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You awake and find your room is a wreck. Stepping outside, the strip lights in the ceiling flicker and buzz as you wander the halls looking for any signs of life amongst the dank walls and grimy corridors. The lifts are broken down on almost every floor, and the other guest rooms you enter are practically bare. One room contains a TV, but this is rendered useless almost immediately by a bird hurling itself through the window and into the screen. It explodes with a pop and a hiss, and you head back outside and down the staircase. You’re immediately confronted by a disgusting, deformed creature, barely clothed, moaning and breathing heavily as it stumbles towards you.
You may be forgiven for thinking it, but this isn’t Holiday Inn Express Simulator. It is in fact Skyhill, a roguelike set in a post-apocalypse hotel. As an unnamed wealthy individual, you’ve managed to procure the top VIP floor of the hundred-storey building, which turns out to be a bit problematic once the worst happens and the place is overrun by zombies and other bizarre (but no less deadly) creatures. You start with just your bare hands and a hunger gauge only half full, and have to somehow make your way down to the ground floor by sourcing items from the rooms, vending machines and enemies you encounter.
Getting up and down the stairs would be a chore without lifts. These are powered by the fuse boxes next to them, which are broken on every few floors. They can either be repaired by items in your inventory, items you have crafted on the fly, or by taking a gamble that you can botch a fix at the cost of some hunger points and an item in your inventory. Since lifts are vital to your access to the top floor, you’ll soon learn to keep enough supplies on hand to fix these as you come across them.
Each floor combines three rooms - a staircase and a room to each side. The contents of each room is procedurally generated which can cause some consternation when you manage to find a crowbar on floor 98 on your first run-through, but then have to make do with your fists until floor 85 on your second. Fortunately, the further you progress on each play through, the more perks you unlock to use at the start of your next game. These come in two flavours - active and passive - and vary considerably. Active perks are items or skills provided for you to wield either immediately, or at times of need - such as an emergency medkit which provides fifty health points, or the ability to open any locked door once every hundred turns without a key. Passive perks include the ability to become immune to poison and the effects of eating bad food, or to always take the first turn in battles.
The hundred health points you start with will soon be whittled down by the monsters you face. Combat is a straightforward but engaging game of numbers. You are presented with two or three options of attacking an enemy, with the probability of each inversely affecting the amount of damage you do. If you’re low on health you might want to risk landing a twenty point blow on a zombie with only a fifty-five percent probability of hitting him, whilst in scenarios where your constitution is more robust you’re likely to pick a weaker but more accurate attack. It’s a surprisingly fun mechanic, which makes up for the bland and staccato animations in battles. Should the fight reduce your health, you can either recover with medkits and various other items such as painkillers or bandages, or you can rest in your VIP room at the cost of hunger points.
Each move you make consumes hunger points, which are replenished by the food you find on your travels. Whether you are on the stairs or between rooms, you need to keep a watchful eye on this gauge before it starts eating into your health. Deciding whether to descend another floor or to beat a retreat to your room helps crank up the sense of desperation as your supplies run low. Fortunately there is a crafting system which lets you combine the odds and ends you pick up along the way into more useful variants. Got an egg and some water? Turn it into a boiled egg for increased health. Picked up some scrap metal? Convert it into wire. The recipes are provided to you by default, you just need to unlock them as you progress and also by upgrading your VIP room’s workbench and kitchen (again, by crafting), which then opens up even more items for you to use. Before long you’ll be wielding a star blade and pretending you’re in Krull as you take out zombies in a single hit. You also gain experience points as you kill enemies which can be used to level up four personal stats; these are necessary to wield some of the more powerful weapons without penalty.
If you’re short on parts, coins can be collected for use on the medical, tool and food dispensers in the halls and may yield what you’re looking for. Alternatively, they may chuck out absolute garbage. Similarly, the risk/reward mechanic makes each foray into side rooms a tense choice. Do you forgo the chance of more items in order to make it closer to the ground floor? Or do you risk getting impaled by a mega mutant for the miserable bounty of a single rotten cherry? The entire experience is like playing apocalypse rummy, and though the basic nature of its framework shouldn’t succeed, it somehow does. The graphics are basic at best, the music sinister but unobtrusive, and the combat borders dangerously close to repetition due to a lack of variety amongst enemies and simplistic turn-based attacks. If you’re looking for a story, forget it - clippings from newspapers, collectible audio logs and mobile phone messages all try to provide a superficial narrative for the simplistic gameplay, and fail. Yet beneath the dated surface is a surprisingly addictive core, one which will have you staying up for one more attempt - at least until you finally hit the ground floor and check out.