After discovering post-apocalyptic management game Sheltered at the EGX event earlier this month, we were kindly provided with a preview key. Here’s Kim’s experience of this addictive title.
|Publisher:||Team 17 Digital Ltd|
|Release date:||August 2015|
|PEGI rating:||Not listed|
|Platforms:||Mac, PC, Xbox One|
|More information:||Official website|
The noise level, lengthy queues and lack of available time mean it’s not always possible to a video game the attention it deserves when you’re trying it out at an expo. This is particularly true of entries in the adventure genre or those which are a little more strategic in nature, requiring brain power over quick reflexes. We came across one such title during our time at this year’s EGX event: a post-apocalyptic disaster management game called Sheltered, created by Unicube and published by Team 17 Digital Ltd.
A big thank you therefore goes to PR Director Sam Forrest for kindly providing us with a preview key after the expo so we could sit down with the early access release in a quieter environment. I had the pleasure of spending some time with it during a recent Friday evening; and even though I only intended to play for an hour or so, I ended up battling away against the elements in its radiation-ravaged world for over three hours. It’s testament for just how addictive Sheltered is already, despite not yet being fully released.
The Steam page provides a particularly moving description in terms of plot: “Panting, scared, the shelter airlock smashes down behind you. It would be easier to give up. But you don’t. The hardship, the hunger, the thirst. The fear. You keep reminding yourself why you stay alive. Why you do this. Then you hear it. ‘Daddy, you’re back.’ Your wife’s face lights up and you open a bag full of medical supplies. You need not tell her how you got them. You simply enjoy your small victory in this, the harshest of times. In the post-apocalyptic world, you must keep your family alive in your underground bunker…”
Players are tasked with creating and naming their family when starting up the game. You’re able to set a number of characteristics including gender, skin colour and outfit, and traits such as ‘optimistic’, ‘hands-on’ and ‘hygienic’ affect how each member handles the situations thrown at them. It’s a nice little touch which immediately strengthens your bond with the characters within Sheltered’s world and something that the team at Unicube clearly intended. Lead Programmer and Games Designer Dean Foster said in an interview with Twinstickgaming: “We are putting a lot of emphasis on the family because we want the player to feel attached to each member of the family and want to protect them as if they were their own.”
Once I’d created parents Kim and Pete along with siblings Ethan and little Lois – not forgetting cat Noodles – we ventured underground towards the bunker that would be our home for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately however, I had a little trouble opening the heavy metal doors and finding a way in. Some of the controls were somewhat counter-intuitive as a left-click worked in places while a right-click worked in others. It’s a small issue that’s easily overlooked once you get into the game, but it can lead to some minor frustrations when trying to complete various tasks.
After making it through the doors and getting power to the shelter using a petrol generator, it was time to organise an expedition out into the wasteland using the map displayed on the shelter wall. I’ve read that it’s possible to choose two family members to form the party – indeed, I was able to do this during my time with the demo at EGX – but it didn’t seem to work here and my clicks elicited no response. I therefore had to resort to sending Pete out into the wilderness alone, but at least I did so after arming him with a gas mask and a pipe.
You’ll have to send your party out into the unknown – increasing the risk that they’ll encounter danger but also the chance they’ll find somewhere to loot.
Players are able to plot their expedition route using waypoint markers but the more of these you place, and the further out they are, the more water you’ll consume along the way. If you don’t have enough of the resource the distance you’re able to travel is limited. The map only displays towns once they’ve actually been visited which adds to the sense of discovery but also makes Sheltered that little bit harder. Once you’ve ransacked the buildings close to your base, you’ll have to send your party out into the unknown – increasing the risk that they’ll encounter danger but also the chance they’ll find somewhere to loot.
After your waypoints have been set, you’ll need to decide what your party members should be equipped with. Gas masks are a necessity when venturing outside as without them the characters will contract radiation poisoning, but they’re a one-time-use-only item and thus extremely valuable. The pipe I’d given Pete would serve as a weapon but I left the other inventory slots empty as I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. However, I soon realised that it was a good idea to take further provisions to enable trade with other survivors…
So with Pete sent off out into the wasteland, it was up to Kim and the kids to start making a home out of the shelter. Before we could do anything more than explore our new surroundings he was already buzzing us on the radio: he’d found a new location and wanted to know whether he should search it. He then sent a further transmission to advise that he’d come across somebody at a small farm. After telling him to ‘get involved’, the scene changed and I was transported to Pete’s location.
When handling such encounters with survivors, you may come across people who want to join your group; those who want to trade; and others who just want a good fight. As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to equip extra provisions when setting out so you’re able to participate in trades but if your items don’t match the value of those you’re after then you’ve no chance. After a while such events can become a bit repetitive and you can select to ‘let the party handle it’, but doing so leaves you with no control and you may not get the outcome you’d like. Resolving the situation successfully results in your party’s statistics increasing so based on my experience so far, I’d recommend managing them yourself at the beginning of your playthrough for maximum benefit.
Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of pixelated artwork and Sheltered’s visual style is lovely. The bunker looks cold and worn-down – yet secure – until you start adding additional rooms and upgrading it, with important items highlighted in colours that are a little brighter. At the top of the screen sits the battered skyline, complete with fluorescent sunrises and sunsets to show the changing time of day, and surviving animals can be seen running across the surface. Encounters take place at roadsides, rundown farms and abandoned buildings, each making a nice change from the claustrophobic shelter and fitting the game’s atmosphere wonderfully.
Fortunately Pete was able to find some useful items whilst on his initial travels, but I wasn’t able to take everything he’d come across due to limited capacity. Although having an expedition party of two would have used up more water, the benefit would have been that they could return with more loot. It’s possible to craft a rucksack to enable your characters to carry additional objects but obviously you’ll need to scavenge the materials needed to do so first!
