Review: Sker Ritual is a horror shooter that caters well to a specific audience

Sker Ritual represents a surprising change of approach for its developers Wales Interactive. Back in 2020, they released the survival horror game Maid of Sker, which Entertainium’s own Gareth said “executes its formula with proficient aplomb”. Nearly four years later, the same team has executed a radical shift in direction. This spinoff is a breathless online shooter, putting one to four players up against endless hordes of crazed creatures on the cursed Welsh island of Sker.

Realistically, little remains from the earlier game. The island and certain characters recur here, but they are used very differently. Here, narrative takes a backseat to constant action. Sheer violent intensity, not creeping fear, is the order of the day in Sker Ritual. Where the earlier game took inspiration from Resident Evil, the new one is squarely in the same wheelhouse as the zombies mode in various Call of Duty games. 

In fact Sker Ritual seems designed to cater quite specifically to the Call of Duty crowd. This is a co-operative, team-based experience with similar pacing, rewards, and incentives to keep playing. The glut of retro militaristic weapons also recalls the blockbuster series. Sker Ritual can be best thought of as something of a throwback to the earlier days of zombie shooters, before they apparently became an afterthought in games like Modern Warfare III

There is a threadbare narrative here, but it is barely noticeable. What it amounts to is that following the negative ending of Maid of Sker, the island has become a hub for malign experiments which have unleashed armies of malevolent creatures. The only solution is simple brute force, which players will apply through the course of four scenarios which can be handled in any order. These sometimes reuse locations that appeared previously in Maid of Sker, including the Sker Hotel.

There’s almost no time to take in the lovingly designed, spooky environments.

Gameplay is very straightforward. Killing foes earns money, which is used to obtain new weapons and – in the game’s most absurdly contrived feature – to open doors. Enemies ostensibly arrive in waves, but these are so frequent that the gaps between them are usually too short to be noticeable. The sheer manic intensity of the experience covers up the stark simplicity of the combat, and denies the chance to take a breath. Wales Interactive have crafted some attractive and suitably spooky locales, but there is never time to take in the view. 

The aim differs slightly in each scenario, but they all boil down to a progression through a particular location while under constant attack from all directions. Periodically, this assault is punctuated by the appearance of special foes, bosses, or puzzles. Upgrading to the most powerful weapons available is essential, as is responding quickly in order to resuscitate downed allies. As waves become more powerful, the danger to a depleted team grows accordingly.

To this standard formula, the developers have also added a thin roguelike element, which is to say that players will periodically level up and have the chance to choose a new perk. This of course is a tried and tested mechanic, but it seldom seems satisfying in Sker Ritual. The perks fall into a trap whereby most of them seem so minor that they are quickly forgettable. There are no game-changers here, merely small tweaks to reloading or the magical grenade with which each player is equipped.

The anachronistic modern weapons increase the resemblance to Call of Duty.

It should be noted that Sker Ritual cannot be recommended as a solo experience. While this option is available, Wales Interactive’s balancing for single play is dubious. The game seems almost impossibly relentless while playing alone, and suffers badly for a lack of other players to tackle the tide of undead. This game was clearly developed with an overwhelming focus on multiplayer, and should be approached accordingly. 

Leaving aside its connection with its survival horror forebear, Sker Ritual is a very conventional and competent multiplayer zombie shooter. It is at its best with a full team of friends who are prepared for its relentless pace and transparently “gamey” nature. Those looking for a more cerebral experience, or one that satisfies narratively, ought to look elsewhere.

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