Sheltered Review – Nintendo Switch

Is this a road worth walking down? Or does it land up being a waste of time?

As post apocalyptic games progress, it’s been interesting to see them get bigger, more commercial and lose much of the essence of the tired, dangerous world they originally warned against. If you yearn for the days of early Fallout and a true test of grim wasteland grit then Sheltered could very well fit that criteria. Pitting your created or randomised family in a bunker against the odds of nuclear fallout, Sheltered begins and consistently reinforces itself as a brutal game. Not just in difficulty, in tone and atmosphere as well. Though of course if you’ve come for a picnic you may have clicked on the wrong game…

 

Mechanically Sheltered has it’s roots in a point & click PC title, and its cumbersome way of selecting and managing tasks often gives this away. But the button mapping is at least serviceable and if you have the patience to learn it’s idiosyncrasies then this game can gain a nice flow. Your tasks are to keep up the general maintenance of your bunker, attend to the needs of your human and animal inhabitants, protect from the elements or intruders whilst also planning and executing missions into the wasteland to scavenge for supplies. While this all sounds overwhelming at first, Sheltered does a good job of slowly easing you into these tasks as well as letting you know when a particularly issue needs attending to as well. You can look at each characters list of needs at all times and they themselves will make it clear when they aren’t feeling well. What the game fails to tell you though is a lot of the basic needs you will discover as you go through the first few hours. Are you running out of food? You will need to set up a snare to catch animals. Have more meat then you can carry now? You need to build a fridge. Not enough water? You need to add another water tank. As much as I understand the games obtuse design is part of the atmosphere it wants to create, a confusing and unhelpful UI doesn’t feel like a complimentary part of a nuclear fallout, it just feels frustrating and hinders the enjoyment of the game.

 

This screen is where you’ll be spending most of your time.

 

I felt myself having the most fun when I had finally understood what items to immediately craft and what events to set in motion as soon as possible, but this took several false starts and me eventually starting the game on easy to get over the frustration learning mechanics whilst also fighting off every conceivable bad outcome. After this learning curve though, I settled into the flow of the title and started to enjoy the possibilities it held. Constructing items takes time, resources and energy but with each adventure into the wilderness you discover new items or places that plant seeds of imagination into what you can built back at home. Most systems can be upgraded, and everything you find can be used in some way depending on your knowledge of the systems and what you develop. When I got into this rhythm I felt like a master at work, sending different characters to do different tasks whilst I kept an eye on resources, I even made notes to myself to craft certain items in certain orders to make the most out of the things I found in the world. This coupled with expanding the bunker and eventually finding more people to look after was hugely satisfying.

 

Almost every part of this world is hostile, you’ll have to learn to survive.

 

The 2d pixel art style matches well with the world, with the limited colour palette conveying the sad, decaying state of the space you inhabit. Characters and animals look interesting, if simplistic, and the options available in character creator are plentiful also. Coupled with the sound design, the game takes a stripped back and sparce approach world building. With most of the action taking place on the single screen of your bunker as you watch it change and develop. Occasionally when you send people on errands in the wasteland you will be greeted with battle scenes or meeting places as you find other stragglers finding their way, and you are given the options to fight, trade or ignore.

While it falters at the fault of it’s own design, Sheltered still offers a harrowing, interesting and mechanically sound game most of the time. I found myself fascinated in developing my bunker and exploring the barren wastes of the future. Despite minor annoyances, I constantly found myself coming back just to improve, to build upon what I had learnt and give the wasteland another try. It’s a rich, intriguing and twisted title that offers a gruesome world begging to be explored, if you’re the sort of person who can stomach it that is…

 

8/10

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