Shelter 2 – Cat-based Heart Ache

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Before I was a lynx mom, I was a badger mom. By the time my badger cubs were big enough to fend on their own, I had managed to save three of the original five of them. It was an emotional task filled with perils. But I did it. So I thought I would be able to handle being a lynx mom well enough.

How wrong I was.

The Shelter series is an emotional rollercoaster. But whereas the original Shelter is like a wooden roller coaster, Shelter 2 is like this coaster (yes, there are flames that shoot out of the ground near the end). And it’s because of that increase in intensity that I just couldn’t get very far in the game. I played for a little over an hour but my little cat-loving heart just couldn’t take anymore. Think of this as more of an extended Impressions than a Review.

The idea of Shelter 2 is pretty simple. You play as a lynx mother who has recently given birth to cubs. You must feed them and protect them and get them to shelter as they grow until they are old enough to fend for themselves. This isn’t much different than the original Shelter, but in that game you were a badger family. Going into Shelter 2 I basically expected the same game as the original but with lynx skins instead of badgers and maybe slightly new environments. Much to my surprise, there was a huge amount of growth and improvement from the first game to the second.

Ignoring the emotional heartache this game caused me, Shelter 2 is absolutely beautiful. I’m not entirely sure how to describe the art style that Might and Delight uses for this series, but it makes me think of patterned construction paper cut into shapes and used for the graphics. I always loved the art style in the original game, but like with everything else Shelter 2 amped up and improved on the original. When you run, the edges of your vision distort with the wind. As the sun moves across the sky and seasons change, the coloring and foliage around you changes, too. If you manage to climb up a small hill, like in the beginning area, you’re treated with a stunning view of the surrounding mountains and valley. Even the UI and tracking have great visuals. Your cubs and different areas are represented with simple yet very clear images. When you right click to enter tracking mode, you can see these images to find your way easily and everything goes dark – except prey which turns bright red.

Control wise, Shelter 2 is okay. The game does a good job of giving you tutorial popups with illustrations demonstrating when to use different controls and what they can do for you. Once big problem I had was with the camera, though. It took a lot of adjusting the camera sensitivity before I could turn around in a reasonable amount of time. At first it was taking ages to turn around and look at my surroundings or turn around to drop prey in front of the correct cub. Then my camera was too sensitive and I was wobbling back and forth all over the place. Once I found the sweet spot though it was fine.

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Another huge improvement in Shelter 2 besides the visuals, is the gameplay. You have a lot more options as a lynx mom than you had as a badger mom. You can paw at trees to knock down birds to eat, you can chase down rabbits and moles, you can even jump and eat some food yourself. One of the best additions is being able to pick up cubs and move them yourself. This is particularly useful when cubs run out of energy and can’t or won’t get up. On top of the mechanics you control, Shelter 2 is also more open-world than the first game. As a badger mom, you more or less had to follow a linear path. However as a lynx, you have much more freedom and space to run around. There’s also small trinket-type items you can collect in the game like bits of gold, feathers, skulls, etc. Since I didn’t get terribly far in the game, I never found out what they were for but as the kind of person who likes hunting down all the little bits and bobs I thought it was a good addition. It makes you explore the amazing looking environment more than you might have otherwise.

The big huge heartbreaking cherry on top of Shelter 2 is the narrative. While the game isn’t as linear as its predecessor, there are aspects of this game that create more of a narrative. For example, the generations. As I said, I didn’t quite get far enough to experience all of the game, but once thing I noticed from the UI is that you can track your generations of lynx cubs. When you start a new game, you get to name your cubs. This could mean great opportunities for different playthroughs to be connected to one another.

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As beautiful and improved as Shelter 2 is though, it’s the sounds of my cubs going hungry that I just couldn’t handle. I don’t know if I am just a bad lynx parent or what, but I feel like my cubs in this game went hungry faster than in the previous game. While running around trying to catch prey, the bunnies would often get away. And running around also meant my cubs were scattered more. I tried to pick up my cubs to keep them in a central location but it always seemed like one of the cubs would run out of energy shortly after getting all of them fed. The pained cries they made as I got near them while they were hungry just shattered my heart. I love animals. But I most especially love cats. The prospect of my virtual little lynx cubs dying combined with those sounds made me close the game. I just couldn’t handle that strong of emotions.

At the end of the day though, I suppose that is the true goal of the game: to get you to feel a strong emotional connection to your cubs so you work hard to protect them. The game definitely succeeds at that. You will feel for these little virtual cubs and you will run til your stamina depletes to get food for them. You’ll move from area to area, trying to find a plentiful food supply.

Despite not getting very far in this game so far, I definitely recommend it. I haven’t entirely given up on playing though – it’s just the kind of game I’m going to have to play in short bursts over a longer amount of time. For people who don’t think a video game can make you feel very strong emotions, I dare you to play this game and not feel something.

Shelter 2 is available on Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store for $14.99 on Mac, PC, and Linux.

The code for this game was given to me by the developer.

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