Shelter Review

September 7, 2013

A badger cub is lying on the floor of a cave, deathly gray and tired, starving to fatality, and surrounded by whining, whimpering brother or sisters. The mother badger digs up a close-by turnip and dutifully feeds her cub. At it consumes, color floods back into its furry, striped body, and the invigorated clan triggers looking for a more sustainable den. The first thirty seconds of Shelter, a brand-new Mac stealth game from the Swedish outfit Might and Delight, inform gamers everything they’ll need to understand in the adventure ahead: Food is rare and fatality is plentiful, and your clutch of badger cubs will fade– figuratively and actually– if not routinely plied with carrots, radishes, mole rats, and frogs.

Shelter is a reasonably simple game. As a mother badger, you’ll assist a team of 5 cubs through a handful of gorgeous, sprawling levels, avoiding hawks, wildfires, and overflowing rivers while keeping the offspring fed. You’ll should browse high and reduced for food, but that exploration comes with the danger of fatigue or a predatory red fox. Shelter is a bit too generous with its provisions, however, which defangs its most potentially vicious mechanic. There’s enough food to explore, so the decisions you make about its circulation are never ever specifically straining.

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Despite this, there are a lot of other risks hiding in the game’s desaturated, origami-like woodlands. At its best, Shelter is still demanding, gripping, and mentally draining, thanks in large part to Might and Delight’s deft characterization of each badger cub. In safe areas, they’ll frolic, play, and beg for food, or shake fat drops of river water off after splashing through a stream, all the while expanding as time goes on. Each one has a different mark on its back to set it apart from the rest, and when 3 Stripes was swept away by a rain-swollen river in our game, it was an impressive digestive tract punch.

All of Shelter’s action sequences focus on running and timing, but these stealth genre standbys are serviceably executed and given psychological heft by the game’s squeaking, snuffling characters. The game’s mechanics are not always clear, though. This absence of knowledge leads to overreact and misery when a cub is snagged from you in an instant, or elation when all five come sauntering up behind you. At other times, Shelter feels approximate and frustrating. Mother Nature may be unjustly terrible and unknowable, but intermittent inconvenience probably wasn’t the hoped-for response to this awareness.

Shelter’s camera can be unwieldy, and spotty path discovering for the cubs can unnecessarily threaten them, however these niggles don’t interfere with an unembellished, loving expedition of survival and parenthood. Despite being completely without text, Shelter tells a moving tale, borne out by smart, easy mechanics in a world of gorgeous sights and sounds.

The bottom line. Shelter is daring and touching, and its tale and gameplay integrate to raise the stakes high enough to run the psychological gamut from dread to hope and misery.