by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Meet the Fergusons
James, Ann, Carol, and Donald, the randomly generated Ferguson family. To their name they have got a handful of rations, a few bottles of water, a couple of cans of fuel, and a ruined camper van. They live in a post-apocalyptic world, and their only chance of survival is a dilapidated bomb shelter out in the wasteland. To go on living, they will need to fix it up and expand it, keep a steady stream of supplies coming in, and avoid harm from the other human survivors who roam the wastes. This is the premise of Sheltered, a game from Unicube along with Team17, and it’s up to you to keep your family safe.
We have had quite a few home-based survival games in the past few years, most notably This War of Mine and Fallout Shelter. Sheltered feels like a mix between the former and The Sims. This is a game about surviving in harsh conditions, going out on expeditions to gather much needed supplies, and making sure no one else stops you doing that. However it is also a game of life simulation. You will need to make sure your family drinks, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom when they need to, or they will become sick. There is a lot of micromanaging to do, and although there is a way of automating your characters, it needs a bit more work. I would like to be able to tweak the automation a bit, for example: Yes, little Donald, you can go to the bathroom whenever you like, but try not to eat the very last piece of food in the entire shelter when everyone else is starving.
I decided to randomise my initial family, but there is a fairly robust customisation system if you wish. You can alter appearance, and you can decide on each character’s trait. This trait will determine what kind of character they are, for example they might be aggressive and good at fighting, or they might be better at fixing things, or more frugal when it comes to water and food. The first randomised child I was given was called Matthew and had the trait Know-it-all, so I quickly changed that, but other than that I stayed with who I was given. The traits do make noticeable differences to the way your family members go about their day, but it is pretty difficult to get them all working on what they are good at. Your intrepid explorers might be too tired for you to send out on an essential food gathering mission, so you have to send someone else out instead. But if they are good at fixing things, and the air filter becomes damaged while they are out, you will need to get someone else to do it. Then, your whole schedule goes out of whack.
These are all just the perils of surviving a post-apocalyptic world though. The first few weeks are tense, however I never really felt in much danger, unless I was just getting lucky. A couple of times my water supplies had completely run out, and the family was getting dangerously thirsty. But rain on the surface seems to be fairly frequent, and your shelter comes equipped with a handy water filter as standard. Food, too, seems to be quite prevalent when you go out on missions, and it is quite easy to set traps on the surface for wild animals. However, as everyone knows, to survive after the apocalypse, what you need is hinges. And there just aren’t enough to go around.
My kingdom for a hinge
Upgrading your shelter, creating new rooms, and improving the various tools within it costs a lot of materials, and you will need to go out and gather those. But try as I might, I could never find enough hinges. I would visit large homes, scrapyards, petrol stations, airports, but those small metallic unicorns were seldom found. You set up expeditions by marking a route on the map and selecting your party members along with equipment and items they are going to take with them. Every now and then they will radio back to the shelter, saying they’ve found some stuff, or they’ve encountered some people. The stuff you find is randomised, and some stuff is so essential to progressing through the game’s tech tree that it becomes very frustrating when you can’t find it. Of course, it makes sense for the world to be barren, but coming home to your shelter empty handed and knowing you will have to spend the next day doing mundane tasks just to keep your family alive before they can go out again is demoralising.
Maybe that is the point, though. It isn’t that hard to survive, but actually progressing to somewhere you want to be is where the real challenge is. You can build bookshelves and toy chests to keep the adults and children happy, but using precious supplies on those rather than upgrading your air filter isn’t something you can really afford. It becomes quite bleak when you think about it like that, and it becomes even more bleak when you get unlucky and someone actually does die. Your family’s moral is going to take a big hit, and you will need to build a grave for the deceased, which uses even more materials. The main goal you have at the start of the game is fixing your van so you can go out on scavenging expeditions easily, but it’s going to take you a long time to get there.
The little things
It’s possible to recruit new members to your shelter, and they will be able to help out with day to day tasks. However they will also consume extra supplies, and it gives you one extra person to worry about when it comes to making sure they don’t forget to go to the toilet for three straight days. I found having just one extra member early on was a good balance. It was just unfortunate that I came under the curse of randomisation once again. After my second week, there were now two Anns in the Ferguson shelter, and they looked pretty similar. Things got rather confusing.
Sheltered is a good little game that just becomes bogged down with all the little details. Finally finding that elusive component you needed to make that next upgrade is met with celebration. But those highs are met with the lows of making sure your family’s basic needs are performed day in, day out. With some minor loot tweaking and a few more automation options, Sheltered will be a fantastic survival game. But right now, making sure your family does their daily chores becomes a chore in itself.
Good gameplay loop of going out scavenging and upgrading parts.
Randomisation can put a halt to the fun, micromanaging every aspect of your characters becomes tedious.