By David Haughton
You know, you wait years for a survival game set in a nuclear bunker and then three come along at once. First the darkly humorous 60 Seconds! and then the mobile only Fallout Shelter, now the latest to charge us with enduring the end of the world is Sheltered.
In Sheltered, you start off by creating your family of two adults and two children with pre-set stats and traits. From there you are shown around your bunker and given a woefully brief tutorial, after which you are left to your own devices to survive.
So now what? Well first of all you can start by building a few amenities at the workbench. Perhaps a toilet would be a good start, unless little Billy McArseface doesn’t mind taking a dump in the corner while the rest… well, actually they don’t seem to mind at all. Yes that’s right! It’s Sims time! Instead of the usual hunger, hydration and tiredness, you’re tasked with managing cleanliness, stress, trauma and pooping, and thankfully you can automate the tedium of it. It becomes a delicate juggling act as showers and toilets use a massive amount of sweet, life preserving water. Then you’ve got to couple that with H2O‑ intensive expeditions: the only way you’re getting more resources is by exploring the surrounding area. This is where the apocalypse feeling wears off a bit; the place is teeming with people, all of whom you can trade with, recruit or bully at your leisure. I’d recommend avoiding them most of the time; the combat system is borderline broken right now. It generally boils down to one side barely scratching the other before being annihilated, and fleeing from combat isn’t much better and rarely works.
There is more to survival in Sheltered than just scavenging, crafting and killing random people for their plastic; there is plenty of busy work around the bunker needing done. Floors need mopping, air and water filtration units need repairing and visitors are to be dealt with to name a few. It’s these small things that nail the apocalypse feel that so many other games miss. Going from day-to-day survival to eventually being somewhat self-sustainable gives Sheltered a nice natural progression. You get a good feeling of achievement when you reach the point that a bookcase doesn’t feel like a massive waste of resources.
Pixelart graphics aren’t to everyone’s taste, but it would be hard to deny how wonderfully bleak Sheltered looks. Your faceless family members slowly starving to death against the backdrop of a destroyed city and desolate sun-baked wasteland sets the tone perfectly. Throw in the haunting ambient soundtrack and Sheltered strikes gold. Only The Long Dark has captured the feeling of survival this well.
Sheltered isn’t without its problems. It’s incredibly rough around the edges. Releasing an Early Access title on Steam, only for some icons to have Xbox controller symbols instead of keyboard keys isn’t exactly filling anyone with confidence. It comes across as unprofessional, Early Access or not. The control scheme itself is hardly better. Left click to select a person and move them? What the actual sweet green jelly babies is this? See who came up with that? Have that person executed. Like I said previously, the combat is to be avoided most of the time and the severe lack of any real clue of what everything does and how you should spend your first few days isn’t great. I’m all for letting people figure things out themselves, but even gave more direction.
Overall, Sheltered is nudging gently into the quite good category. It’s got its fair share of problems, but during the writing of this review two updates were released that addressed a lot of the initial release problems it had. This makes it a bit difficult to give it a score since the standard keeps raising a little bit each time. Make no mistake, it’s nowhere near a complete game and you’ll probably get four or five hours of fun out of it before you’re starving for more too do. This is one for fans of the genre currently, and those willing to extract the fun from the delicious core it has. Personally, I’m really excited for the future of Sheltered and will be keeping an eye on it.
Sheltered is in Early Access and is available on PC.