The original Shelter was a very special little thing. Guiding a litter of defenceless badger cubs through the dangers of a harsh uncaring wilderness was a unique change of pace, but more importantly it encouraged us to feel some strong, unexpected and conflicting emotions towards our fragile charges. Instead of unconditional love, we frequently felt annoyed by their inability to fend for themselves, resented them for holding us back, yet desperately tried to save as many as possible from predators, fires and starvation. Being a parent isn't easy.
Nearly two years on, Shelter 2 promises great things. Instead of a beleaguered badger, we're now much nearer the top of the food chain as an agile lynx, tasked with caring for and training her litter until they grow big and strong enough to move on. The linear structure gives way to an open world of sorts, linked by a hub zone, ostensibly increasing the sense of scale and opening up new avenues for exploration. I must admit to being very excited about the idea.
But, unfortunately, Shelter 2 ends up being a markedly inferior experience. The very things that make it different, and better on paper, actually make it worse.
After our lynx mother finds herself in a safe den with her offspring, it's up to you to keep them fed and safe. You'll strike out from your hole into a frankly gorgeous wilderness; a patchwork watercolour world that's purposefully abstracted to feel like a very alien place. Much more vibrant and contrasting than its predecessor, full of exciting textured materials and gorgeous vistas, it's like looking at the world through very different eyes.
The day-to-day reality boils down to hunting. Your cubs need to be fed and learn how to hunt for themselves, meaning that you'll head out in search of rabbits, frogs and other small creatures (plus some larger and more challenging prey) to share with your litter and scoff yourself. Once again, you'll need to ensure that everyone gets their fill, mother included, leading to some tough choices and a bit of triage on occasion. The more you hunt, the stronger and more capable your cubs become, eventually giving you a warm feeling of satisfaction as they bring down prey independently. They grow up so fast!
As a 'Lynx Simulator,' Shelter 2 does a remarkable job. Like any cat, you're capable of marshalling a limited yet powerful burst of straight-line speed, but can have trouble course-correcting if your prey moves erratically at the last second. Much like my moggy embarrassingly exhibits every time I dangle a piece of string in front of him. You'll therefore have to pick your moments and pounce at the perfect time to take down your speedy quarry, while rabbits can often blend into the busy backgrounds, taking advantage of real natural camouflage.
So you'll set out into the world, hunt and train. Your cubs will grow big and strong, perhaps you'll lose a couple if you're careless or uncaring, but eventually they'll blossom into adulthood and leave for pastures new, leaving you with both loss and pride as you slink back to your den to end the game after a handful of hours, after which you can optionally play as the cubs you nurtured as a new generation begins.
But then you'll feel something else. Hell, you'll probably say something else. "That's it?"
See, Shelter 2 is less effective than its predecessor in a number of ways, all of which are unavoidable considering the new premise. First of all, being nearer the top of the food chain robs the game of much of its threat. There's simply not much that can kill you or even endanger you beyond some roving wolves -- which you may not even run into whatsoever unless you go out looking for trouble -- making the experience significantly less interesting and satisfying. Our badger mother had to contend with fires, winter, floods, birds and more, but the lynx has it easy, meaning that getting your litter to adulthood becomes that much less rewarding.
A far larger problem, however, is the shift to an open world. Yes, you can explore at your own pace, ferreting out collectibles dotted around the furthest corners of the maps, but there's no real incentive to do so. Hell, you can easily beat the game just by staying fairly close to your starting area. The original Shelter may have been very linear, but its linearity was a strength as it pushed you into danger and conflict, threw you into making unavoidable tough decisions, forced you forward and thus made you feel like you'd triumphed over impossible odds. But Shelter 2 has none of that, feeling diffuse, diluted and vaguely inconsequential as a result.
Shelter 2 is still worth a look if you fancy something different, and there's no doubt that you'll enjoy the first couple of playthroughs as far as they go. It's just a shame that they don't go far enough.
- Nails the feeling of hunting as a big cat
- Watching your cubs grow and learn can be intensely satisfying
- Gorgeous abstract visuals and fantastic soundtrack
- Open world feels diffuse and diluted, doesn't push you forward or incentivise exploration
- Very little danger or threat robs the experience of rewarding conflict
- Feels somewhat inconsequential and unsatisfying after the first playthrough
The Short Version: Shelter 2 has its moments. Playing as a lynx is disarmingly authentic, the art design is visually arresting and there's no denying that you'l feel... something... once your first litter of cubs survives to grow to adulthood thanks to your tender loving care. But the lack of threat and its big yet pointless open world robs the game of challenge, likely leaving you broadly unsatisfied after just a handful of hours.
The original Shelter was linear, but it was also focused and pushed you into one tough decision after another. Shelter 2 could have sorely used more focus of its own.
5 – AVERAGE: Average games are exactly that. Neither good nor bad, some clever ideas have probably been marred by patchy execution, or strong mechanics let down by a lack of scope, new ideas or ambition. Often reserved for the completely unremarkable, the realm of the apathetic, you'll also find games here whose good and bad qualities basically cancel one another out.
Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Might and Delight