Tom Hooper aka Atomp
This week I’m looking at the PC’s finest squad-based tactical badger simulator — Shelter. I’m joking, of course. Shelter is more of an adventure game where you play as a mother badger who is tasked with taking care of her cubs. The game oozes charm with a distinct and startlingly beautiful aesthetic and simple but effective game mechanics.
The primary goal of the game is to keep as many of your five cubs alive as possible. This is achieved through finding and distributing food and guiding the little badgers through the various perils of the game world. There’s a great deal about this setup that could suggest open-world gameplay, but instead the game is geared towards storytelling and is therefore surprisingly linear. This is not a negative comment but instead an observation, I had expected when I saw the previews of Shelter that it may be open-world, however I feel that the developers have made a fine decision in taking this route. Open-world survival games are rather common at the moment and whilst they can generate very interesting and engaging stories through procedurally generated content and events, it is very difficult to insert a developer’s particular plot-line or control the pacing in such a game. Might & Delight had clear goals as to what themes they want Shelter to engage with and the control afforded by linearity is necessary to cover these themes within their vision.
One of the principal theme explored throughout Shelter is that of nature, to the extent that despite being a very different game it can often feel remarkably similar to Proteus. The depiction of the natural environment within these games may be somewhat idealist,but despite this the effect is still quite pronounced. The variety of environments within Shelter, and the subsequent hazards that are presented to your cubs, displays an appreciation of the ecology of the environment and landscape which is then intermixed with the emotional attachment with said cubs. The subsequent cocktail is quite potent. On the subject of the cubs there is yet another comparison that I would like to draw upon, that being Journey. Shelter, while being similarly aesthetically astonishing, actually has a great deal more than just that in common with Journey. Both shared the linearity of a guided story, which manages to pluck at the emotions with great candor, and the manner in which companionship and emotional attachment is built without a single word spoken. The communication with your cubs is limited to a single button press, giving out a bark which returns a series of small yelps from your remaining litter. Whilst Journey used such a method to allow two human players to communicate in a simple and effective way in order to create a rapport, Shelter uses much the same process to built a bond and an emotional connection with this little litter of badger cubs. I feel that much like the games that I’ve compared it to, Shelter is at it’s core a very elegant experience, crafted with great care, attention and focus.
The game’s aesthetic mirrors the elegance of the plot, pacing and mechanics found throughout the rest of the game. Textures are of a painterly style, but rather than attempting a perfect representation of their respective surfaces they are a patchwork of what are essentially artistic patterns. The result of this is a series of environments consisting of an immensely pleasing patchwork quilt of artistic patterns, each abstractly representing the surface whilst simultaneously bringing forth a colour pallet that produces an atmospheric sensation of great conviction. The size of the natural environment to these small badgers is portrayed fantastically and the colouration of the sky, ground, lighting and water generates a series of consistent yet different environments. It is a very good sign when having finished this I will have to spend some considerable time trying to chose which of the many, many screenshots I snapped to include with this article. This is a game with an aesthetic which can produce desktop wallpapers from almost any screenshot. The music and soundscape also match the elegance of the gameplay and aesthetic, with a series of chilled out beats accompanying the majority of the game and more dynamic tracks at appropriate times. The overall sound design is very well done; one of the real key features of portraying nature is getting the sounds just right and Shelter manages this.
The game is available for Windows and Mac with reasonably low minimum system requirements, meaning that most will be able to appreciate Shelter in some form, except penguins unfortunately. The game currently costs $9.99 (approx £6.00) through the Humble widget on the Shelter website, which provides a Steam key and DRM free copies of the game. It’s also available directly through Steam for $11.50 (approx £6.99), although as always I’d recommend Humble. Shelter is an experience and it shouldn’t be missed, even if you just wait until it goes on sale.
Shelter Website Store (Humble):
Shelter on Steam: