While there has been a recent explosion in the number of post-apocalyptic video games over the past years, especially in terms of zombie-related titles. However, the vast majority of these games have been action-orientated like Fallout 4 rather than strategic in nature. That is where Sheltered comes in. This tactical survival simulator started out as a successful Kickstarter campaign and is now a Team 17 (of Worms fame) published title available across a range of platforms. But how does it stack up?
The basic premise of Sheltered is simple – you are the leader of a small family that has come across its very own underground shelter. You are tasked with ensuring that the family survives, as it has to overcome various obstacles and deal with the threats facing them on a daily basis. There’s little in the way of story but that is because you are essentially living your own personal story as you do everything in your power to beat some pretty bad odds and live as long as possible.
Your first task upon starting up the game is to create your family. This involves customizing the appearance to whatever you want, giving them names and choosing what abilities and traits you want them to have. It is essential that you pick these carefully as they can determine just how useful a person is and how well they will carry out the different tasks in the shelter. It’s certainly useful to play around with these settings to get combinations that you like and are particularly useful to your playstyle, though it is important you balance the family members out.
Once you have finished up with that you are thrown straight in at the deep end and have to start playing the game proper. It can easily seem complex at first, with so many different tasks and subsystems to keep an eye on. This micromanagement though is essentially what Sheltered is all about. The vast majority of your time is spent fixing equipment, dishing out supplies to those in the shelter, and finding resources to keep everything running smoothly.
Obviously, a game of this type isn’t for everyone. Those most interested are likely going to patient players who enjoy RTS titles or grand strategy games that require a desire to want to manage every little aspect available. For some, this will be a cathartic experience that they enjoy while for others it will quickly get frustrating.
As well as ensuring that everything in the shelter is kept up and running, the other major aspect of gameplay is going out into the wasteland. This involves searching buildings and encountering other people who have survived the apocalypse. These searches are the only way to gather vital resources for upgrades, except for trading, and you’ll have to go out on scavenger hunts on a regular basis. The encounters are where you will have to really use your judgement and negotiation skills. Sometimes a person may simply want to trade but in other instances, a wild animal or aggressive person may well attack you. Getting a serious injury or dying is catastrophic so Sheltered forces you to think carefully about every single action while out in the wasteland.
The combat works as a very simple turn-based system. It is probably the most simple part of the game and allows the player to either attack, attempt to subdue or flee from any violent encounter. It won’t satisfy those who want a deeper fighting mechanic, yet it does the job well enough to not become a distraction. You can even bully anyone you come across, adding even more strategy to the game as this could easily backfire and get your character killed.
The randomly generated landscapes ensure that each playthrough is unique and provides their own challenges, but this also means that resource hunting can become a huge chore. In some instances, a much-needed item will be in constant supply yet in another save it will take an age to find just a few of them. It can become incredibly annoying waiting to find a few hinges when you have so much of every other resource stockpiling in your storage.
The complexity of the game is betrayed by the rather simplistic presentation. The visual style is done in the same way that many smaller indie games are as it is a pixel art affair. That said, the graphics actually compliment the game very well and suit the rather desolate and depressing atmosphere that Sheltered is trying to achieve. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the sound. There is little in the way of music or sound effects and the same effects will soon become tedious. The constant sound of animals getting caught in your traps is particularly annoying.
Sheltered is one of those titles that you will either love or hate. There is really little middle ground for the casual gamer as the micromanagement and resource gathering are too complicated for anyone who doesn’t enjoy deep strategy games. It’s as much about planning and preparation as it is about actual gameplay – something that may be off-putting to many players. For those who have the patience, it has all the necessary elements to be a fantastic game.