Shelter 2 – What We Think
In 2013, Might and Delight Games released the original Shelter (link to our review). This unique survival game led players through the life and struggles of a mother badger. The goal was not only to keep the main character alive, but to feed, protect, and ultimately find a home for her small family of babies. Shelter 2 is a bigger, fiercer, and a far more ambitious beast, in both scope and choice of protagonist.
The game begins with the player controlling a pregnant lynx making a midnight dash from a throng of hungry wolves. This brief sequence introduces a few of the game mechanics involved. Once the snarling canines have been evaded, the lynx is led to a safe haven where she gives birth to her offspring.
The action takes place in a far larger world than its predecessor. Once again, the patchwork, cardboard and pastel textures create the feeling of diving headfirst into an Eric Carle fable, only instead of badgers (or a very hungry caterpillar), the player is tasked with feeding a litter of four lynx kittens.
Like Herding Cats
The kittens are easily the adorable feature of the game, and each one can be renamed once they are born. They each mewl and scamper in endearing fashions, and will also warn the player if they are in danger or starving. They’ll depend on their mother entirely for food in the first little while, so the player must capture food and bring it back to the den. Once they grow a bit stronger, they’ll venture out with mama on the prowl.
This poses new challenges, as the kittens will frequently run off on their own, and should they get too hungry, they won’t return when called. The player may have to bring a fresh kill to a weak kitten, but that might separate her from the others. The lynx aren’t the top of the food chain in this virtual ecosystem, and having an ailing family member during an attack is going to result in a slightly smaller family.
The Prey’s The Thing
Hunting consists of finding prey and picking it off before it has a chance to escape. By pressing the right mouse button, the world around goes dark, except for prey and points of significance. Animals that can be hunted will appear red in this mode, and your den and kittens can also be located via distinct icons.
Once a target is in sight, it’s advisable to approach slowly until within striking distance. On some occasions, the lynx will automatically drop into a stealthy pose, though there doesn’t appear to be any way to will this into being. In either case, once the chase is on, it’s a frantic race to bring down your prey before running out of enough stamina to sprint.
The mechanics involved in this chase are loose. While sprinting, the ability to change direction diminishes greatly. The same doesn’t apply to they creatures that are preyed on, so if they dart left, it will often mean having to double back to maintain pursuit at the cost of valuable seconds.
Deer John Letter
Hunting is further hamstrung by horrendous collision issues. Running into a tree or boulder merely halts your progress forward, though it doesn’t interrupt the running animation. A skid, or some kind of impact or deflection sequence would have have been much appreciated. Watching my lynx do the running man against anything I couldn’t pass through was eye-rollingly frustrating.
The first time I encountered a group of deer, I darted off to bring one down. I pounced as the game prompted me. Just before I connected with my prey, she darted to the left…only the game engine still counted the brush as a full contact. The result was mama lynx hovering four feet in the air, engaging in her kill animation, while the deer writhed and bled roughly 6 feet away. If that deer had a name, it was “Fourth Wall”.
If I Can’t See Myself, They Can’t See Me Either, Right?
The camera will frequently get jammed behind trees and bushes. Count on getting stuck for a few moments, as a lot of things that block the view are also constructed of impassable objects. If mama lynx is in actively engaging prey when this happens, forget it; it’s gone.
I also encountered circumstances where a kitten would get separated from me, only to be wedged in a spot where I wasn’t able to free him. Try though I might, I couldn’t get within range to clamp my jaws around him, and he eventually starved to death. I’ve seen 127 Hours, so I know things like this happen in nature, but this still came off feeling more like a glitch.
For me, what I find most disappointing is that this is less a survival game, and more a baby lynx feeding simulator. In fact, it doesn’t feel like much of a game at all. The much larger world only seems to serve as a larger hunting ground, but the activity of the hunt remains fairly static. Should a player manage to keep any of the kittens alive into adulthood, their lineage can now be played through, but it’s all the same hunt-and-feed mechanic with a differently named cat. There are a handful of collectibles scattered about that can be discovered, but they aren’t explained in the game, and don’t seem to serve any purpose other than providing bragging rights for completionists.
What The Cat Dragged In
Where its predecessor charmed with its unique perspective, Shelter 2 ultimately feels more like an exercise. Despite the added lushness of the larger hunting ground, there isn’t much to diversify the tasks of hunting and babysitting. Once the luster wears off, the repetitive nature of hunt and feed is all that remains. The incomplete control scheme exacerbates this: There’s far too much reliance on luck in the bringing down of foes for it to feel consistently satisfying.
While there are deeper environments, and the added adorableness of kittens, the numerous bugs and overall tedium make Shelter 2 an unengaging experience.
Watch the trailer for Shelter 2 below: