Login


Forgot password?

Registration

Password reset

Please enter your e-mail address and new password.

Shelter

Avatar
By BloodyFanGirl30-08-2013
MrJenssen (editor)
Shelter

The Defence

Developer:
Might and Delight
Publisher:
Might and Delight
Genre:
Adventure, Indie
Release Date:
28-08-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD Radeon HD 2880
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
2 GB
DirectX:
9.0c, 10

The Case

The second game from the Swedish developer, Might & Delight puts players in the role of a mother badger as they try to shepherd their cubs towards shelter and away from harm. I’ve just completed it, and now I must share this heartache with you.

The Trial

But first, how does it play? Well, not much has changed since the preview build I was lucky enough to get my mitts on. Gameplay is stripped right down to allow the emotions of the experience the room they need. It’s a very minimalist approach to game design; there’s no heads up display, hardly any on-screen text beyond the opening credits, and there’s not even any dialogue. Nearly all of the focus is on the parental badger and their cubs’ journey through the forest.

The Big Bad World.

The Big Bad World.

Visually, the game is gorgeous. The heavy use of texture might seem a bit overwhelming for some players but when I was playing the game, it all clicked nicely together. The music is also very pleasing to the senses. The score is often subtle, though sometimes a bit heavy handed and repetitive when a threat is nearby. Here’s a tip, if the music suddenly becomes very prominent, be extra vigilant over your cubs, and look to the skies.

My only point of annoyance with the gameplay came from the camera. For the most part it’s pretty intuitive, being controlled by the mouse and you even have the option to invert this in the settings. However, the camera can clip through trees and the textures can often obscure your view this way. In one of the tighter passages in the night level I lost a fair few cubs whilst fighting the camera to move it out of a tree. In other levels, I also had frame rate issues depending on how much of the level the camera was currently viewing. Aside from that, a lot of the issues I had with the camera, rather than being any real fault with the game, are probably mainly down to the fact that, for some reason, I always struggle with free-roaming, player adjusted cameras.

On the subject of gameplay, there’s a major component that may turn off some players immediately. And I know what you’re thinking. ‘Is the entire game literally just you ferrying these baby badgers around?’ Yup. ‘Ugh, so it’s just one long escort mission?’ Whoa, hold on there dear reader. To dismiss this game so readily would be to do yourself a disservice. Yes, you could be cynical and say ‘it’s just an escort mission’ but Shelter is more than that.

You cannot rest now. There are monsters nearby.

You cannot rest now. There are monsters nearby.

Despite your cubs being easy pickings for birds of prey and various forces of nature and despite your cubs being capable of little beyond eating and following, you do become extremely attached to your babies. The yaps your cubs emit in response to bigger badger’s bark is adorable and the shriek you hear when one of them gets caught in the claws of a feathered behemoth, feels like a punch in the gut.

Now, with everything I’ve said, the obvious title to compare Shelter to would be Ico. Both games have a very subtle, minimalist approach to gameplay and both games are also rather short. Shelter can be completed in an hour or two, depending on how much you explore. Both Shelter and Ico also feature AI companions that the player is meant to get very attached to. In Ico, your companion Yorda is absolutely vital to your journey, playing an important role in relation to the castle you find yourself incarcerated in. Without Yorda, you cannot progress, you cannot solve puzzles and you cannot open the door that allows you to leave. In Shelter, your cubs do not have as important a role to play in your quest for safety. However, despite players not being able to utilise mummy badger’s offspring in the same way as Yorda, you’ll still be kicking yourself when you hear their panicked cries. You’ll still frantically search for them should they ever leave your sight, and you’ll still smile when you hear five yaps back.

Whilst Yorda’s A.I wasn’t amazing, it was still very complex for the time and, at the very least, Yorda knows how to stay out of harm’s way. Your cubs’ AI is much more simple comparatively; they will follow you no matter what (unless picked off or starved) and they’ll even point out food to you, though that’s as complex as it gets.

Easy Pickings. Try not to be easier pickings.

Easy Pickings. Try not to be easier pickings.

However, whilst we’re on the subject of starvation, it’s worth noting that it’s something that will rarely occur because of the near overabundance of food. Which brings me onto another issue I have with Shelter: it’s really easy. Between the heaps of food and the fact that the solution to clearing each area comes down to a mere matter of timing, there isn’t a whole lot to master here; for a game that has been branded as at least part ‘survival simulator’, there isn’t a huge amount of surviving going on.

But, returning to your cubs simple AI, they rarely seek out danger themselves so the chances are you aren’t going to lose one of your babies because of your cubs artificial stupidity; you’re much more likely to lose one of them through your own mistakes and that makes the loss of your defenceless cubs even worse. That said, whilst losing a cub can often be a brutal experience, it never feels completely unfair. The only exception is the night level. Oh my god, the night level.

