Post and mid-apocalypse has always been a popular genre for video games, fiction and film alike. The horror of seeing everything we know torn apart is an attractive prospect, it seems. What would happen if your towns and cities were ravaged by disease, zombies or nuclear contamination? What if there were no grocery stores, no water, no electricity or gas? What if most of your friends, family, colleagues and neighbours were dead? What if your one living friend had food while your child was starving? Most of us don’t have to make life or death decisions in real life, so I suppose the attraction to survival games or any games where a tough decision needs to be made, is that you get experience your own self in an extreme situation. Have you got it in you to kill your friend so your child can live one more day? Let’s find out.
The world has been brought to its knees by nuclear devastation. Society has collapsed, the air is poisoned and there’s nothing left but scraps and filth. Also, no McDonalds. You’re one of the lucky ones, though. You and your family and even your pet have found an underground bunker complete with supplies and limited facilities. Your survival chances for the next week have gone up considerably, but if you want to survive longer you will need balance your resources carefully, scavenge for anything you can find and craft items that will save your life. It’s not going to be easy.
Sheltered is a survival and resource management game. You get to control an entire family, two adults and two children. If everyone is going to survive you’ll need to take care of their most basic needs, ranging from feeding them to keeping them clean to providing them with a toilet and entertainment. Your shelter has enough supplies to survive for a while, but time is short and life is shorter so you’ll need to venture out if you’re going to save the lives of your family.
The game pretty much throws you in at the deep end. They’ll be a short tutorial that will teach you the very very very basics, but from there you’re left on your own to figure out your own survival. This lack of help in the early stages appears to be a deliberate tactic that puts you immediately on the back foot, creating a feeling of unease and tension. It’s extremely apparent that your supplies are very limited and you don’t have long to figure out what you need to do. The shelter comes complete with a basic workbench for crafting new items, and a quick click of the controller will reveal everything that you’re currently capable of cobbling together and what you can potentially make if you use up some of your resources on upgrading the workbench. There’s a lot there and it’s clear you’re going to need to make careful and clever choices. Those choices are yours and it’s likely you’ll feel the pressure straight away.
While of course there is going to be trial and error, Sheltered is also very logical and intuitive. If you’ve got experience at resource management or simulation games, you may very well have a head start. There’s a certain art to these types of games. I suppose it’s a bit like chess in that you need to think the next sixteen moves ahead and prepare for the unexpected. You won’t survive without some forward thinking and you’ll need to keep this in mind at all times. You’ll be able to use your radio to set up expeditions into the wasteland. You can choose which characters to send, what equipment to take to protect you, what items to take to trade and you’ll need to think about what you’re looking for when you’re out there. You may require a notebook to write down your goals, what you need to scavenge, what you need to build, and what you need next to make it through another day or another week. Short-term survival is of course important, but without a long-term plan your death is inevitable.
As well as setting up expeditions, the radio can also call for traders or potential new dwellers. Can you afford to feed another person? Would another person be able to help your survival? Would your conscience allow you to let him die so you can feed your children his flesh? The game will continually present you with moral dilemmas. Eat your own kids if you want, and the dog, but expect this to take a mental toll. You can find and craft items that can chill out a stressed family member, but can you carry that teddy-bear when you also need to bring back food, water and materials? You’re not just trying to beat death. You’re balancing surviving with living.
Graphically, Sheltered has a lot in common with games like Organ Trail. Pixel and retro graphics have a firm and comfortable place on the PS4. Those of us who literally started with PONG and thought Pitfall was state of the art will always have a special place in our hearts for games that yank us back to the good old days. But wow, I wish the good old days had something like this. I would have given my Cabbage Patch doll for a game with the depth of Sheltered.
Anyone who has played and enjoyed the wonderful This War of Mine will feel a kinship with Sheltered. The principles are the same and it’s every bit as tough. While Sheltered doesn’t have quite the same grave and melancholy graphics to give it that realist edge, the gameplay itself has enormous depth. You’re going to lose many hours to a single playthrough and when your dog starves it’s still going to feel like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.
Wonderfully retro graphics disguise a deep and fierce survival simulator. The gameplay is everything you would expect from a modern sim and that includes the presence of profound moral ambivalence. Sheltered shines with irradiated brilliance.
S J Hollis Rating – 8.5/10