
MSRP: $19.99

In the interest of full disclosure, I backed To The Rescue! on Kickstarter back in the late summer of 2019, and I played quite a bit of a demo build back in August of 2020. Obviously, I knew I was probably going to enjoy it – I tend to enjoy simulation games, especially ones with a story mode (which this game has), and I’m a sucker for a bunch of adorable dogs (which this game also has).

I am, in fact, enjoying it quite a bit so far, despite the fact that it’s a bit rough around the edges. There are a few character presets to choose from, and quite a few puppy presets from which you choose an animal companion. The story modes starts with some tutorials to introduce you to the somewhat unintuitive controls and mechanics. Before you know it, you’re working a day at the animal shelter by yourself. You’ll need to care for the dogs, which includes feeding, watering, bathing, and keeping their enclosures clean. Later in the game, you’ll add enrichment activities & medical care to that list. If that was all you needed to do every day, you’d already be pretty busy, but you’re also responsible for presenting dogs to potential adopters, as well as ordering supplies and managing your social media presence, all while balancing a budget (and trying not to run up too much overtime).

It’s a lot, but it’s also compulsively playable. Visitors will come in looking to adopt, and a lot of the time, they have preferences that they’ll tell you about. Of course, you may or may not have dogs that fit those preferences, but every dog also has an adoptability rating based on their profile. You can show five dogs at a time, and each star of adoptability (plus each star from matching customer preferences) will wear down their resistance meter. Turn that meter green, and you’ll be sending one lucky pup to their new home. Sometimes, visitors will come in looking for their lost dogs, and instead of having to put the proper pooch into the show kennel, you can just bring the correct dog directly to the visitor and send them on their way, usually with a small donation or reward in hand for your trouble.

Although adoptions are key to being able to manage your shelter, and are the most lucrative way to make money, you’ll also receive donations, and you can choose to pursue grants, which are special tasks you’ll have one week to accomplish. However, if you neglect caring for your animals too much in the pursuit of the almighty dollar, you’ll find yourself getting fines and potentially being shut down. It’s a frenetic balancing act with multiple fail states, and a lot of the time, dogs will be coming in faster than you can adopt them out.

Unfortunately, euthanasia is a reality in the animal shelter world, and it is also true here. Some dogs, for one reason or another, are just very likely to not be adopted. However, for folks who want a less realistic but more palatable experience, there is an option to turn of euthanasia in your game, giving instead the option to send a dog away. It doesn’t completely eliminate all references to this sad reality, but it does give you the option to not have to do it yourself.

Save points are only available at the end of each day, and they occur after you clock out. If you have any computer work you still need to do, you can do that off the clock, so it’s better to use the end of your day on care tasks rather than ordering supplies if you want to keep your staff budget down. I’m about two hours in, and not quite all the way through the first week, and new mechanics are still unlocking for me at the end of each day. I’m not sure where I’ll manage to find the time to do everything every day, especially considering that I’m taking in more dogs every day than I’m adopting out, but I’m looking forward to seeing where the game will take me.

SteamDB estimates that Dogs Organized Neatly has sold between 26,300 and 72,300 copies on Steam. Although the sales numbers are respectable for the developer’s first foray into video games, reviews are mixed. Most of the negative reviews focus on bugs, with a few complaints about pacing and an overly long, but not terribly effective, tutorial section. Although I encountered a few minor glitches and some non-intuitive game play elements, I didn’t experience anything game breaking like many players have. It is ranked 5709 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Dogs Organized Neatly (#JustOnePercent 94/100)

Developer: DU&I
Release Date: November 1, 2021
MSRP: $2.99

Pure puzzle games really have to walk a fairly fine line between being challenging and not being frustrating. Without any challenge, there’s nothing to keep you playing, and if it gets too hard, well, there’s not much else to convince you to power through. Dogs Organized Neatly does a fairly good job of walking that tightrope after a few introductory levels, and it’s got adorable pups as a bonus.

Every few levels, you unlock a new canine companion to puzzle with. Each dog gets a small bit of backstory, but mostly they’re going to be new shapes. Pack the dogs into the grid, and you’ve completed the level. It’s not a complicated game, there aren’t a ton of mechanics, but it’s a fun package for people looking for a good coffee-break puzzler. I managed to complete three chapters in approximately an hour of play.

Dogs can be dragged around to fit in the grid, and rotated, but not flipped. The controls are simple and intuitive, and it plays very well on the Steam Deck. The music is pleasant enough, but if you prefer to have a podcast going or listen to your own music, you won’t be missing out on anything relevant to the gameplay. It’s a simple formula done well with a coat of adorable furry paint.

If you prefer cute cats to precious pups, the developers have a similar title in Cats Organized Neatly, or if you love all animals you can buy both in a bundle with a small discount. These games aren’t going to change your life, but with 80 levels each, if you like pets & puzzles, you’ll certainly get three dollars worth out of them.