The night level is the second level of the game, and with it players are introduced to an incredibly frustrating difficulty spike. Even feeding your cubs is tricky here. Your sight is limited in this level due to the darkness, and if one of your cubs wanders out of your sight for too long, the darkness swallows them whole. Good thing that, for the most part, your cubs stick to you like glue. Except in this level. Should your cubs hear a twig snap, they will run off and get themselves eaten by invisible wolves lurking only inches away in the shadows that surround you. Sometimes this isn’t so bad if you paid attention to what direction they ran off in, because so much of the level is made up of narrow passages; for large chunks of the level, it’s difficult for your cubs to get too far away. However, there are a few wide open areas where it is significantly more difficult to track the tykes down. One of these is annoyingly at the end of the level and I always lost at least two of my five cubs there during my playthroughs. Playing this level was an extremely frustrating experience but, thankfully, Shelter only saves at the start of a new level. If you screw up, you can save scum to a certain extent…though this diminishes the emotional punch of losing a cub somewhat and I ended up having to make a conscious decision to not play this way. Frankly, the presence of this save system feels like a bit of an oversight and counter-productive to the developer’s intent.

Don't look back.

Don't look back.

But, back to the similarities between Ico & Shelter, both games share an emotional sucker punch of an ending. I shan’t spoil things, but there is a certain circularity to both and each final frame is ever so bittersweet. Shelter’s ending is also a perfect narrative culmination and solidification of its core themes and, for me at least, was a nice little “ooo” moment.

Speaking of the game’s themes, it goes without saying that motherhood is a hugely important one; Shelter explores the role of parents as well as the importance of their children to their identity and, because animals are used to explore this, it rarely comes across as heavy handed. But another important theme presented in an interesting fashion is the rite of passage. This is done subtly through the level design of the game. Many levels have a certain linearity to them with tight passages to traverse, dangers to overcome and points of no return. In addition to this, your babies get bigger as you play and it’s an interesting progression to observe.

The Verdict

To conclude, Shelter is a short but mostly enjoyable experience. You can get through the game in only a few hours but it will stay with you for much, much longer. I personally feel that it should be commended for how it attempts to connect with the player on an emotional level as well as making you appreciate your parents or caregivers a little bit more. To have that effect on a player is no mean feat. And whilst Shelter fails in its execution in some areas, the ideas and themes it’s trying to explore are undeniably interesting and something I’d like to see more games attempt to tackle.

Case Review

  • Sweet ‘n’ Cheap: Short, sweet and at a very reasonable price tag.
  • I Like Where This Is Going: Some interesting ideas...
  • The Eyes (And Ears) Have It: Personally I loved the look and sound of the game though it may give a headache to others.
  • Not a Whole Lot of Surviving Going On: The over-abundance of food and heavy reliance on timing makes this game extremely easy.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: Save scumming and the game’s easiness destroys Shelter’s emotional impact.
  • We Could’ve Had It All: ...with execution that falls short.
3.5
Score: 3.5/5
Shelter has some interesting things to say though isn’t exactly as articulate as it wants to be when saying them.

Appeal

When I first got hold of this game, I'd heard almost nothing about it. All I knew was that it was some sort of badger simulator, which I have to admit, seemed like a rather strange concept. It was only once I started playing that I realised Shelter was much more than that. It's actually a parental simulator, and one that comes in a unique and extremely pretty wrapping.

Shelter is not a game you play simply for enjoyment, but one you play for enlightenment. Shelter is a work of art and one I would recommend to anyone wishing for a unique and inspirational experience. My biggest worry about the game however is the price. I completed Shelter in almost exactly 60 minutes, and although it was a life-changing 60 minutes, I can't help thinking gamers would feel ripped off paying £6.99 for it. On the plus side, get your kids to play it and maybe, just maybe they'll show a little more respect once in a while. Can you really put a price on that?

3.5
Score: 3.5/5

Appeal

You know how there are people out there who say that video-games can never be art? They lack any potential to ever achieve any form of artistic value whatsoever? Those people are wrong. Not only do video games have the potential to be art, but they already are art. And Shelter is one of those titles to point to as proof. Not just evidence, but solid, irrefutable proof.

With a visual aesthetic that harkens back to the water paintings of the Japanese edo period, from the very outset it is made immediately self evident that this is something different. Something unique. There have been games about animals before, not just featuring them, but actually completely centred around them. But none have captured the sheer, visceral bestial essence of Shelter. You are a female badger and your purpose is clear. Your cubs need to find a new home, and they need to stay safe.

Along the way you will stalk, without conscience, from the undergrowth, scavenge for fruit, flee from circling eagles. And even battle white rapids and the flames of a raging forest fire. If you can reach the end of the roughly sixty minute playtime with all of your cubs safe, you will know you have truly accomplished something greater than yourself. If I was to make any single complaint, because there is only one, it is that the game is too short. But with something so emotionally intense, I don't think I could have endured much more.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5
Comments (7)
You must be to post a comment.
avatar
Posts: 1317

It being such a short game, I might join in for that. I mean, watching you play it. GIT'ERDONE.

avatar
Posts: 3290


image

avatar
Posts: 123

I would watch that!

avatar
Posts: 3290

I've set myself the challenge of playing, and recording, a perfect run. I want all my babies to make it!

avatar
Posts: 1548

hehe badger simulator :P

avatar
Posts: 123

I was down to one at the end. But I have had playthroughs where I've lost all of my cubs. The ending is especially brutal if you've lost them all. :<

avatar
Posts: 3290

I even named them. My cubs. Named all five of them.

Only two survived :(