When I got the chance to preview Skyhill earlier this year, I went into it wondering just what would really be on offer. On the surface, it had pretty much everything I get excited about in a game; post-apocalyptic setting, RPG-inspired crafting and experience mechanics and even the gut-wrenching task of securing survival at all costs. All of the ingredients for a pretty great game, wouldn’t you say? Given the modest set-up, however, you’d be forgiven for fearing that the sum of its parts wouldn’t quite add up to hit the heights.
Fortunately, Skyhill does not disappoint. Developer Mandragora has put together an immensely satisfying experience that can keep its players entertained for either a few moments or even a few hours depending on their skill, endurance and even how well lady luck may be smiling on them.
So, what’s it all about? Well, in short, there’s been a fairly catastrophic nuclear event and the world has turned to all hell. Your character, an average Joe who’d been staying in the titular hotel’s executive, 100th floor suite soon finds the disastrous events have had an effect in the hotel itself, too, and it seems escape is the only chance for survival. Having been holed up in his room for some time, he finds the courage to leave his suite and start the hundred floor descent through the dark and dangerous building.
A quick dash down the floors to safety? How hard could that be? Well, given that the power has shut down almost entirely, most of the supplies are exhausted AND the majority of the other inhabitants have either mutated or turned into murderous psychotics, it turns out it can be very hard indeed. At its core, this is simply a game about survival and the only way to secure this is to make it from the top floor to the ground floor exit. There are no lives or do-overs in Skyhill, though, and so if you succumb to one of the many threats in the hotel, then you’re right back to square one.
One of the best things about Skyhill truly is the challenge it sets for its players. You have to manage the levels of your character’s hunger and energy in tandem to ensure he is able to keep on moving, fighting and ultimately surviving. While energy is chipped away in the typical means by taking damage in combat etc, hunger slowly depletes with each move the player makes. With up to three available rooms on each of Skyhill‘s floors and only a hundred maximum hunger points to spare at any time, it’s painfully obvious that this is a game of meticulous planning and methodical economy.
Moving through the various stages of the hotel will provide all manner of things for the players to stumble upon. Many of the corridors and rooms contain all kinds of mutated beings or blood-thirsty psychos keen on hacking you to pieces or even digesting your tired remains. Players can fight back bare-handed, if necessary, but fortunately the hotel is also full of plenty of useful items that can be swung in the direction of a foe to add some much-needed weight to your character’s defensive blows. Food items and medicines can also be uncovered to help boost failing energy or hunger, but beware: these aren’t guaranteed fail-safes and spoiled or tainted goods can quickly land players in all sorts of trouble.
The depth of the experience in Skyhill is what’s most impressive given the relatively small scale as of the game. The RPG elements are almost as thorough as the likes of Fallout and the item crafting brings with it the satisfying results from The Last Of Us. Players can even upgrade and improve the facilities in their suite – which can act as a useful base of operations as you progress – to boost how secure and accessible it is.
Skyhill‘s goal may be survival by reaching the ground floor exits, but in truth, the journey is far less straight-forward than just powering down through the floors. My most successful run with the game took hours to complete, and saw me yo-yoing back and forth through re-illuminated floors to make sure I could always keep handy supplies of items and energy in reserve. The methodical approach was, I found, the very best one.
I’d also have forgiven the game for throwing me into the chaos of its post-apocalyptic nightmare without much consideration for the ambient atmosphere and surrounding events, but Mandragora clearly were not willing to let that happen. Desperately scrawled notes and panicked voicemail messages on abandoned phones are just a couple of the many traces of the devastation that can be found within the game. You get a real sense of the suffering the other guests experience while you character was holed up in his suite, and it adds a harrowing atmosphere to the rest of the proceedings.
In truth, it’s really only a lack of variety in the game’s latter stages that is any sort of disappointment. Some of the enemies get bigger and stronger as you reach the lower floors, but the models don’t change an awful lot. The mix of terror and joy I experienced early on with each new encounter started to waver in the game’s second half, and it does start to dull the tension just a tad when the enemies start to appear like they are being generated out of cookie-cutters. It was also an occasional frustration that luck can ultimately trump all of your meticulous movement and management and lead to your eventual undoing, but it would be immensely harsh to call this a weakness in the game. After all, wouldn’t luck be one of the largest factors in how any person could survive in a disaster like this?
In the two months since I first experienced Skyhill, I have found myself returning to it to test myself against its gruelling challenge time and time again. Its overall experience is remarkably thorough given its modest set-up, and it offers some of the very best elements players have come to expect from the very biggest and best RPGs and survival games. It is one of the best titles I have played in 2015, and a definite favourite from recent memory. Anyone looking for a new and engrossing challenge should look no further than the world’s deadliest hotel.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game, which was provided to us.
Skyhill's set-up is a harrowing reality, while the challenge it offers players is both terrifically fun and nightmarishly difficult. It is a true test of your gaming endurance.