Shelter Review

by Michael Irving Featured

2 Comments 9 Votes 20846 Views 06/09/2013 Back to Reviews

Badger? I barely know her!

Generally, the less about shooting dudes a game is, the more interested in it I become. So my curiosity was piqued when I heard about Shelter, a lovely-looking indie title where players step into the paws of a mother badger, foraging for food and protecting her cubs from predators.

It's an intriguing idea, and it's presented beautifully in a pastel, patchwork quilt world, with an effective, minimal soundscape. It wasn't until I finished it for the first time that I began to notice the roughness around the seams.


But I'm getting ahead of myself. During your first playthrough, the experience is unique and joyful. Its mechanics are simple, and communicated elegantly. In the beginning, one of your cubs is curled up on the ground, a sickly grey colour in contrast with the healthy brown fur of the other four that follow you. Something's obviously wrong, and with only a slight prompt, the game points out how to pick up a nearby vegetable. It's obvious what needs to be done. With its belly full, the cub springs to its feet and regains the brown coat of its siblings.

It's basically one long escort mission as you guide the litter through the woodlands, and being a good parent means you'll have to periodically feed them, and preventing them from being fed on. You'll also need to pay special attention to which cubs you give food to, as the greedy little varmints will push each other out of the way if it means more for themselves. Keep an eye on their colouring, and try to feed the palest ones first. If you let a cub get too hungry, it will collapse.

And then there are the more immediate threats. If you don't heed the warning of the ominous shadow circling overhead, your cubs could be snatched by a huge bird of prey, while you watch helplessly. Raging rivers and forest fires can also claim lives in an instant.

The handful of levels are distinct in their visual style and central environmental "antagonist". In the wake of the fires, for instance, food is scarcer, and the tall grass, once a safe hiding place from eagles, can become a fire hazard within seconds.


But while the narrative of the ending is poignant, it's ultimately unsatisfying. It's very short, which in itself, shouldn't matter. I appreciate short, experimental games from indie developers, and I've played some fantastic examples over the past few months. Papo & Yo, Slender: The Arrival, Surgeon Simulator 2013 and Gone Home have all clocked in under four hours, but they felt denser.

On completion, I realised Shelter felt empty, and I tested it with a second playthrough. During my first, I was very careful, but this time I aimed to be as neglectful a parent as I could. I ran ahead and left my cubs to find me. I didn't feed them until they collapsed. I even made them run through fire (yes, I am a monster).

I had to try really hard to not protect them, and even then, they overcame most obstacles by themselves. The threat of the wilderness is mostly an illusion, and it somewhat robs the game of its heart. Put in the slightest bit of effort, and your cubs will be fine.

When it comes to experimental titles like this, trying to jam them into the conventional definition of a "game" often feels unfair. Things like Dear Esther or Gone Home are hard to call "games", but they are cohesive experiences that achieve what they set out to do.

Shelter, on the other hand, seems to want to play with conventional game mechanics in an unconventional manner. If so, that's great, but it doesn't quite get there.

The eagle sections, as a good example, are a fun piece of stealth play. You creep through the safety of the long grass, watching for the bird's silhouette, before sprinting across the open ground to the next patch of grass to hide in. It's exciting and gamey and different, until you realise that you almost have to stand out in the open for it to be the threat it pretends to be.

Final Verdict

I really want to be able to recommend Shelter. Protecting badger cubs is fun and heartwarming, and the visuals are an absolute treat. But when you pull back the curtain, the experience is sadly hollow.

Shelter

Got Right
  • + And now, for something completely different...
  • + Absolutely stunning visuals
  • + Levels vary things up well
Got Wrong
  • - Danger isn't all that dangerous
  • - Not much content
Platform: PC
 
Vote for this article Log in with Facebook

Shelter Review Comments

Leave a comment Log in with Facebook
Pretty much the entire reason I want to play this is for the visuals. Seems a little similar to Proteus in that respect.

whaling said: Pretty much the entire reason I want to play this is for the visuals. Seems a little similar to Proteus in that respect.


Not a bad comparison, really. It's a nice little experiment of a game, but it's a little pricey for its length and depth.

Post a comment

Leave a comment Log in with Facebook

Recently Read

Featured PC Content

Most Anticipated September Game

Most Anticipated September Game

26/08/2015 Polls 3 9
MGS V The Phantom Pain servers still down and out
Tano 7 hours News 2 4
Assassin's Creed Syndicate trailer explores London

Assassin's Creed Syndicate trailer explores London

Gryllis 8 hours News 0 4
Hideo Kojima reflects on MGSV: The Phantom Pain

Hideo Kojima reflects on MGSV: The Phantom Pain

Gryllis 8 hours News 0 2
Pre-order 'bonuses' with the biggest games of 2015

Pre-order 'bonuses' with the biggest games of 2015

Gryllis 9 hours Articles 3 8
Resident Evil 0 & Remake HD will be bundled on disc

Resident Evil 0 & Remake HD will be bundled on disc

Gryllis 13 hours News 1 4
Star Wars Battlefront beta confirmed for October
Gryllis 14 hours News 2 4
10 cool tricks and secrets in The Phantom Pain

10 cool tricks and secrets in The Phantom Pain

Tano 14 hours Articles 0 1
The Phantom Pain dog companion: How to unlock

The Phantom Pain dog companion: How to unlock

Tano 1 day News 2 5

Community Content

What's it really like going to E3?

What's it really like going to E3?

12/06/2015 Blog 5 0

MMGN Updates

Status
Updating..
Username

Always so hard being a noob :|

portagamer 4 hours ago
Username

eveevea shared a story - How to recover samsung galaxy sms?

eveevea 4 hours ago
Username

Skiparoo is now Level 4!

Skiparoo 7 hours ago
Username

commented on MGS V The Phantom Pain servers still down and out

Matrix6 7 hours ago
Username

commented on Most Anticipated September Game

MezFunky 7 hours ago
Username

Skiparoo is now Level 3!

Skiparoo 10 hours ago
Username

commented on Jarryd Hayne added to Madden NFL 16 Ultimate Team

Matrix6 10 hours ago
Username

dru80c, Matrix6 commented on Star Wars Battlefront beta confirmed for October on PS4, Xbox One and PC

dru80c 11 hours ago