Shelter Review

Shelter doesn't reach the high level of profundity it aims for, but this journey through the wilds makes a few poignant points all the same.

by

It is said that the greatest despair that a parent can face is the death of a child. Shelter seeks to mimic parental love and the grief of loss by making you the caretaker of five youngsters who need to be nourished and protected as you lead them through the wilderness we call life.

Your children aren't human, however, nor are you: you are a mother badger escorting your offspring through meadows and forests, feeding them when possible and keeping them out of harm's way. You can't tell your tottering badgerlings what to do; you simply meander or trot forward and they stay in step, sticking close for comfort and gravitating toward edible vegetation, which you dig up and feed them if you want them to stay healthy on the journey.

The little ones trust you to feed and protect them in this autumnal wilderness.

It's a starkly linear trek, 90 minutes long or so, and it's the sense of place that makes Shelter initially intriguing. Trees and bushes are made up of simple shapes with splotches and swirls smeared across them to simulate shadow and texture. Pastel-shaded streaks are slashed across square panels on the ground to simulate the forest floor, each panel perpendicular to those around it. It's a unique effect that gives this natural world an oddly synthetic pattern, as if a stonemason had come through and thoughtfully arranged nature-themed bathroom tiles on the floor. In a nighttime level, the dark sky is criss-crossed by rows of moons and planets that recall a child's bedroom plastered with glow-in-the-dark stickers. Such elements seem jarring at first, but each level's consistent, complementary color scheme softens the edge.

The most striking effects are those that communicate danger. A hovering bird of prey is identified by its ornate ground shadow, and opaque walls of water rush down creeks, provoking fear and uncertainty. Shelter's use of such perils is at once its most effective and most disappointing mechanic. Your role as a parent is to protect your young, who follow you with the utmost trust. Leading them across a turbulent waterway could result in the loss of a precious youngster, who could get swept away to an untimely death without any fanfare. Nature doesn't care about this loss, but you will. When your group of five innocents is diminished by one, there's a gnawing sense of failure, not as a game player, but as a parent with a duty to shield your young.

Darkness descends, and the wolves begin their hunt.

The impact of this loss gives way to predictability, however, when you discover that in every case, you perform the same actions to avoid hazards: pause, then hurry. When the shrieking bird appears overhead, you wait for its shadow to drift out of the way so you can rush from one tuft of tall grass to the next. When you cross a tempestuous creek, you wait for clear passage before hightailing it across. Because Shelter stretches this one idea so thinly, the strength of your emotional connection to your offspring is diminished, replaced with rigid reminders that these are digital creatures, and your connection to them is only an illusion. When that illusion is shattered, Shelter loses its power.

Shelter's promising scavenging system could have inspired the tension its avoidance mechanics sometimes lack, but it too misses the mark. You can dig up certain vegetation like carrots and place it on the ground or give it directly to an individual youth, and can even sneak up on wildlife like fox cubs and leap onto them for a quick kill. At first you might find yourself memorizing the stripes on each badger cub's back and looking out for a gray coat (the game's telltale sign of hunger), following your instincts to treat each offspring equally so that none gets under- or overfed. But food is so plentiful that you quickly disregard this sense of responsibility; as long as you take advantage of every food source, you needn't worry about each cub getting its fair share.

You lead; your children follow.

The most fearsome level is the one that drives home the circle of life's innate apathy. You move through the dark, with only the immediate vicinity lit around you. You cannot rush forward at will as you can in other levels, only meander. There are unseen predators lurking, identifying themselves with a startling ruckus that sends your young'uns scurrying. And so you can finally sprint, hurrying to keep your children in sight, and quickly performing a head count when the commotion has ended. One-two-three… and that is it. Another cub gone, another wave of self-doubt. You have neglected your duty, and the price is a life cut short.

You can hobble to Shelter's conclusion as a lone survivor, turning the adventure's bittersweet but hopeful conclusion into a thought-provoking statement on the futility of existence. This is a lovely game, let down not by its mechanical simplicity, but by its resistance to doing more with those mechanics. Yet when it taps into basic animal instinct, Shelter reminds us just how precious life is, and how apathetic the laws of nature are to our pleas for mercy.

