‘Family comes first’ is a mantra you will find yourself repeating while playing Sheltered which tasks you with keeping a family of four and their pet alive in the fallout of a nuclear holocaust. Once you’ve selected your adults, children and pet you are swiftly shepherded into an underground bunker to fend for yourself. Facilities are rudimentary and supplies are low. It now becomes your job to ensure everyone’s survival. Your main priorities are food, water and power. And to keep these things flowing you need a constant supply of crafting materials, gathered by sending members of the family on expeditions out into the wasteland to scavenge for food, medicine and the materials needed for building and upgrading facilities in your shelter.
If you’re fortunate enough to find the right combination of materials (and have the time, energy, food fuel etc.) you can extend your shelter by building new rooms underground. I found this was vital early on in the game as there is no toilet or shower. The tier one toilet is a rusty bucket and while having a shower is nice they use a lot of water so building one becomes an important decision. There are no beds either so if you want any of your post-apocalyptic residents to get some much needed shut eye, you’ll need to build one of those too.
There is very little hand holding in this game, after a brief tutorial you are pretty much left to your own devices. Most of what I’ve discovered is through old fashioned trial and error. Whether that is because a more in-depth tutorial is yet to be implemented remains to be seen, the game has only just been released through Early access, but it’s refreshing not to be told how to succeed right away. Much of the thrill comes from finding your own creative ways to survive. The characters behave much like Sims, icons above the character’s heads keep you informed of their most pressing needs like hunger, thirst and tiredness. You are of course welcome to manage these yourself but you can also set them to look after these needs automatically. Something that isn’t mentioned in the rudimentary tutorial. It’s mostly a blessing as clicking relentlessly on people and a rusty bucket in the corner to make them do their business can get repetitive quickly. It is a double edged sword however, enabling automation means your characters will happily eat the last food ration – even if you were saving it for a special occasion.
My first two playthroughs both ended in disaster. I began by sending the son out into the irradiated wasteland to upgrade our water filter without a gas mask or any protection from the hostile elements. Upon his return he became sick and thoroughly depressed and at one point he was curled up on the floor hugging himself and rocking back and forth. Shortly after, the Dad died from exhaustion and radiation poisoning, traumatising everyone in the shelter. I was left with the choice to bury him or use his decaying, fly-ridden body to feed those that were still alive.
The second playthrough went south much quicker, I neglected to build the family a shower and all the food we ate was contaminated so every meal they ate gave them food poisoning. After which it was difficult doing anything, as each family member would fall to their knees to throw up, an animation which is just on the uncomfortable side of too long. At this point I decided to experiment with the fast-forward time function and left them, just to see how long they could survive without aid. It wasn’t long.
By my third throw of the survivalist dice things were slightly better. I managed to expand the shelter giving me valuable space to build extra beds, a shower and more water storage. About two weeks into the game the food ran out, the dog began to whimper with hunger, and died alarmingly quickly. I could have buried him, but I had two children and three adults to feed. Luckily I had built a stove to cook food and reduce the risk of poisoning. The dog’s passing did not go in vain.
For a game still being developed, Sheltered has a plenty to do in it. There is plenty of scope in the crafting system, and I haven’t yet gotten close to repairing the camper van outside our bunker so that we can go on longer trips out for supplies. There is a combat system for when you come across other survivors which doesn’t work very well but is due an overhaul according to the developers.
The look of the game may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s surprising how much a handful of pixels can present graphic images of misery and despair. There are some charming details to be found, it took me a while to realise that the brown plies building up all over the floor was (mostly) the dog’s doing so I had to craft a mop and bucket to clean the floors.
The tutorial may be minimal, but the game is simple and intuitive enough to get you started with basic wasteland survival. It’s a nice touch to put the emphasis on experimentation and trial and error. Finding some small way to keep your family alive for one more day is often a relief as well as rewarding and fun. Some may prefer clearer guidance to ease them into the game’s systems as well as highlight some of the longer term goals however I suspect that may be missing the point. Sheltered wants you to improvise to survive and it is most rewarding when you find what works to sustain the life of the family just long enough to send them out on that last desperate expedition for supplies.
Great crafting system – A rusty bucket for a toilet!
Atmospheric – Apocalyptic mood music!
Nice graphical details – Depression, trauma, vomiting kids!
Some pretty dark concepts going on here – Depression, trauma, vomiting kids!
Some bugs and balance issues – but it’s still in early access!
It ain’t easy – people will die!