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Shelter 2

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By Bobfish09-03-2015
Shelter 2

The Defence

Developer:
Might and Delight
Publisher:
Might and Delight
Genre:
Adventure, Indie, Simulator
Release Date:
09-03-2015

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Duo 2.6 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8600
AMD equivalent
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
2 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

About a year and a half ago, Might and Delight introduced us to the world of badgers with Shelter. An animal known off by many, but known about by few. Also an animal that, in the UK, is under constant threat from manmade dangers both unintentional and, sadly, all too deliberate. Such as the highly controversial Badger Cull, which is still floating around as an idea to 'control' their population. Now they're back with a sequel which revolves around a female lynx and her four cubs...just as there are plans made to reintroduce the Eurasian lynx back into the UK after 1300 years.

The Trial

It's worth indicating that, despite sharing the same name, themes and art style, there are some notable differences between Shelter and Shelter 2. Beyond the obvious changes to the animal you control, and the inevitable change in environment this entails. The two games play, and play out, somewhat differently as well. In fact, you will be genuinely surprised at just how much difference there can really be between two games that, essentially, only have move and interact controls. A testament to Might's creativity and ingenuity. Also, customisable controls, which is always welcome, even if you are not inclined to make use of the feature.

For all intents and purposes, gameplay consists of moving from one place to another. This is the rigid backbone, mechanically, of the entire game, with everything else draped across it cosily. You can jump, but only when running or beside some (not all) ledges. The former being a part of your arsenal of hunting skills, and the latter allowing you a better view of your surroundings so... part of your arsenal of hunting skills. Though arsenal may be overstating the situation, it is worth noting that mamma lynx is a very able hunter indeed.

Sweets for my sweets.

Sweets for my sweets.

There are effectively two types of prey. Small animals, rabbits that are quick, agile, and require a lot of sprinting to pin down. But thankfully will be auto-killed and snatched up in your jaws as soon as you are close enough. Meanwhile, you have large game, deer that require you to pounce. Which can be quite amusing at times, as the game has calculated that you are close enough to snag the prey...but the physics has decided it's quite far away, and your wee lynx develops anti-gravity powers whilst she floats through the air for twenty feet. Something which can also happen to dead game, though they at least have the common decency to remain in stationary orbit whilst being dead.

Other character animations can go a bit awry at times, with your cubs sprinting their little hearts out directly into a tree, or with their head buried in a hill or, on one occasion, I even saw one cub with his butt merged into the ground trying to run into the air at a 45 degree angle. Thankfully, none of this is gamebreaking, and can be extremely amusing at times, but also a tad irritating when you hit the edge of a tree and start running on the spot because the hit detection is a bit wonky.

However, that is the very extent of the problems one will encounter, with the overall quality in every other area more than making up for, and indeed utterly counteracting, the issue. Like its predecessor, the visual style is striking, going for a dreamy, watercolour painting style of presentation. Though the amount of vibrancy of colours used this time around is far more pronounced. One of the most striking aspects for me, was the different colourings of the prey animals. Some were almost impossible to track during the winter, blending in with the snow, whilst others were more earthy coloured and thus more difficult to follow in the summer.

Om nom nom.

Om nom nom.

To offset this, mommy has the ability to 'sense' her environment. This highlights prey, and the occasional predators (pack of wolves) that will come tearing out of nowhere to eat one of your cubs. Not that they're all that difficult to spot when they come howling, growling and slavering for your life like the hounds of bloody Hades! It is also something which only seems to work when standing still or walking. Making it more of a 'prey is there' option that allows you to locate them from a distance. Whilst actually moving in and chasing them down is left to your wits and innate skills. This works out surprisingly well, as both you and, later, your cubs, will only adopt that signature coiled crouch crawl when you are aware of an animal being nearby.

This lynx-sense also highlights certain landmarks for navigation purposes. Allowing you to orient yourself towards different areas that offer different opportunities for hunting. Basically consisting of a wide plain with deer, a watery, swampy area with frogs and small water fowl, and a hilly, wooded area with lots of rabbits. Moving between all of them is not essential, but gives the game a lot more freedom than its predecessor. As well as allowing room for collectibles which add to the replay value.

Which is actually something else there is most certainly no shortage of, this time around. Because, you see, after reaching the end of your roughly two year parenting, your surviving cubs simply leave. Just like that. After a year of being practically helpless infants, and a second year of being wiry teenagers almost as large and skilled as you, they reach 'that' age and just walk away. And you are alone. Awakening one night so much like the first, when you fled for your life to find shelter, chased by wolves and guided by the stars. The same stars that now, at the end and beginning of your tale, lead you to your new partner.

One can only match, move by move, the machinations of fate and thus defy the tyrannous stars.

One can only match, move by move, the machinations of fate and thus defy the tyrannous stars.

Not gonna' lie, when I reached that, and saw the two lynxes wandering so contentedly through the grass together, I choked up a little bit. Then was left speechless when I saw there was an option to continue the story. But not just by playing any old lynx, oh no. My surviving children, they became the focus of my next story. Allowing me to build a wide, thriving family tree, tracing it down through the years, naming each and every child in any way I saw fit...within five characters.

This is definitely the strongest point in Shelter 2's favour. Being so much more open, it lacks the focus of a more traditional narrative or objective based game, despite having a smattering of storybook style written narration. These serve to highlight the change of the seasons and impart tidbits of information about the lifestyles of these enigmatic, critically endangered, majestic beasts. There is no real objective here beyond keeping your cubs alive. This allows the player to, well, play however they want. Hang out in the swamps catching frogs, feast on deer, sod the kids off all together and go lay on a hill all day. It's in your hands. And that helps foster a very deep attachment to your simulacrum babies, because you really are the one who decides their fate.

