by Ingvi Snædal
reviewed on PC
Missed the Bandwagon
I missed the Shelter hype back in 2013. The game aimed to introduce the player to the responsibilities and emotions of motherhood by having them play as a mother badger taking care of her cubs. You had to feed and protect them, and hopefully, if you did everything right, they might even make it through alive. In Shelter 2, you again play as a mother taking care of her cubs, but this time, the dynamic is a bit different. You’re a lynx and while you have to keep your cubs safe from other predators, you also have to hunt and kill to feed your cubs. While the gameplay, aesthetics, and music are things of beauty, one cannot help feel that the game misses the opportunity to delve deeper into the heartless reality of nature.
You start off as a pregnant lynx searching for shelter in a snowstorm. As you make your way through a narrow ravine, the game introduces you to the basics of its controls. As the howling of wolves grows louder, you run away, eventually jumping out of the ravine, making your escape. After a short cinematic showing you discovering a suitable place to call home, followed by a shot of you and your four newborn cubs curled up looking ever so cozy, you set out into the open world.
The Cruelty of Nature
The object of the game is to feed your cubs, help them grow while keeping them safe, teach them to hunt, and let them go when they’re ready to take care of themselves. You’ll start out with small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs, but reindeer provide much more food for less effort. The problem is that you’re not the only predator around, and wolves appear to have a particular affinity for reindeer and lynx cub meat.
To catch one of the smaller creatures, you simply have catch up to it. Then you can either bring the prey to your cubs or wait for them to catch up to you and drop it on the ground. With the right mouse button, you can sniff the air, dimming the world around you and highlighting the animals in the area in red. Even with this ability, for whatever reason, you’re not able to see animals through rocks, because apparently scent particles behave like photons.
Is This Nature?
Tips and hints are context based, so you won’t know how to drink from a lake or a river until you’re close to one, at which point the game will throw a screen overlay at you to tell you how its done. I like this way of doing it because instead of throwing a lot of information at you at once, raising the possibility of you having forgotten the lesson when it becomes pertinent, it shows you and has you do the activity at the same time. Learn by doing. Problem is, when you first set out into the world, all you know is how to run and jump, making you wonder for a moment what else there is to do around here. You’ll soon figure things out, however, and once you’ve started to fully enjoy the scenery, you’ll appreciate just how beautiful the patchwork artstyle, coupled with the atmospheric music, is.
Losing a cub is no picnic. I felt devastated as I woke up lying on the ground with only three of my cubs, the fourth one having been eaten by wolves. I knew that herd of reindeer was too good to be true. That feeling was what they were going for in the game’s design with the original, however, and I feel the developers have missed an opportunity to throw another dimension into the mix here. Imagine if the animals you were hunting also traveled in family packs of three to five. Would you, seeing a mother rabbit scurrying around with three little bunnies behind it, choose to leave it alone and try to find a single one instead? Or would you jump on the opportunity to feed your whole family with that one? To me, it feels as though the game makes too clear a distinction between you - the one trying to survive - and your food. You and your cubs are a representation of nature but the animals around you somehow feel like they’re not.
Short and Expensive
Shelter 2 is a good game for relaxation and contemplation, although I would have wanted it to delve deeper into the nature of nature itself. It took me a little under two hours to finish, which makes the price point feel a bit excessive compared to many other indie games featuring more gameplay at a cheaper price. The game does offer you the chance to extend your family tree, however, so after you’ve reared your cubs, you can play as them (presumably, you’re unable to have sons) but the gameplay will be the same as before, minus all the collectables you discovered as your own mother which you will then have inherited. This will provide some replay value to the collectors out there, but have limited value to narrative enthusiasts such as myself.
Although I appreciate the game for its many merits, I wouldn’t feel comfortable recommending it until the price comes down a bit, but as it does, the likelihood of you regretting the purchase goes down with it.
Beautiful aesthetics and atmospheric music; Easy to learn.
Missed opportunity to further explore the nature of nature itself; too short and few activities.