Shelter Review (PC)
Tom Freeman of Sick Kids Save Point tackles a controversial subject via game review.
In a week that the UK government begins a badger cull in England based on anecdotal evidence, and amid fierce criticism from conservationists and scientists alike, you could be forgiven for mistaking the release of an indie badger-sim on Steam as a political statement by some British animal lovers.
In fact, Shelter is the much anticipated release from Swedish developers Might and Delight, creators of retro platformer Pid. In Shelter, you are put in control of a badger mother who has to guide your five offspring through a lush yet hazardous forest environment.
There is very little hand-holding here. The game starts and although safely ensconced in your set one of your cubs isn’t looking too clever, so your heartstrings are instantly pulled in the direction of a remedy. From there it’s up to you.
The art style is instantly engaging, as your snuffling cubs venture out into a colourful and vibrant world, from the autumnal shading of great trees to the fluttering of incidental butterflies. The soundtrack is exceptional. You crane to listen to every sound effect in case it spells danger or survival for your little ones, and the music by Retro Family is a superb guitar-based ambient, which moves from sparse trip-hop to unnerving jazz beats.
The atmosphere is vaguely reminiscent of the Playstation network game Flower, and the level design reflects it too, with large levels to explore, each with its own colour scheme. Shelter easily pips Flower for immersion though. This time you really CARE. The game taps into a maternal survival instinct you didn’t know you had, and by the time a looming shadow of a bird of prey crosses the ground in front of you at the end of the first area, your heart is in your mouth. By that time you’ve already learned to identify your children by their markings so you can make sure they are getting fed, and been frustrated by an elusive fox who is muscling in on your territory.
You won’t be satisfied with one playthrough, because chances are you won’t have kept all your cubs alive. As the colour fades from their pelts, your sense of panic increases. You count them, then you count them again. In the first playthrough this reviewer lost three to some unseen night terror and eventually played through a couple of levels with only one left, who had grown to near adulthood and had started to hunt for itself. So proud.
The last time this level of absorption in animal survival manifested itself in a game was Suburban Fox – a game for Primary Schools in the 1980s on the BBC micro- in which raking bins and drinking rainwater from busy roads made for a nailbiting experience for this nine year old!
It’s hard to fault Shelter. Atmosphere, immersion, level design, visuals and soundtrack are up with the best, for a extremely reasonable price. Small issues with camera angles are instantly fixed with a twitch of the mouse.
It is a short game. You will finish it in about two hours. But unless you’re the type of gamer who likes to be hand held, with all objectives clear from the beginning, every minute is a celebration of life in its rawest, back-to-nature, form. If being a badger is this dangerous, surely a cull is just bloodthirsty cruelty.
5 stripes out of 5Shelter Review (PC),