To me, the mark of a great game it one that delivers a unique experience that stays with you. They’re the ones that make you fall in love with the characters, dish out emotional trauma with their story lines, give you that arm hair raising moment of awe, or make you think. There are of course times where you just want to wreak utter havoc and destroy things in a blood soaked haze for a few hours without much thought as to why you’re storming a creepy ruin waving a comically large meat poker; and there are some good games that give you that. However, the ones that truly stand out are the games that tug at your heart strings in some way. Shelter 2 doesn’t just tug at the heart strings though; it gives them a good yank then plays them like a cello.
Shelter 2 has a simple concept; you are a female lynx named Inna who’s about to become a mother in what looks like Canada during the winter (so white with lots of naked trees). Unlike the original Shelter where your story begins with the birth of your babies, this story begins with a harrowing escape. Your very pregnant lynx is searching for a den in the dark of night, but wolves have picked up your scent! As you careen through the forest dodging snapping jaws the game gives you a rapid tutorial on controls, how to jump, run etc. Once you’ve managed to leave the howling wolves behind you, the heart string symphony begins and the stars lead you to your new den.
When your cubs are born you must provide for them by hunting rabbits and eventually deer. At first your cubs are too small to venture out into the cold and you have to bring food back to them. My first play through the game already had me emotional invested, especially since you get to name the damn kittens, and I felt like the worst person in the world when I went to far and forgot where I hid my kids. The in game map is just a bunch of symbols with no legend which I did not understand so it was not much help. I kept running around like an idiot listening for their little cries and generally feeling awful. After a while the game prompted me to “scent for prey” which gives you an x-ray view of the world around you. It highlights living, huntable creatures in red and your kittens show up as animal sketches. Using this power I eventually found my den and didn’t venture out of sight of it for quite some time. I might not be a great candidate for motherhood.
After a while your kittens become strong enough to leave the den and begin following you. It takes more and more food to feed them but as they mature, they begin to hunt things for themselves. You lead them from place to place to find food while avoiding the occasional wolf attack. If you don’t feed your cubs enough they collapse from starvation and if you’re unable to bring them food in time they perish. Trust me it’s not a great feeling when one of those little guys goes missing. I said this game yanks your heart strings and I’m not kidding! You go through all the effort to feed them and care for them that when one collapses you’re willing to carry them as far as possible and woe betide the first rabbit that hops into view.
In the end, the circle of life continues, your surviving cubs grow up and leave to start their own lives and Inna returns to the den to start the circle over. You can choose to continue with Inna or chose one of the cubs to continue the family tree and see how far you can get. It’s the kind of ending you get from a good book, where you’re smiling and happy about how things ended, but you’re also sad it’s over. In all it took me about three hours to finish one cycle and I highly recommend playing from start to finish in one sitting for your first go through.
Some people might see the price of the game and the play time and think it’s not worth it. I think they’re wrong. Like Journey, the experience is more than worth the $17 asking price on Steam and there is some replay value. It’s kind of like skydiving or running a marathon. Many people think you’re crazy to pay to jump out of a plane or torture yourself with physical activity but what you’re buying is the experience.
The hand drawn art style is phenomenal. It feels like you’re walking through a Group of Seven painting (Canadian artists, I recommend Googling them), or painted origami. As your cubs age and you explore new areas of the map the seasons change from green, fertile summer to white, cold winter. It manages to capture the bleakness of the Lynx’s home along with its beauty.
The game seems to require a fairly strong rig to run it properly but overall the mechanics and play are smooth. Occasionally it would lag at the most inopportune moment, like when I was pouncing on a deer but that’s the fault of my computer not the game. The only mechanic I would like to see improved is the map, it needs a legend for us directionally challenged folks.
One thing I found disappointing in this game (and the reason it doesn’t have a 10/10 score) was the lack of threats to your lynx family. Starvation is the only real danger as the wolf attacks were infrequent and easy to dodge or avoid. I thought I was going to have to fight to protect my little fur balls but the wolves ran right past us. There are no hunters, no blizzards, no avalanches, nothing. Lynx in the wild are not top of the food chain and are fair game to cougars and coyotes as well as wolves. It feels like a missed opportunity in an otherwise very well thought out game.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for that level of emotional walloping yet but this is a game I will go back and play again. It’s a beautiful story told without words and an experience that will stay with the player.
|Developer(s)||Might and Delight|
|Publisher(s)||Might and Delight|
Article by Breanna