Game: Shelter 2
Developer: Might and Delight
Publisher: Might and Delight
Release Date: March 9th, 2015
Platform: PC (steam)
We received a review copy of Shelter 2 from Might and Delight for review purposes
Gather round children of the Nation, and let me tell you the tale of a young lynx as she explores the magic of motherhood. Our story begins as mother lynx frantically avoids hungry wolves and drags her weary pregnant body to the safety of her den. There, in the safety of her den, she gives birth to four healthy children: Larry, Scott, Emily, and Kristn. The newly formed family then began life roaming the world searching for food to nourish the young bodies of those kittens. Their days of love and adventure continued until mother lynx neglected to feed her kittens for apparently too long a time and one young lynx collapsed due to starvation. No sooner had mother lynx returned with a freshly hunted rabbit for the starving kitten to eat did another kitten fall to the ground. Soon mother lynx was surrounded by the collapsed and starving bodies of her children. The end.
Shelter 2 is the sequel to the 2013 title of the same name by developer Might and Delight. The player takes on the role of a Lynx matron, pitted with the protection of her offpsring in a vast open world environment. The game opens up with a short sequence of avoiding a pack of wolves as the player searches for a den to give birth to her kittens. This intro sequence is a basic tutorial for movement and jump controls, running forward and occasionally pressing the space button when prompted. This tutorial is followed by a surreal sequence leading the lynx to the home den to birth her four kittens.
Primary gameplay takes place in a vast open world. Initially, the new kittens remain in the den while the player roams out to hunt for food for the kittens. After feeding a few rabbits or gophers (or they might be rats), the kittens then leave the den and follow the mother throughout the world. The entirety of the game is roaming the world hunting food such as rabbits, gophers, frogs, and deer to feed to your kittens. Go too long without feeding a kitten and they collapse from starvation and end up like the first sad litter of kittens. Collectables are littered across the world in the form of various flowers, mushrooms, sticks, bones, and gems for players to gather, and while the game keeps track of how many objects the player has collected, nothing seems to happen or change by gathering them. Occasionally predators will stalk the family of lynx, however in my playthroughs I never encountered any predators. Once the screen turned red and my lynx started growling and hissing when I pressed the follow command instead of the usual purr or ‘meow’. I assume this meant a predator was nearby, but I never saw anything and after moving forward for a short bit and growling like a tank engine the music returned and my screen changed back to the normal color with all kittens accounted for.
Seasons change over time in the game, rotating through a distinct winter-spring-summer-fall cycle. If players manage to go a full year without all kittens being claimed by Darwin, any surviving kittens shape into full sized lynx. These new full-size lynxes will snag any nearby prey that ventures too close to your pack, however, the player will still have to find food for them. Manage to survive to the next Autumn season with full-grown lynx and they will venture off on their own, thus completing the task of mother lynx.
I was originally interested in Shelter 2 because of it’s unique concept. It was very refreshing to take on a role that I had never before taken in video games. Playing as an animal mother whose primary goal was the protection and nurturing of her children put me in a place where I have never been before. I found myself nervously counting my cubs at every opportune moment, even occasionally scolding a kitten out loud who was lagging behind the pack. After losing my first pack to starvation, it was a frantic dash to find as much food as possible so as to avoid watching my cute kitten starve to death. This drive to provide for the kittens was innate, other than listening to the sad cries of the kittens there isn’t a punishment for losing a kitten, you just have one less mouth to feed. And yet I knew that the moment I lost a single furball I would wipe my save and start anew.
The world of Shelter 2 holds a unique ascetic. The art style gives the appearance that everything is made out of almost a ceramic material. The background music draws the player into a sense of the solitude of nature. The minimalist nature of the audio really immersed me in the feeling that the game was about nature and me, rather than some overarching dramatic theme. The scenery and music shift with each season, evoking a stark contrast to one another as each season passes. Shelter 2 also has no UI other than a small stamina gauge for sprinting, continuing with the vast emptiness and solitude theme. I could not help but feel like I was playing a work of art rather than a game, and at the conclusion of my first playthrough I envisioned Shelter 2 would fit securely on an info-graphic arguing for the games as art debate.
Unfortunately for Shelter 2, while I do like seeing video games as an art form, there just is not a whole lot of game present. There is no warning whatsoever on how hungry your kittens are until they’re lying on the ground and screaming death. Some might argue this as an allegory to the difficulties in parenthood but to me all it did was frustrate me and make me feel cheated as a player. This complete lack of awareness forced me to frantically search for food endlessly for the subsequent playthroughs of the game. I didn’t dare explore in case I came to a point where food was scarce, with no knowledge of how hungry the kittens were I couldn’t afford to risk being in an empty spot if they started hitting the dirt. This meant that the entire game was me patrolling the same small area for prey until my kittens grew. Most of the game was spent staring at a rabbit’s butt as I chased it, caught it, and then started chasing another rabbit. Other than feeding the children, there really isn’t much else to do. There are a metric ton of collectibles to find in the open world, but there’s no incentive to find them other than to fill up a tally of sticks or shrooms in the menu.
There is also a distinct lack of hand-holding in the game. Brief controls such as running, jumping, and eating are explained, but core aspects of the game are left empty for players to struggle through. I learned on my second playthrough that mother lynx does not need to eat or drink ever. Eating prey will provide a temporary boost to stamina that disappears the next time you sprint, but the normal amount of stamina is plenty for hunting. The mother lynx can go an entire 2 years without eating so much as a mouse and be just fine, kittens on the other hand require an endless supply of lesser mammals or they’ll succumb to the hunger after several minutes.
Another frustration for the game was the scent function. By pressing right mouse the map shifts darker, highlighting prey in red and marking landmarks as well as where your kittens are. This is essential for tracking prey as they are little dots on a huge map otherwise. However, this scent function only works if the player is not pressing any other button at the same time. That means when you need it most, such as when you’re sprinting after a white rabbit on the white snow covered tundra, the function is blocked. I couldn’t tell if this was an intentional design decision or a bug, but either way it was extremely frustrating.
To top off the whole lack of game criticism is that Shelter 2 is very short. One full playthrough clocks in at about one hour. As soon as the credits rolled I couldn’t help but say out loud “That’s it?”. I can’t say that I felt cheated, but more that I hadn’t really been playing or having all that much fun leading up to the end of the game. There is the option to continue a new game playing as one of the surviving kittens, thus continuing the family tree of the lynx. However each new game is identical to the first, with the exact same introduction and exact same kittens being born.
Final Verdict: 6.5
I can really appreciate the type of story and world that Shelter 2 was trying to present. The game world crafted by Might and Delight was beautiful and unique among it’s peers. Taking the risk to form the concept of playing as an animal striving to protect it’s young from the dangerous of the world was a nice change of pace from the typical video game. However there just isn’t enough game present for Shelter 2 to be really fun. Gamers with a more artistic side will appreciate the ascetics, distinct art style, and allegories to the struggles of motherhood. But gamers craving fun will only be left hungry.
So what do you think? Played Shelter 2 and dissagree with my review? Let me know in the comments below!