The Good
Creates an emotional connection between you and your offspring
Unique art style makes for a coherent world
Explores the indifference of nature in interesting ways
The Bad
Fails to instill the tension of survival
7
Good
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23 comments
ani5eed
ani5eed

i understand if the developers wanted to limit the mechanics to give the game a 'dear esther' level of story telling so i didnt have a problem with the mechanics, the games not long enough for you to get sick of them. what bothered me more, and im surprised kev didnt mention it, was the horrable camera constantly clipping behind objects, there were times i lost cubs thanks to that glitch

gbrading
gbrading moderator

I think this review is right on the mark. I really liked Shelter while it lasted, but it didn't reach the emotional heights I hoped, and the gameplay itself was a bit flat.

jflkdjs
jflkdjs

Wish if Kevin had done a video review of this. I like this sort of art style  :)

thezhe
thezhe

hens protect chicks

hystavito
hystavito

The review and the numeric score don't sound like a match to me.  I am not saying it shouldn't be a 7, I have no problem with that, just sounded like less.  When I read the caption on the home page and clicked through I was expecting a lower score.

I watched some videos with commentary of this game, I think it was on Giantbomb.  I can't recall who it was, but anyway, they didn't seem to get that sense of loss or importance when it comes to their children in the game.  It was like, "ah, I'm not sure, yeah I think I lost another kid...", that kind of reaction.  I felt like that broke maybe the most important element of the game.  I guess I'd have to play it myself to really see how it feels, 

Pyrosa
Pyrosa

I appreciate the thorough review, but frankly this game sounds like the opposite of fun.  Minor Tragedy Simulator 2013?

Buck_Swaggler
Buck_Swaggler

Just came to say those screen shots are the ugliest ones I've ever seen of any game ever.

toyo75
toyo75

"honey i'll be your shelter i'll be the one to take you through the night"

Geesh! My age is showing ^_^

Interesting game. Gonna check this game out.


Diegoctba
Diegoctba

Looks awesome, now i need to play it.

PeejayYeh
PeejayYeh

This game is just thought-provoking. I would love to play some games opening our eyes on the harsh and enjoyable realities of life. I will get this game, and you just convinced me more to do that. I will support this game throughout. Thanks. :DDDDD

beamme
beamme

Nice review Kevin, I agree wholeheartedly about everything.

I absolutely love some of the ideas this game has, and it's premise, I just wish it did more. Playing the game a second time I managed to keep all cubs safe without a lot of trouble other than worrying about food, which disappointingly turned out to not even be much of a problem at all.

It made me wish that food was so scarce that it was impossible to keep more than 4 cubs all the way through, to force you to make some tough arbitrary choices on who to feed.

Well, anyhow I'm not gonna belabor the game's failings more than that. The whole thing was a nice, if flawed, experience.

iloveyourface
iloveyourface

i <3 kevin. he should get arrested for being recklessly sexy. also, the game is definitely a work of art to enjoy, but i think a 5 dollar price would have been more prudent. meh, i've spent more than 10 bucks at mcdonald's alone so it's nothin' to be ticked about.

tweet7
tweet7

@Pyrosa That was genuinely funny. 

Even 'tragedy', however minor, seems a bit strong. Another comment pointed out the obvious reaction when they don't find that fundamental connection "Ah...oh well...one less to feed"

I just can't get past the fact that I f*&king hate badgers. They tear pond lining and you have to spend cold winter mornings and hot summer days fencing the b#*%ards out...srry, bit OT there...

Kevin-V
Kevin-V moderator staff

@snow_blind77 The point being, i presume, that I used the word correctly. According to the link you provided, the primary definition of each word is exactly the same :/

Hurvl
Hurvl

@snow_blind77From wiktionary:

Noun

profoundness (uncountable)

   1. The quality of being profound; profundity. 

I fail to see why there's a need to highlight this, since it seems correct.

Hurvl
Hurvl

@toyo75 I was more thinking of the song Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones.

joke_man
joke_man

@iloveyourface 

Spending more than $10 at McDonald's should make you ticked after your visit the restroom hours later...

Shelter More Info

First Release on Aug 28, 2013
  • PC
  • Macintosh
Shelter is a game where you take on the role of a badger mother who needs to protect her cubs from the dangers that exist in nature.
6.7
Average User RatingOut of 25 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Might and Delight
Published by:
Might and Delight
Genres:
Adventure