SteamDB estimates that Dogs Organized Neatly has sold between 12,000 and 33,000 copies on Steam. What you see is what you get, and what you get is well constructed, and the Overwhelmingly Positive reviews reflect this. It is ranked 103 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Subway Midnight (#JustOnePercent 92/100)

Developer: Bubby Darkstar
Release Date: October 28, 2021
MSRP: $9.99

Might as well get right to the point – Subway Midnight barely feels like a game at all. It’s like a haunted house ride at a carnival – all show and no substance. Which is not to say it’s without any merit at all – the show is reasonably good. The art is weirdly cute & creepy, and it sounds like you’re on a subway, but after spending more than 20 minutes doing little more than walking in a straight line and trying to interact with things that cannot be interacted with, I’m not really sure that the show is quite good enough in this case.

Considering that the entire game can be played through in a couple of hours, according to HowLongToBeat, that’s far too long for nothing of significance to happen. Heck, even in a longer game, I don’t want to just be soaking up atmosphere for almost half an hour. I did encounter a couple of “puzzles” (and using the word puzzle here is generous), but there didn’t even seem to be much in the way of environmental storytelling in the portion of the game I played. Sure, you’re seeing missing posters, but you can’t actually read any of them, and picking up items and putting them into electrical sockets does not compelling game play make.

Subway Midnight definitely presses the buttons of being spooky, maybe even nudging into scary territory in some spots, but I’m not sure there’s enough of anything here to make it worth two hours of the player’s time. Maybe I’m impatient and it was just about to get interesting, but my tolerance for walking in a straight line was exhausted.

SteamDB estimates that Subway Midnight has sold between 14,700 and 40,300 copies on Steam. While some reviewers found it as tedious as I did, many more were intrigued enough to play it through to completion and would recommend it for fans of walking simulators. It is ranked 1526 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.

Quick Look – Maid of Sker

It’s not terribly surprising that the October Humble Choice included a quirky indie horror game (in fact, it had two!), and yet again, despite being a giant chicken, I have volunteered to check out Maid of Sker for UnwiseOwl’s group review. Maid of Sker has a regular price of $24.99, a play time of around 5 hours, and the only DLC available is the soundtrack which can be purchased for an additional $4.99.

I am now, and will likely forever be, looking for the perfect horror game for people who are too afraid of their own shadow to play horror games. The problem with this is twofold. Firstly, when horror games are very good, they also tend to be very scary, as they probably should be. However, the flip side of this is that games that want to be horror without being terrifying really need to have something else to hold the player’s interest throughout. While I think Maid of Sker has a lot going for it, it misses the mark for me in both being a little too damn creepy for my taste, and with the story being drip fed oh-so-slowly to prolong the tension.

I considered choosing the “Safe” difficulty, but eventually settled on “Easy”, but I am must report that I, personally, did not have a relaxed playing experience. I also didn’t find any ammunition at all (nor did I find a weapon), and I would not call one single health item “plentiful”. However, in the interest of full disclosure, during the majority of my playtime I also had no use for either, as I was just creeping around an old hotel touching stuff.

You play as Thomas, who receives a letter from his intended that she is stuck at her family’s hotel and that weird things have started to happen. Since this story takes place just before the turn of the century – that’s the 20th century, not the 21st – you hop the next train to see her. You arrive at the hotel, and everything seems pretty much abandoned. The atmosphere is rich pretty much from the start, but navigating everything is torturously slow, and that’s before you start sneaking around. You’ll be spending the majority of the game sneaking around, just to be clear.

When you finally make your way inside, a telephone device begins ringing. On the other end is your beloved, who has barricaded herself in the attic. She tells you that her father and uncle have been corrupted by the darkness of the hotel, and tasks you with finding some musical cylinders, which all need to be played at once to break the curse. All is appropriately creepy and gothic.

As fantastic as the atmosphere and – dear god – the sound design are, I found the game play extremely lacking. You wander around the hotel, and although you’ve just been warned about being quiet, the game seems to want you to touch absolutely everything that makes noise. No, I do not want to touch that piano. No, I don’t want to pick up that music box. No, I do not want to ring that bell on the desk. I am supposed to be being silent.

Even the save points make noise! Touching the phonographs saves the game and – at least the first time for each – you are rewarded with a recording that gives you a snippet the family’s history. The save points are frequent enough that I only slightly resented not being able to save anywhere, and some of the recordings they contained made me wish for a very big club with which to take out these awful men rather than just sneaking around hiding from them.

I gave it about an hour, but for me, Maid of Sker was the worst of both worlds for me. It was very successful at ratcheting up my anxiety, which means it was doing that part of its job. But every time my objectives screen updated, I found myself thinking “No, no, I would not like to do that. I would like to get on the next train home, please. Or at the very least, let me run right up to the attic, not-so-bravely rescue my love from the attic, and get on the next train with her. Anything, really, but go down the rickety bloody elevator.” I might have been able to coast on adrenaline if there was less creepy empty areas you needed to navigate and either the story was coming faster or there were more notes and other collectibles to hunt for, but I was somehow simultaneously terrified and bored. Not a compelling combination.

I realize the image is very dark and hard to make out, but that’s right in front of the bloody elevator. I wasn’t making that part up.

I would also guess that for most people who like survival horror, this one would also miss the mark, except I would venture to guess they would argue it’s not scary enough. The game is slow paced, the stealth mechanics border on nonsensical, and even the store page tells you that the only ability you’ll get to deal with the enemies is a defensive one. I’d be surprised if this is the game that makes anyone choose to grab this month’s Humble Choice, and I would hazard that it would only appeal to a very very small subset of gamers.