The Verdict

Effectively, we are left with a game that does absolutely everything right when it comes to sequels. It takes everything that worked about the first game and further refines the execution, whilst introducing new elements that are not only welcome, but more fitting to the overall experience. Those few bugs it does have do nothing to mar the experience, whilst it's apparent lack of depth allows a more emergent feeling of genuine, narrative weight emerge organically based on how your approach the game.

Case Review

  • Family Ties: You are not simply guiding a family of lynxes, you nurture an entire family tree.
  • Mothering Instinct: Being left entirely free to handle your children how you choose makes you choose to protect them.
  • Presentation: This game may not be a graphical powerhouse in terms of poly budget, but it is truly beautiful to behold.
  • I Believe I Can Fly: Jumping on deer often looks ridiculous, but amusingly so.
  • Lack of Direction: The minimalist, hands-off focus on emergent narratives require a specific mindset and greater degree of initial investment to reach the, ultimately, extremely satisfying pay-off.
4.5
Score: 4.5/5
This is not just my family, it is MY family.

Appeal

So, here we are, just over a year and a half later with the successor to Might & Delight’s badger simulator. What’s been improved upon? The minimalist gameplay and HUD is still there but they exist in a better realised form. This time around, you actually have a stamina metre but it is represented as a wholly unobtrusive white line that goes down when you run. Much of what one would expect a traditional HUD to look like is only available with a click of the right mouse button. This secondary screen highlights prey and landmarks. Given how large and open parts of Shelter 2’s world are, these are welcome additions. The landmark system is especially useful as the game’s dynamic weather system changes the appearance of your surroundings considerably. For a particularly directionally-challenged individual such as myself, this new map system really helps. Like its predecessor, the game looks beautiful. The colour palette is slightly more vibrant, though the visuals are no less texture heavy. This can make it hard to see far away prey, which is mitigated by the secondary HUD screen that highlights other living things in red. Hunting is much easier in other ways too, with much of the process being automatic depending on how close you get to prey; unlike its predecessor, you don’t need to press a combination of buttons to pounce, you grab onto prey automatically once you’ve caught up to it. Interestingly, your former prey’s gleaned skeletons are collectibles, as are a number of objects found around the world, encouraging exploration and making it even more rewarding.

The story of Mummy Lynx and her babies is presented in much the same way as a children’s story or a fairy tale; it’s charming and even a little bit whimsical at times. That said, the game doesn’t shy away from the realities of nature, with blood being visible when you hunt and consume your prey - you can even see it on your little babies’ maws and paws after they’ve eaten. Speaking of, losing a cub is still a very unpleasant event, though your babies are a little hardier this time around. That said, when I lost a cub I wasn’t always entirely sure why; Shelter 2’s rules aren’t always clear but one could argue this is intentional in order to reflect the sometimes harsh reality of nature.

Shelter 2 fulfils the basic goal of any sequel and that is to improve upon the game before it. The presentation is even better with beautiful visuals and audio by Reto Family. The gameplay has been fine-tuned though is somewhat easier and there are some elements that are not properly explained. The environments are far bigger and varied though the game world overall is on the smaller end of the spectrum. And lastly, like life, it is short but sweet.

4
Score: 4/5

Appeal

There's really isn’t a series quite like Might & Delight’s Shelter. Little to no HUD while still being gameplay focused, taking control of a single creature and carving out a future with your family, traveling to zones to survive particular elements, they've all been done but never been combined like in Shelter 2. Straightforward enough concepts, but what makes the game special is who you play as, what your mission is, and the environment in which you do it in.

You, as the mother lynx, are tasked with the near-impossible mission to survive in the wilderness and try to help your kittens survive. Hunting, finding shelter, and moving around the environment are all missions that sound easy enough, but you're forgetting how brutal nature is. You see, Shelter 2 has one of the most demented, sad, and depressing mechanics of any game ever in that when you fail, you're not the one that suffers - your children are. When I started the game off with four adorable little kittens, doing nothing but hunting rabbits and bringing the meat back to the den I thought I was invincible! Well, not quite. Within the next 30 minutes I was down to a single kitten. You could call it a story or world building element, but in Shelter 2 it's more like a mechanic simply because after you lose each kitten, you learn from it, and you resolve yourself to make sure that you never let it happen ever again. When you start off, losing kittens seems to be arbitrary or confusing since many of the ways you can fail aren't explained to you, but hey, the rules of nature aren't explained to you in real life either so why should it be any different here?

Then the environments, as you've already seen in the review, are...different. It's filled with what might very well be the most textured textures that have ever been textured in a game. Some people like it, I hate it. It's hard to see prey, it makes most things look the same, and makes me wish that I could spend the entire game in that hunting sight mode. That being said, appreciation of the environment will be a person-to-person subject most likely. That's not only the person-to-person change in the environment though since that a good portion of what was in the environment in the previous Shelter is gone now. The environment has been simplified, and as a result so has the game. Since you're a strong lynx now instead of a meager badger, hunting is A LOT easier, and most animals are no threat anymore. Hiding has become a lot less prevalent and as a result of your new lynx powers, so kiss goodbye to heart-pounding stealth sections against birds of prey. There's been a big shift in how the game is played, and some people will like it I'm sure, but I wasn't a fan.

3
Score: 3/5
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I can't believe I forgot to mention stanima bar...

This is why we have appeals