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Shelter 3 Review – A Stylized Storybook Simulation of Elephant Life

Shelter 3 game screenshot, Desert Hills

Shelter 3 by Might and Delight

In Shelter 3, I played as an elephant helping lead her fellow elephants to reunite with the rest of their herd. In order to accomplish this, I had to lead them through rough varied terrain while battling starvation.

Much like the first two games in the series, this game tells a short narrative about survival. There isn’t much of a traditional narrative; it’s instead meant to be an approachable simulation that aims to recreate some of the obstacles elephants face. For the most part, it does that, but differently from its predecessors.

Shorter Than an Average Elephant

It’s hard to get into much detail because Shelter 3 only takes about an hour to complete. I’ll just say that it’s very much still a game about survival but from a more linear – and less captivating – approach.

I don’t mind linearity, but in Shelter 3, the linear nature sacrifices player agency, making for less unique scenarios and fun gameplay-driven stories in the process. Don’t expect expansive survival systems at play here or memorable sequences.

I did feel like that linearity is a large part of the game’s goal. There is an overarching theme to Shelter 3 and it’s meant to be a guided emotional adventure, more philosophical in nature, which is appreciated but ultimately didn’t gel with me. Since the game was so short, I didn’t gain any attachment to the other elephants I was caring for.

The screens of text fleshing out the narrative are also too sparse to be engaging. I feel like Shelter 3 didn’t do enough to make its theme hit home.

Elephants on the March

From a gameplay standpoint, the game doesn’t explain much but wanted me to figure things out as I played. For example, I could call out to my herd to see where they were and if they were unhappy.

There is also an important energy bar, which isn’t explained fully. When depleted, it can cause starvation, It also depletes faster when sprinting, so walking most of the time is highly encouraged. The bar can be replenished by drinking water or eating dropped fruit from trees I could ram into.

It all has the base mechanics to create a compelling survival experience – replenish the energy bar while avoiding obstacles – which is fine but ultimately flawed because the environments are not very compelling or interesting to traverse through.

Most of the game is walking from one point to another. Granted, that’s a large part of an elephant’s life, so I think it was the developer’s goal to simulate this aspect of it. The issue is that it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting game to play. Yes, it’s a more accurate simulated elephant experience, but ultimately not as fun for a video game.

A Wilderness Lacking in Wildness

I wouldn’t mind the walking from point A to B if the other elements of the game were more engaging. Even the environment is lacking in interactivity. Besides the food resources, there isn’t much else to interact with to help enrich the experience.

I tried calling what looked like a sleeping wildebeest to see if it would react, and nothing happened. Later I came across a herd of deer as they stood next to each other, motionless. They didn’t even move as my elephant posse completely clipped through them as we passed.

The survival elements could have been expanded upon to add more enjoyment. When I reached a desert area, I could grab some dirt and spread it on my back. This is a technique elephants use to help block out damaging sun rays, but at no point does the game mention or emphasize this. I used it often but had no idea if it helped.

It makes the survival elements of this game seem undercooked, making for a largely shallow gameplay experience.

A Circus of Sound and Color

The music and visuals I feel are bright spots of this game. The music in particular did wonders in helping set mood. It was intense during the crocodile section and somber when it needed to be. The track-list mirrors the game’s narrative arc perfectly.

Visually, the game opts for a quilted pattern look filled with blue trees and little symbols like stars and moons engraved into textures. Everything from the ground textures to how the elephants are colored gives off a storybook feel, with plentiful color used in cool and fun ways.

It feels familiar but otherworldly in an inviting fashion. I enjoyed this game’s visuals and wish there were more environments to explore because I liked the art style so much.

I came away from this game feeling detached. It was such a short, hour-long experience with too little time or gameplay to make me invested. It’s a shame because I adore elephants, and a video game simulation of being one is a neat idea. I just feel like Shelter 3 doesn’t quite come together to create a satisfying or compelling adventure.

Shelter 3 is available via Steam.

Check out the official trailer for Shelter 3 below: