Video games is one of the only entertainment mediums which can truly submerge players into the role of another soul, in both body and spirit. Unfortunately, too many games reuse the same persona too many times (young, adult males, usually bald and angry) which misuses the atmospheric interactive form. This is what made the original Shelter -- developed by Might and Delight -- so intriguing. It took a risk and developed an experience around you playing as a mother badger, raising and protecting her young against an uncaring wild. Shelter had quite a number of issues, but the concept was solid and worthwhile to explore.
Knowing that there was far more ground to over with this animal perspective, Might and Delight has released Shelter 2. We leave behind mother badger, her cubs and the linear set-piece design of the first game behind. In its sequel, Shelter 2 brings in a new cast of characters and a more open-world design. While ambitious, Shelter 2's aspirations reach far beyond its capabilities, completely sullying the promise of the first game and providing the worst, most busted experience I've had with a game this year.
Shelter 2 has you take control of a mother lynx who has to protect and provide for her 4 newly born kittens, raising and feeding them until they grow of age and then leave you. This involves you hunting animals of various shapes and sizes to feed your young, traversing an unknown and uncaring landscape, and escaping from vicious wolves who hunt you and your children. While fundamentally similar to the first game, the largest change is the pseudo-open world structure at work in Shelter 2. While the first game had a set progression with standout set-piece moments, Shelter 2 throws you into the wild and asks you to fend yourself. While in theory this idea feels like a more honest approach to the reality of how animals live their lives but in reality, the execution is miserable.
The biggest problem with this open world design, among myriad issues, is that there's so little to do or experience to justify this structure. The actual open world is quite small, with a few smaller sectioned off areas that offer mostly the same sights and sounds and animals over again. There are only a few animals to hunt, there's only a single predator to avoid and that's it. That's literally it. There aren't interesting, one-off random encounters to stumble upon. There is no new terrain to traverse. There are no new obstacles to challenge you. What you do in the first 10 minutes of Shelter 2 is all there is to see.
Well, if the base interaction of hunting for and feeding your young is solid, then that's some short of redemption, surely. Unfortunately Shelter 2 makes the already lackluster hunting system in the first game even more awkward in comparison. There are two different ways to hunt: run into smaller animals to instakill them, or jump on the bigger creatures to take them down. It would be insultingly simple if this brain-dead hunting mechanic actually worked as intended, which often it doesn't, making the whole thing just pure misery.
This is because Shelter 2 often glitches out, with dodgy hit detection causing animals to somehow escape even when you're literally on top of them. And in combination with the leap for taking out larger creatures only works at the pitch-perfect angle. This is because the killer pounce is in fact a canned-animation that only triggers when you execute your otherwise peaceful hop at the precise point and distance necessary. This is rage-inducing because rarely does it actually work correctly, either locking you into the animation while the deer or whatever breaks free and you go flying off, or the lethal leap doesn't even trigger correctly and you miss your prey completely. Shelter 2 rarely feels like it's fundamentally working on the most basic of levels, and even when it does, you'll realize how stupid and mind-numbing the actions it asks you to do truly are.
Sticking the theme of Shelter 2 being glitchy, furthermore it's a technical disaster. There were times where I fell through the world or the hunting leap glitched out and threw me into a river, both of which respawn your character several hours later, causing your kittens to become hungry which quickly leads to starvation. There's also at least one area in the game with random areas inside which would complete kill the game, reducing my framerate to 1 frame-per-second. Despite having a more powerful computer than Shelter 2 demanded, I reduced it to the lowest possible settings which accomplished nothing. These areas in question are not more visually demanding, leaving me dumbfounded as to what the problem was. Because I got lost in one of these areas for over 15-minutes, one of my kittens starved as I was trying to get out of this area. These frequent moments of technical failure broke Shelter 2's wildlife simulation completely.
The only spot where Shelter 2 doesn't seem actively on fire is its production. There are several decent tunes by Retro Family and Adam Hagstrand, but these tracks are infrequent and only occur in certain predetermined moment (basically the introduction and ending sequences) while everything else is ambient noise that left no impression on me whatsoever. The original Shelter's brightest spot was its papercraft artstyle, and in Shelter 2 this is mostly the same, but if not quite as successfully implemented than the first game. In all honesty, the open world design makes the seemingly expansive papercraft landscapes look incoherent and messy in an unappealing way that completely knocked me off guard. I didn't expect feeling so turned-off from the look of the game, but the deliberately designed art and level design of the first game felt more refined than most of how the world looks in Shelter 2, which was massively disappointing.
Shelter 2 tries to take the promising yet unfulfilled concept of the first game of assuming an animal perspective and rendering its survival in the world to the next level. But ultimately, Shelter 2 is a miserable experiences that fails in every possible way. The open world design on paper sounds promising, but in actuality is devoid of meaningful content and any of the profoundness that Might and Delight wish to instill inside you. It's hunting mechanic is insultingly simple when it works, but it often doesn't. Combine this with the worst glitches and technical issues I've seen this year with a some playtime at $15 with zero replay value, and Shelter 2 feels like a scam. Even if Shelter 2 was working as intended without its many glitches and bugs, what we'd still have is one of the most fundamentally misguided sequels of all time. Shelter 2 is pure misery, and I couldn't recommend it to anyone.
ONE OUT OF FIVE
(A terrible game whose positives aspects are practically nonexistent.)