Review: Sheltered – The Dreary Desperation of Not Giving Up

Review: Sheltered – The Dreary Desperation of Not Giving Up
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Platforms:

Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Sony PS4, Xbox One, Steam

Game Name:

Sheltered

Publisher(s):

Team 17 Digital, Ltd.

Developer(s):

Unicube, Team 17 Digital

Genre(s):

RPG, Strategy

Release Date:

March 15th, 2016

Sheltered – What We Think:

Sheltered is the latest iteration of the survival and base management sim. Bearing superficial resemblance to last year’s hit mobile tie-in Fallout Shelter, right down to the post-nuclear setting, Sheltered is far bleaker in tone, oppressive even, but no less compelling for that.

Sheltered game screenshot, black rain

Gimme Shelter

At its core, Sheltered concerns itself less with the base itself – an underground fallout shelter, natch – than with the needs of its inhabitants. Designing, maintaining and expanding the shelter is a matter of meeting those needs.

And their needs are constant: hunger and thirst must be managed of course, but so too is hygiene. You’ll need shower facilities and yes, even a toilet – a simple bucket to start with, though you can eventually upgrade to a modern high efficiency model. (It’s to the game’s credit that this last bit is played completely straight; Sheltered is a serious game, and throwing in scatological humor would have ruined the tone.)

Sheltered game screenshot, bucket toilet

There’s also air and water. Both need to be filtered, lest your shelter-dwellers get radiation poisoning or simply run out of air. And filters – along with showers, toilets, stoves and the rest – break down. People break down, too, so they’ll need beds.

In order to meet these myriad requirements, the game centers around a robust but easy to learn system of crafting and upgrades. You’ll also need to procure ingredients, and that’s where things get tricky.

Daddy, Daddy, Get Me Out of Here

You can’t stay underground forever, so you’ll need to venture out into the wasteland to scavenge for more food and parts for your projects. This can get dangerous; you might run into wild animals, or worse, wild humans, in which case a rudimentary turn-based combat system comes into play.

Sheltered game screenshot, combat

On the other hand, you might get lucky. You could come across a stash of food or even weapons, or you could meet someone friendly on the road and trade with or even recruit them…though that’s another mouth to feed.

These random encounters help to add an element of surprise to what could otherwise become a slow, dreary grind. Sheltered moves slowly, maybe too slowly for some players, although I like that the day-in, day-out routine of minor repairs and maintenance punctuated by occasional moments of tooth-grinding panic – waiting for rain when the water’s all gone and the residents have become dehydrated, for example – helped to realistically simulate the drudgery of eking out a meager existence in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Sheltered game screenshot, repairs

If you’re lucky enough to keep the family alive for weeks and months instead of hours and days, the world does start to open up. Gather enough parts at the scrapyards, and you can get a van up and running, which makes expeditions easier. On the other hand, you might end up attracting the attention of local bandit factions. You don’t want that. Either way, even as further complications arise, the rhythm of life within your bunker remains the same. Eat food. Shower. Sleep. Repair your life support systems. Repeat.

Served Family Style

The game attempts to add emotional weight by placing everything within a family context: the initial crew of survivors comprises two parents, two kids and even a pet (you can choose from a fish, snake, cat, horse or dog with different effects). Sheltered is anything but family-friendly, however – during my first play-through, I saw my daughter bury her mother after she’d died of starvation; the daughter herself died shortly after from radiation poisoning. A small consolation: I did at least manage to keep the cat alive.

If that’s not bleak enough, there are multiple methods of dealing with corpses in the shelter. Burial is the least traumatic for the surviving residents, but corpses can also be “harvested” for what the in-game menu euphemistically refers to as “desperate meat.”

Sheltered game screenshot, painted shelter

Shelter Skelter

Despite the post-apocalyptic setting, Sheltered is less Mad Max: Fury Road and more Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. There are no flamethrower guitars here, just desperate people bashing each other to death with rocks over a few dented soup cans. There’s none of the madcap craziness of the Fallout games, either; it’s more like a less topical version of This War of Mine.

That said, it’s put together well, despite pacing issues that might not be to everyone’s tastes. Its simple pixel sprites and muted color palette are evocative, reminiscent of last year’s Skyhill, with which it shares similar gameplay and crafting elements. The grim, subtle ambient soundtrack by Ben Ridge, who also scored The Escapists: The Walking Dead, is haunting as well, conjuring a sense of emptiness and hunger.

If that all makes Sheltered sound like a miserable experience, that isn’t the case at all. It’s compelling, even addictive. As I got further along and more settled, I’d find myself holding my breath, waiting nervously for rain during each dust storm, almost giddy when I’d cobbled together enough supplies to send my crew out on a longer exhibition.

Is Sheltered fun? Yeah, it’s fun. Just don’t expect a lot of laughs.

Shelter is available via Steam, the Playstation Store and the Xbox Games Store.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Watch the trailer for Sheltered below:

infinitywaltz

[Anaheim] infinitywaltz cut his teeth on Moon Patrol and Galaga. In addition to writing about video games, he has covered gothic and industrial music for the likes of Dark Culture, ReGen, StarVox and Grave Concerns.

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