We’ve already talked about how hunger dictates the player’s movement around the hotel, but there’s also a need for genuine thought on the player’s part; trying to barrel through the hotel as fast as possible is simply not a sustainable option. To put this in perspective, I attempted this in one turn and managed only to reach the 87th floor before I perished. Certain rooms you approach may be locked, filled with a currently unbeatable foe or even occupied by a survivor willing to trade certain items with you as they await extraction. With this being the case, not every room or floor can be covered in one trip, meaning that there’s a definite fluidity to the journey.
Like so many games built around an apocalyptic setting, Skyhill does a really great job of adding a variety of divisive decisions to be made; players will constantly be wondering whether the potential gains for revisiting a room outweigh the potential pitfalls. I underestimated such risky turns on many an occasion, and only once did I get lucky enough to survive my mistake.
With survival being the key objective, that’s a pretty poor ratio and the game is gleefully punishing in that regard. There are no save files, and the only checkpoint system comes in the form of a limited elevator access to return to your room, so long as you have the available keys. Death in Skyhill is essentially permanent, and players will have to start the whole experience over if they succumb to the dangers lurking in the hotel. It really is a brutal approach, but I never found myself overly put off by this. In fact, the challenge it posed had me virtually glued to my seat as I tried desperately to find safe and sensible passage through the floors.
Failure in the game can actually be a help in itself, however, as active and passive perks can be unlocked by reaching the lower floors on previous attempts. I managed an improvement of twenty floors in between my first and second attempts with the game, thanks in large part to some mightily helpful additions. My active perk, for example, cut the amount of energy I was using for each move and meant I could focus more on item collection for a valuable number of turns. Once the perk wore off, I was well-stocked on food, meds, weapons and even a whole host of useful items for upgrading as I progressed.
Skyhill‘s upgrade system is simple and relatively limited, but this is perfect given the small scale of the setting. Nothing available to players feels out of place or unrealistic, and the various additions you can make to your weapons, equipment and even room seem absolutely plausible in the context of the game. Character progression is similarly down-to-earth as well, with experience coming in all the usual RPG places such as victorious combat or quest completion. As the character progresses he becomes more accustomed the situation he finds himself in, and can accordingly be made more adept and useful through the allocation of simple skill points.
Sadly, of course, the enemies and challenges also progress as the downward journey moves on and the grotesque mutants and bloodthirsty psychopaths become more dangerous the closer you get to the ground floor. The models for these are occasionally wacky, but always fearsome. The aftermath of the catastrophic event has had a severe effect on the surrounding population, meaning there are a variety of foes standing between you and your escape.
Skyhill is a game that takes a tried and tested gaming setup and brings an alternative challenge to it. For a relatively small game, it seems to be packed with detail and really feels alive. The hotel is brimming full of friends, foes, and a progressive challenge that differs with each randomly-generated playthrough. Do not be surprised to even experience some remarkably touching moments and striking revelations during the game’s ambient quests, and certainly do not underestimate the challenge posed by this survival RPG disguised as a simple platformer.