Shelter 2: Review

Responsibility. We’ve seen our fair share, eh, readers? Whether it’s being tasked with ending the oppressive regime of an underwater political dystopia full of drugged-up murderers, or searching every castle in the Mushroom Kingdom for missing royalty, we’ve been there.

When the world needed saving from Nazis, zombies, terrorists, or a dubious allegory for God, then we’ve had its back. But something about the responsibility placed into our fingers in Shelter 2 is unbearable. It is, after all, one so much more relatable to our emotionally frail human condition.


In Shelter 2 you’re a mother lynx charged with keeping your litter of four cubs alive and thriving through their first faltering steps into adolescence. you have to hunt to gather food, ensure they aren’t washed away by torrential flood water and, at all costs, avoid the packs of wolves that would snatch them away at the first opportunity.
“Ensure that the whole litter is getting all the grub it needs to keep on meowing”
your cubs start out life mewling and utterly dependant on you. For the first few weeks of their lives (passing over a few minutes of game time) they’re unable to even leave the warmth of the den, instead looking up as you venture out for precious meat. you can sniff the air, which dulls the colours of the world except for the vivid red silhouette of potential dinners scurrying about the brush. When the cubs are this small it’s just a case of chasing down rabbits or mice and then dropping them within scoffing reach. It’s a simple pleasure watching their tiny maws stain with the blood of your kill, and you can see them gain strength from your plight.

Once they’re out and about, following you as you wander across the open wilderness, things get a little trickier. you’ve four mouths to feed, but these cubs, easily identifiable as individuals thanks to their differing coat patterns, can’t all dig into one rabbit. We need to pick which cubs to nourish, and ensure that the whole litter is getting all the grub it needs to keep on meowing.

Meal Deal
As the consistent pressure to find sustenance for your brood ticks over, forcing you ever further away from your initial shelter and out into the more dangerous climes of the map’s outskirts, significant problems start to surface. Wolves bay threateningly when winter comes, and should a pack come across your merry fuzzy band then you can kiss goodbye to the slowest of your number. Water levels rise during the rainy season, with little warning and with devastating speed. again, fail to keep clear of these flash floods and your litter will pay a heavy price.

When you do lose a cub, and you will, as the world can be almost unfairly cruel at times, the loss is crushing. (It’s even more devastating if you name your litter after your friends or colleagues, mostly because they’ll never speak to you again if you let them die…) Look at Shelter 2 with an entirely mechanical glare and these cubs are nothing more than heart containers, extra lives, or a health bar. Lose one and you’ll carry on; lose them all and it’s goodnight Vienna. But drink it in with tearful human eyeballs and it’s impossible not to feel a twinge in your heart-bits as one of your brood falls ill and fails to keep up as you press ever on in search of your little family’s next meal.

The whole parenting thing is a beautiful conceit, and one which is becoming more prevalent in games think The Walking Dead and The Last Of Us. Here, though, the eventual outcome for your surviving cubs, as they enter their second autumn and inevitably feel the call to venture out by themselves, is so much more in your hands. If you fail it’s on you, not the game.

Nature Bawls
Well, it shouldn’t be. In truth, it’s not perfectly executed. much like the first Shelter, there are a few technical problems hampering your immersion. The camera, which feels too rigidly fixed and low to the ground, constantly clips through the environment around you. It’s not unusual to find your screen filled with jutting black polygons as you crest over an otherwise picturesque hillock. There was the odd occasion when we found ourselves stuck to the scenery, too. Can you imagine David attenborough narrating a wildlife documentary about a family of lynx torn to pieces by wolves as their mother was jumping around in circles trying to untangle her rear from an invisible wall in the wilderness?

Rabbiting On
Stand still not that you’ll have much time to with the cubs’ tummies rumbling and the world does look great. The unique, almost papercraft environments, coupled with the soothing colour palette, works wonders, especially when it passes through the seasons. With summer comes brightly coloured poppy fields; with winter, frigid lines and deep snow. Seasons impact your gameplay, too. One particular conundrum we encountered saw us attempt to cross a frozen lake in the middle of winter, only for the ice to start to melt halfway across. Cue much frantic sprinting, and checking that all cubs were accounted for at all times.

Moments such as this happen too infrequently, however. a single playthrough will last you about three to four hours and too much of that time is spent hunting the same old rabbits through the same old motions. There’s an occasional deer in there, but we can’t help but wonder what could have been had there been more surprises awaiting us as we explored the larger area over multiple playthroughs.

As it stands, there’s little to keep you coming back beyond a few ambiguous collectibles which feel tacked on for no discernible reason other than to artificially elongate the experience. Shelter 2 can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a tightly woven emotional noose or a sweeping, emergent tapestry of moments. Ending up somewhere in the middle doesn’t help it.

But reach the end and there you are. Suddenly your time and money will have been worth it. Its gameplay might be bent unconvincingly around it at times, but that central concept is far too powerful. We won’t spoil it, obviously, beyond saying that you’ll probably want to give your old mum a call once you’re done. you monster.

7/10

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