I’ll start by saying I’m a terrible father. That’s how Sheltered made me feel. On starting the game you’re given the choice of the makeup of your family and I decided to pretty much base it on my own, though I did gift myself an extra child, a son called Isaac. I thought creating and naming the family after my own would give me extra incentive to succeed, but boy did I fail epically hard!
Sheltered is a game about survival. Think Fallout Shelter but more ruthless but just as claustrophobic. Similarly, it’s the end of the world after a global apocalypse and you find yourself living in a deserted underground shelter where one bad decision could mean the demise of a loved one. However, this is all down to how good your own imagination is and unfortunately, if I hadn’t based the family on my own and roleplayed it in my head for us needing to survive, there would have been no emotional impact whatsoever. This is largely because of the lack of narrative dialogue, coupled with the faceless pixelated characters. Whereas I tend to love the look and simplistic nature of 2D pixelated games, Sheltered, is incredibly drab and basic, more along the lines of Another World. This is a shame as just a little bit more detail would have helped me become more attached to the characters I had created.
On character creation, Sheltered succeeds and there is a surprising amount of depth. Not only can you choose the usual characteristics such as gender, hair colour, and clothing but also personality traits too. You even have the opportunity to have a pet to join you in the bleak new world which is really pretty cruel when you come to think about it as you can barely keep your family well-fed let alone your trusty pet cat. Though once I failed miserably and Cuddles survived and was more than happy to use my lifeless carcass as a meal!
With your family created, you are ready to begin the onslaught of Survival mode. This presents you with starting in the shelter, with absolutely no resources and seeing how long you can survive through scavenging and maintaining and up-keeping the systems within the shelter. Your main starting goal is to seek water and food, however, your family, much like in the classic game The Sims, will also need to sleep, wash and excrete bodily fluids. If that’s not enough, when the shit hits the fan, which it will pretty much from day one, you will have to monitor their stress and energy levels while also managing the durability of pretty much every item in the shelter that you have crafted to ensure that your family have items necessary for living, these include beds, toilets, showers and electrical appliances. If resource management is your thing, then the barren wasteland will be your heaven, but boy, get ready for an intense time. I personally found Sheltered to be addictive at first but without a story to drive me on I soon found it overly tiresome added to the fact that it’s ridiculously hard and frustrating to succeed.
In order to scavenge for food, water, fuel and materials you have to leave the safety of your base and explore the radiated wasteland. On choosing which family member has this joyless task, they will venture out and radio back to you if they find anything of interest. But this is where the rather complex and interlocking gameplay system kicks in. In order for you to send a family member out requires water to take with them, which limits how far they can travel without completely depleting your water storage.
Ok, I can just collect more water as I traverse the environment, right? Not quite! The game randomly generates destinations, of which you might not come across a location full of useful loot that you require right now to survive, like food or water (which inevitably is way too scarce early-game), but instead, you could come across items that become more helpful later on in the game when you’re already likely to be a skeleton with Cuddles licking your bones clean or instead, you survive but ultimately have to see a loved one wither away and die, hence why I said I’m a bad father, as my children always seemed to die first.
You might as well restart the game if early on your come across a load of crap as you won’t survive long. It seems overly unfair, though some might say it’s quite realistic in that you can never guarantee what you might find in a post-apocalyptic world. I just found it very tedious and impeded me from fully enjoying the experience.
On your travels in the wilderness, you can also come across other survivors. These NPCs can either be friendly and will trade for resources or will be hostile bringing forth simple turn-based combat that is weak and lacks any depth. You are able to recruit people to live in the shelter with you to form a community that helps give you more manpower to tackle raiders that may attempt to attack your base, however, it does mean having to further manage your already depleting resources.
Having to constantly manage your family, resources and tackling bandits requires an easy to use and excellent control scheme to make the game a little more stress-free, unfortunately, Sheltered most certainly does not have this. The game is clearly designed to be played with a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller. In order to do anything, you have to move a cursor around the screen, clicking on ridiculously small icons to issue commands and the pixelated visuals do not aid with this as it can make the interface really hard to see at times. It’s a shame that a button couldn’t have simply been programmed to change through your characters and have the analogue stick control their movement with another button prompt for when you’re close to an object to use it. The point and click mechanics really make the already stressful experience even more infuriating, though I was very thankful that they did include a simple method of speeding up time by clicking the left stick and using ‘ZR’.
On a positive note, Sheltered offers a further two game modes – Surrounded and Stasis. Differing from Survival mode, both start by providing you with a shelter stocked with supplies. Surrounded has the family split up with the father off out looking for supplies leaving the mother and child alone to survive for 50 days. Think horde mode with constant attacks from bandits and marauders who try to make your shelter their new home.
Stasis, on the other hand, has a more interesting take where the family has been cryogenically frozen and wake up 60 years after the apocalypse with the aim to build a rocket to escape the dying planet. In this mode, you have 75 days before your shelter can no longer protect you so you must venture out to find different parts for the rocket whilst typically managing resources as you did in Survival mode. It’s a much more creative and entertaining take on the survival mechanics.
I’ll conclude by saying that Sheltered gets a lot of things right by creating a complex system that provides a realistic and interesting take on surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s just unfortunate that to succeed you have to rely more on luck than skill and is further let down by awkward and frustrating controls and a lack of narrative and minimal presentation. If you fancy a much more challenging Fallout: Shelter and aren’t scared by an intense resource management system then Sheltered is a fine survival strategy game to sink many hours into.
- - Good customisation and crafting options
- - Addictive but intense resource management
- - Realistic post-apocalyptic survival systems
- - Surrounded and Stasis modes offer an interesting twist to the survival genre
- - The randomly generated basis of the game is overly harsh
- - Lacks emotion and drive not helped by the pixelated graphics and lack of story
- - Control scheme is frustrating and not suited for consoles