I have two terrible and horrific fears that keeps me awake at night. The first is living in a post nuclear holocaust world where civilisation has collapsed and I am frantically surviving in amongst the rubble, the decay and the chaos. The second fear is that I have two kids, who I don’t like very much because they have ruined my life by crushing all my dreams and ambitions.
Sadly for me, Sheltered has both of my fears rolled into one, but comes with the added complications in the form of domestic chores, hunger, cannibalism, murder and radiation sickness. Welcome to my new hell… a hell that is a very addictive and interesting premise.
Sheltered has been in Xbox One preview for a while now, and with people playing it, the game has matured into the full package we have today. The best way to describe it is as a people micro management game, like The Sims, but set in a post nuclear apocalyptic wilderness. But it’s completely unique. You control everything – and I mean everything – from food supplies to using the bucket toilet. Shown as a sliced 2D look, you can see everything on the screen at once.
You are in control of a family of four and their pet. Straight away you decide on the look of each family member and their skills. Do you pick strength or intelligence? These decisions matter and no decision is wrong or right. Then you give your family a name. Try not to use your own surname like me though because Sheltered becomes even sadder when your family all die of malnutrition. The pet choice you make, be it dog, cat or snake, is also very important. Everything is important and everything matters because it’s life and death. No pressure then.
When you’ve chosen your family the game starts with a small tutorial and then the rest, including full survival, is up to you. You first feel very nervous and overworked as there seem to be loads of jobs to be done in your shelter. The generator needs fuel, the dog is hungry, there is no shower, the kids are unhappy, the air filter needs replacing… AHHHH where are the zombies when you need them? The game has no apparent end in sight, surviving a day is a goal and surviving a week is a brilliant achievement. You craft and repair items around the shelter from the meager limited resources you have on hand and wait for however long it takes to complete. By that time someone could of died, or got bored and left or be fighting an infection. It’s a hard new world.
The characters themselves have issues; whether that be hunger, thirst, illness or sleep deprivation. Like The Sims again, little icons appear over them telling you what they need to carry on. If you ignore them, it normally doesn’t end well. It’s really hard to keep all their requirements in balance as you move throughout the game and keep the shelter from not falling down around you. You can use the auto button, which lets them take care of their own needs while you handle the bigger picture. But when you get better at spinning plates the achievement feels really rewarding. Also when a kid or a pet dies the guilt of it haunts you until you switch the game off. Like I say, don’t name them after your real world family.
You can’t just hang around the shelter until you die, that would be too easy. No, in order to get the other resources to stop you from dying a horrible death, you have to venture out into the outside world. You select two of you to go outside and two to stay behind and the adventurers who get drawn the short straw will radio back and give you a situation report, before asking you what they should do next. Should they venture into a building or approach a group of survivors? The choice is in your hands. When you do meet other people outside then the screen turns to an almost Final Fantasy RPG screen with you on one side and the others on the right hand side. You can try and trade with them for more useful supplies or invite a person back to your shelter. Or they might want to attack you or vise versa. It is here where you will choose to fight or flee. Other people turn up at your shelter and ask to trade or join your cramped quarters. Be wary though as yes they can add to your numbers and after a short while you can send them on expeditions. But think of the extra mouth to feed, or the extra space you have to build or the problems they might provoke in this family. Like I said it’s all about choices.
Sheltered embraces a pixel art style that is very cool. The sound is great, with a nice score and some brilliant effects, and the hunger howl of the pet dog will stay with me forever. This a game your going to simply love or hate. If you’re a sim fan or a fanatic of any kind of micro management, then this is a must purchase game for you and you should really add another star to my review. The game is hard and cruel, but that is the tale it’s trying to tell. I was useless at this game and killed everyone multiple times; I couldn’t survive longer then three weeks. But as I put more time into it, I started to get better and then my resource management skills got slightly better, and the enjoyment of the experience doubled. On the flip side it can be very repetitive, and a bit of a grind, but for some this is all part of a very rewarding and a brilliant game experience.
It all works well and is a completely solid game for a tenner. I will definitely go back now for yet another try because Sheltered has hooked me into its very bleak world. When I do go back I’ll promise to make sure my little family can make it through a month and I’ll try so very hard not to eat the dog.