All of the excitement of the first few days in this new world had resulted in Ethan becoming tired but before he could sleep, I had to build a bed.
Speaking of crafting, all of the excitement of the first few days in this new world had resulted in Ethan becoming rather tired but before he could sleep, I had to build a bed. New objects can be created using the workstation at the bottom of the shelter but you’ll only be able to do so if you have the necessary resources, and you’ll have to upgrade if you want to move on to higher-level items. At the current time he had to make do with a sleeping bag on the floor but this wasn’t particularly easy to place. Limited space is available and the apparent lack of room needed to position something, even though there appears to be a good-sized gap, is a little annoying.
It wasn’t long before my family – and the new recruits we’d managed to pick up during our expeditions – were badgering me with their other constant demands such as the need to wash and to go to the toilet. A make-shift shower and a couple of buckets were hastily constructed once Lola had built us a new room (the poor child)… but I completely forgot to monitor our water usage after these were put into place. This was probably my biggest failing and also the hardest part of the Sheltered.
Water is the most valuable resource within the title, and one I recommended players manage extremely carefully. It’s vital for everything. The mental wellbeing of your family and recruits will deteriorate if they can’t shower; they won’t be able to relieve themselves if they can’t wash out buckets; they’ll become dehydrated if they can’t drink; and they won’t be able to go on expeditions if there’s no liquid to take with them. It’s possible to scavenge or trade for bottles but the easiest source is rain. At one point within my playthrough I found myself praying for the weather to change as everyone was crying out for water; a recent patch updated the title so it now rains at least once every four days but I still found it a real challenge. Even with tasking my family to craft more butts, there were many times my characters came close to death because of an absence of water.
The way the map and expeditions are handled means it’s highly possible you’ll waste a lot of the precious liquid and gas masks if you don’t discover a place to loot whilst on your travels. Each time my party came back empty-handed I felt completely deflated and this fits Sheltered’s storyline perfectly; but it can seem as if expeditions are based on luck rather than actions that can be strategically planned. If you don’t go out to scavenge, you won’t find the resources needed to upgrade your shelter and survive (including material for further gas masks). Then again, if you venture outside you may find yourself wasting all of your water and praying for the next rainfall.
To ensure you’re able to capture as much liquid as possible – as well as keep oxygen at safe levels and the power on – it’s necessary to fix your water and oxygen filters periodically along with other items. Degraded equipment is depicted by a yellow exclamation mark symbol and an integrity report next to the map shows how well the filters are performing. Depending on the traits selected for your family members at the start of the game or those exhibited by your recruits, they may be able to fix things up in no time or they could take absolutely ages! The more recruits you have join you, the easier it is to maintain your bunker; but the more people that live there, the harder they are to control. They tend to stand in front of each other and this makes it difficult to select the necessary character. There also some response issues, with one of my recruits standing in the doorway and becoming un-clickable, but I’m sure these will be resolved as the title is developed further.
In addition, the more inhabitants within your shelter, the more food and water you’ll need in order to sustain them. After my initial playthrough I’m starting to believe that Sheltered’s tagline sums up how you should go about strategically planning your game: ‘family comes first’. At one point I realised I’d taken in too many survivors and couldn’t cope with the weight of their demands, and perhaps I should have sent them out on dangerous missions rather than the children. The fact you have to weigh up these moral decisions sits uncomfortably at times but again, this fits the title’s atmosphere. Nobody said that living post-apocalypse was going to be easy.
Sadly, a number of my cast started to succumb and were victims of this ravaged world.
Sadly, a number of my cast started to succumb and were victims of this ravaged world. First, Noodles the cat gave up after not being fed; Ethan passed away not long afterwards; and Pete couldn’t take any further grief, leaving Kim and Lois to battle on alone. When a character dies you can select to harvest, incinerate or bury the body. You’ll need to have the necessary resources available to build a grave if you choose the last option but the first can have benefits… kind of. If you’re running low on food supplies it’s possible to convert the corpse into food supplies but this, and the death, have a severe emotional impact on your family.
This is probably the most heart-breaking part of Sheltered. You have to do what you have to do in order to survive, but each decision could potentially have a negative effect and result in a huge amount of trauma and stress for your cast. At one point Kim ended up catatonic in the corner of the shelter, unable to complete any tasks or go on expeditions, and it was necessary for Lois to ensure she was fed and watered. From items I found on expeditions it seems as if anti-depressants and other medicines can be crafted to alleviate trauma but I didn’t get far along enough to be able to see this during my playthrough.
All these factors result in a game which is about family and its survival, rather than the usual cliché of killing monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. From the point at which you create your cast, assigning them names and traits, to when they pass away and you have to make the difficult decision of whether to harvest their body just to keep your other members alive… you’ll feel the emotion of the household, and guilt at knowing you perhaps could have done better by them.
Sheltered’s downside is that it becomes a little repetitive after a few hours. As mentioned above, it’s possible to have your expedition party automatically take care of any encounters out in the wilderness and to semi-automate some actions back in the bunker; but reducing your level of control in this way could result in some unwanted outcomes. I also like to have an end objective and it wasn’t entirely clear whether there was something I should be working towards, or if it was just a case of surviving as long as I possibly could.
Saying that however, this is an addictive game despite still being in early access. I ended up playing for three hours after planning to only spend an hour with Sheltered on my first go, and managed to survive for a total of twenty-four days before I called it quits for the evening. I’m looking forward to seeing what further updates the team at Unicube implements and reviewing the title in full when it’s completely released. Team 17 have picked up a little gem here, and if I’d been able to spend a little more time with it at the expo it could have easily become my ‘best of EGX’.