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Skyhill Review - Bulimia Doesn't Work That Way

Gaming article by Samantha Ooi on April 22, 2019 at 11:00 AM
Review

Set in a gloomy future in the aftermath of World War III, Skyhill is a roguelike where bioweapons remain a looming threat. You play as Perry Jason, a man on a business trip who decided to check into the top floor suite of the Skyhill to treat himself, enjoying its perfect view of the 'latest biological defense system'. A system that fails completely as a biochemical bomb detonates within the city. This cataclysm sets the stage for your attempt at freedom. Only mutants roaming all the way up to the 100th floor stand between you and the bottom of the tower.

Skyhill Brings Survival Roguelikes to the Cold War

Skyhill opening cutscene
The start of a very bad weekend.

Skyhill's art style builds on its premise of 'Cold War-esque' era of paranoia. The cel-shaded style shown in its opening cutscene resembles panels from a pulp comic book. This art style continues into the game proper, albeit in a more minimalist form. Each item and character has a clean-cut design that's very distinct. However, this simple design also lightens the tension built by the heavier shadows and tone of its opening. Enemies look very simple and not very threatening when first seen on the floor map, although they have more detailed sprites during battle.

 

In Skyhill, you need to manage your health and hunger meters, as well as your inventory of crafting resources and items in order to survive. Health and hunger are your standard 'survival' mechanics. You die if your health reaches zero, and hunger represents your available energy for moving between rooms or sleeping to regain health. You salvage food and items from the rooms you come across as you head downwards. The items you pick up are easy to identify quickly, with simple but clear icons showing what they are, like wires or a carton of milk. You can then bring your gathered supplies back to the top of the Skyhill as your suite serves as your persistent base. It is where you cook food (kitchen), sleep to regain health (bed), and craft different specific items and weapons (workbench).

Climbing Down 100 Floors in Skyhill

Skyhill stats screen
"I’m coming up with nine point zero nine nine uh, repeating of course, percentage, of survival."

As you make your way down the hotel, defeating the mutant enemies during your descent and other tasks gives you EXP for leveling up which gives you skill points. Deciding which stats in with your skill points the most important part of building your character in Skyhill, as they are all combat-focused and dictate what weapons you can actually use and how effective they are. Weapons have stat requirements that you will need to fulfill to use a weapon at its full power. Having to plan ahead with stat requirements in mind, but also having to improvise with the materials you actually have. While this gives some much needed meaningful choices, the blandness of the weapons themselves and the lacking combat does not give a good pay-off for planning ahead.

 

Skyhill provides many options when crafting, especially its selection for weapons which can quickly balloon in size once you start upgrading the workbench to unlock more recipes. The weaponry seems strangely exotic for a businessman at a hotel. Survival mainstays like machetes mix together freely with hookswords and khopeshes. Despite the variety, I was disappointed that the weapons all act exactly the same and are essentially different beating sticks. The battle mechanics are very simple and just involve damage and accuracy. The only difference between weapons is their damage range and stat requirements. There are no damage or elemental types, or different moves. Every single battle boils down to a battle of attrition and RNG with accuracy percentages.

Military and Medical Supplies in Skyhill

Skyhill mall ninja shit
When you're secretly a mall-ninja and the apocalypse hits.

Skyhill provides a huge range of weapons across multiple pages of recipes even, but a combination of the art style and a badly designed UI makes the crafting far more tedious than it should be. Every build recipe, even ones for the same weapon, get its own icon. Weapon icons become duplicated, a confusing mess made worse because different weapons can look very similar to each other due to the minimalist art style.

 

There are no tooltips showing the actual names of weapons used in recipes, so you need to guess what weapon is actually needed if several happen to look the same. Guess wrong, and you waste crafting materials and potentially fail your current run. The UI shows the items you have by using their icon opacity, with missing items having a lower opacity. This works fine on the main inventory but fails on the weapon UI as the weapon icons are too small and dull, which blends them right into the black background.

Skyhill's Randomly Generated Survival Game

skyhill battle monster
Looks like Fallout's VATs, but unfortunately isn't.

Skyhill's turn-based battle system has you facing mutant one at a time. The in-game battle screen splits a single mutant into three in a clunky way to show the different regions you can select to attack. It seems to provide tactical limb-targeting similar to Fallout's VATs system but is actually much more simplified. The only factors are the accuracy and damage range. Focusing on a specific limb of a mutant does not do anything that alters the battle.

You cannot affect its accuracy by aiming for its head for example or try to disable its main attacking limb by attempting to sever it. The only time an enemy changed its attacking behavior was because I brought it down beyond a health threshold, it did not matter which limb I was actually hitting. The battle system has wasted potential, especially since it finds inspiration in a system where disabling limbs is both a core mechanic and immensely satisfying. Coupled with the simplistic stats on weapons, battles quickly become increasingly dull. There's just not enough variety to change up the flow of battle.

Skyhill Review | Final Thoughts

Skyhill 69 naice
Naice.

In Skyhill, there's a sense of initial progress as you explore the mechanics. Death provides progress as you unlock new perks with every ten levels reached. These perks provide some tactics as you can only pick two for every run, one active and one passive. However, the perks vary between useless, boring, or plain negative in effect. I kept using Bulimia, the very first perk I unlocked. It simply provides the greatest advantage out of everything I found. I had no reason to change it up outside of deliberately making my run more difficult.

 

A lack of variety and meaningful choices is Skyhill's main problem. Despite having a large range of weapons, they all are exactly the same. They don't play any differently from each other. You use the same tactics for every single enemy encounter because of how simple the battle mechanics are. The sense of progression ends very quickly because completing the game once unlocks all perks available. The only incentive to continue you have left is in completing the story. Scattered recordings and notes hint at a larger narrative. However, none of that was compelling enough to draw me back in. It seems that Skyhill needs a deeper system in its combat to make it a roguelike worth replaying.


TechRaptor reviewed Skyhill on Switch with a copy provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC.

Review Summary

5.5

Skyhill has an interesting premise, but its systems are ultimately too simple in design to provide any compelling choices during gameplay. The overall lack of progression or variety makes replaying it after completing it once feel pointless.

Pros

  • Decent Voice Acting
  • Large Weapon Variety
  • Tactical Perk Variety

Cons

  • Gameplay Lacks Complex Tactics
  • Weapons Feel Samey
  • Wasted Limb-Targeting System
  • No Sense of Progression
  • No Incentive for Repeated Runs

About the Author

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Samantha Ooi

Staff Writer

Ex-game-studio grunt, now freelance writing and floating around. Just don't ask me about what I have seen~