Skyhill Review (PC)
Skyhill is a ‘Point and Survive’ rogue-like game developed by Mandragora and published by Daedalic Entertainment. You play as a man who decided to stay at the Skyhill Hotel during World War III. Needless to say some major level crapola be happening and someone drops the Z-bomb. All of a sudden the place is filled with mutants and you’re stuck in the VIP suite on the hundredth floor. Your objective is to make it to the ground floor and escape… Seems simple enough right? Well that would be too easy. So there’s a few things in your way. But before we move onto how you’re gonna do that I want to talk about the art style…
This is the first of the things Mandragora got right. It has a nice simple hand drawn style that, given the turn based gameplay and the Framing of the rooms, reminds me of a visual novel or comic. Nice and simple with an easy to follow UI as well. The game window shows only the essentials which lets you see what’s going on everywhere. All in all a very nice looking game.
So how do you get from the VIP suite to he ground? You walk… well mostly. You may have noticed in the screenshot above that there are 2 bars next to my portrait in the top left. The red one is my health, which goes down for obvious reasons given the ugly little guy standing next to me. The green one is my food. You spend one food every time you walk from room to room. The nice thing being that you can sometimes find more food to eat in the rooms you’re exploring to top you back up again. It adds a level of strategy to the gameplay as you have to decide if it’s worth spending the ‘food’ bar to go back and look in a room you missed earlier or if you should move on. But wait… does that mean that you should only ever be moving down? Surely it seems counterproductive to spend all your food points walking back to the top floor? This is something you will need to do from time to time so how do you get around that one? Well this is a hotel right? With a hundred floors? Aha! There’s an elevator. It can’t be accessed from all the floors because there’s an apocalypse going on so some of the doors have been damaged but you can use it to jump from the ground floor all the way to the top if you so desire. There’s also the problem that the power will be out every few floors and you’re gonna have to fix it if you want the elevator to work anywhere below that point. If you happen to have the right item in your inventory then you can use it to repair the fuse box and you’re all set. If you don’t have the item you have 2 options. Leave the thing alone or try and fix it anyway. The latter option will use up a chunk of your hunger bar, representing how long it took you to fix, and may cause you to lose a random item. You might also fail to fix it meaning that you just wasted a chunk of your resources for nothing. As with a lot of things in this game it seems to be based entirely on dice rolls which option you end up with but we’ll get to moaning about that later.
Skyhill has a really nice crafting system that lets you build progressively stronger weapons from the things you find in the world. My favourite part about it was the fact that most of the higher tier weapons use lower tier ones as components. You want that really big sword with the saw blades on the end of it? Well first you make the sword, then you attach a saw to the end. Seems logical right? It almost reminds me of a simplified version of the crafting in the Dead Rising series. Very simplified but as you exploring a hundred floors of a hotel rather than a large open world, that seems fine by me.
Next lets talk about upgrading your character. Killing mutants and completing the missions that turn up on ringing phones every so often (we’ll come back to them later) earns you experience points (XP) which in turn levels up your character. During normal play you get 4 skill points to spend every time you reach a new level. The stats can be seen in the screenshot but to simplify, each weapon has a base damage value and a stat or two that it’s linked to. The higher the stat, the bigger the damage you can do with that weapon. Simples right? It means that you have to be thinking ahead about what weapons you’re gonna be using later down the line because you’re gonna want the extra damage that comes with higher stats but that awesome weapon you just built uses a stat you’ve spent no points in. That’s fine though right? Well up to a point. The random generation of loot means that sometimes it’ll be difficult to plan too far ahead as you don’t know what materials you’re going to find on the way down and as a result what weapons you’re going to be able to craft.
The story is the next part of this I reckon. So you know the basics of it if you were paying attention in the first paragraph. However there are many little notes and newspaper clippings scattered about the hotel for you to find that seem to point to something a little more sinister going on. I don’t want to spoil it because I reckon it’s the best part of Skyhill. I may be overcomplicating some random flavour text but I’m hopeful that Mandragora were really leaving this breadcrumb trail for us to find because if they were, then it’s Skyhill’s shining moment.
On to the problems then right?
The first thing is the combat. It’s a little flat if I’m honest. There’s two ways to play it. Either you can let the game do all the dice rolling in the world by leaving the big reticule button in the centre of the bottom bar unclicked. In this case you just click on the enemy you want to hit and the game just rolls a dice to decide if you hit them and how hard. The other option is to click the button and in a manner reminiscent of the VATS system in the Fallout series. You pick a part of the monster to aim at based on how easy it is to hit and how much damage it’s gonna do. Then the game rolls a dice and decides the same thing. To be honest it seemed interesting to start with but there were times when I felt like all I was really doing was hitting a button and hoping. You can influence the dice rolls a little with your stats but there wasn’t any skill involved. It was just hit the mouse button over and over until one of you falls down dead.
The second thing that I didn’t like was the fact that while you could turn basic items into more advanced, you couldn’t turn them back. To give you an example. In order to take down one of the last enemies you encounter (which has over 100 health) I needed to upgrade my weapon. I knew the my current weapon wouldn’t cut it as it was only doing about 4 damage per hit. There was no way I was going to survive a fight with one of these guys when they were doing 15 damage to my 4 so I went hunting for the parts to fix up a stronger stick to hit them with. Unfortunately after checking in every room I had access to I was short one metal plate. I couldn’t explore anywhere else because the big guy was blocking my progress down. I had an inventory full of junk and I couldn’t use anything. You have a worktable that lets you turn metal plates into blades and even nails, it would be nice to be able to go back the way too. However, I guess this was a decision made by the developers and they had their reasons for it. I just wish it hadn’t ended my run on the 3rd floor. Sigh…
All in all Skyhill wasn’t a bad game really. Merely a short one. I managed to reach the bottom twice after only a couple of hours of gameplay but whether or not any of my runs were going to make it seemed to be based more on how lucky I was with regards to the loot I was finding while searching the rooms than with any amount of skill on my part. Is it worth the £11.99 price tag on steam? I would say no. Wait till it goes on sale unless this really does sound like your thing. Steam does have a demo available (in the UK for certain so I’m assuming the same holds true for other countries) so there is the option to find out before you splash your hard earned spondoolies on it.
5 Mutants in hotel rooms out of 10