Sheltered Preview

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‘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.

DZJYCnnIebMN6guv1R4COVKvFGqQYdams3kdRRhCmc0There 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.

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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.

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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.

 

Pros:

Great crafting system – A rusty bucket for a toilet!

Atmospheric – Apocalyptic mood music!

Nice graphical details – Depression, trauma, vomiting kids!

Cons:

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!

Frugal Gaming Review – Flockers

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Back in May 2014, I took a look at an early build of Flockers. Team 17 had decided to release it via the increasingly popular Early Access program on Steam.  Generally, I liked what I saw and was hopeful that with more time, the developers could create the kind of magic that left so many of us with fond memories of Flockers muse; Lemmings.  Fast forward four months and the game has now been fully released on not only Steam but also Xbox One and PS4.

I’m not going to pad this review out as to be quite honest, very little has changed since my preview. If you’re interested in my previous and still relevant thoughts you can take a gander at the more in depth preview HERE.   More levels have been added and a general spit and polish has been liberally applied to all visible surfaces, but the basic premise of the game remains the same and it still feels rather underdeveloped.

flockers_level_scape_2Lemmings was originally released way back in 1991.  It tasked you with leading your band of furry critters from A to B by means of controlling their actions with 8 different abilities.  The Climber could climb.  The Floater could float down big drops by using an umbrella.  The Bomber was, well a suicide bomber. The Blocker was like a lollipop map who stopped your other lemmings in their tracks.  The Builder would raise a stairway letting you reach higher areas. A Basher, Miner and Digger filled out the abilities letting you dig horizontally, diagonally downwards or directly downwards.

So clearly lots of ways to control your Lemmings, the sequels added even more variety to what you could do, it meant that levels could often be solved in completely different ways.  The animations and designs of these moves and abilities really bought the lemmings to life and injected a whole lot of humour.  Fast forward 23 years to Flockers and Team17 have seen fit to offer you just 5 abilities. That’s real progress right there.

Over 60 levels are now available, with differing backgrounds, for point of reference; Lemmings had over 120.  Some of them are great, others feel unjustly harsh.  The lack of abilities and the structure of the levels themselves generally leaves you with only one route to the exit.  It all feels rather scripted, flat and forced. Online leaderboards and the ability to stream direct to twitch from within the game are both nice features and to be honest apart from the obvious graphical improvements that 20+ years bring, these 2 areas are the only real improvements over the ancient game that I’m comparing it to.

flockers_death_-_explosionIf you are in the unfortunate position to have never played Lemmings you’ll probably get more out of Flockers than anyone else. Even then it feels rather lacklustre, uninspired and plain boring.  The sheep are undeniably cute and will most certainly appeal to younger gamers, who knows it might even lead to a few more vegetarians in the world, without a doubt that will be the only legacy that Flockers leaves behind.

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Flockers is available on PC via Steam and Xbox one and PS4 both at retail and via their respective marketplaces.

Flockers – Early Access Preview

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School of Flock

You would be forgiven for thinking that all Team 17 has done is create games that star psychotic invertebrates, who like nothing more than beating the living crap out of each other. Alien Breed and Superfrog are a couple of their other franchises, but these never found the same sort of traction that the wiggly little stars of the 20 plus games that bear the Worms moniker.

So Team 17 are back with a brand new game. Titled Flockers, the game puts you in control of a flock of sheep trying to escape the evil machinations of the Worms who have been using them as suicide bombers for the last 20 years. Very much like the cherished and sorely missed Lemmings, the game tasks you with herding your flock from A to B, whilst trying to avoid the spike traps, buzz saws and all other sorts of painful, comic, death dealing machines that lie along your path.

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Breaking Baa-d

Released this week via steam early access, I’ve been lucky enough to get hands on with the game for the last week or so, and it’s shaping up quite nicely. With 25 levels available at the get-go, and a few, if at the minute limited actions that your sheep can take. The levels are well designed and land just on the right side of hair pulling frustration, which means you always want to give it one more try.

The targets set for each level at first seem rather generous, with only a few of your flock needing to survive to proceed to the next level. However getting even a lone lamb to the end zone can be a real challenge, if you’re a member of PETA the game might not be for ewe.

To achieve your goal of freedom, your sheep can perform a few different functions. Whilst you don’t have the traditional blocker that was seen in lemmings the sheep can huddle up into formations, so you can effectively block the flock, and also create a staircase of sheep that any herder from one man and his dog would be proud off. My only gripe about these formations is that once in position, the sheep just stand there. A nice little animation of them actually blocking the way or precariously balancing upon one another would be nice.

The other 3 functions you can perform are jumping, exploding and scaling high walls like Superman. These three actions look good when performed, the Superman sheep dons a cape and the jumper a woolly hat. I’m not quite sure why that one is relevant, maybe an actual knitted jumper would have suited better? The issue for me is that there are only the three actions, I’m really hoping that more are added as the games continues to develop. One of the biggest strengths of the original Lemmings games was the variety of actions that the green haired furry critters could take, and the problem solving options that opened up.

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Baa We There Yet?

The game-play itself is enhanced by hidden golden fleeces in each level, I’ve not yet managed to reach one of these but it adds great re-playability, as it adds to your end of level score- which are nicely compared on end of level leaderboards. The inclusion of leaderboards is a great touch, my twitter feed has been full of Trial Fusion times over the last couple of weeks and whilst multiplayer wouldn’t really suit this game, the offer of bragging rights over your friends is fantastic.

A fully featured level editor is also included with levels being shared via the Steam Workshop. Due to issues with resolutions, at the time of writing I wasn’t able to try this out myself but a couple of home-made levels are already available. If you’ve got a sadistic streak then by all accounts you’re going to love this feature, and it will only add to the games long term value.

On a whole the game already looks and sounds great. The sheep themselves are little bundles of fluffy joy with great movement animations and a real personality to their sound effects, even when being minced up. The levels also look good, and although work is still underway to include depth of field techno magic, the basic assets look fantastic with two distinct styles already available across the 25 levels and a third on the way.

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Flock and Awe

It seems to me that the idea for this game to be released via Early Access is to actively involve the gaming community in its development rather than the direct need for funding. This for me, is what Early Access should be about. The Developers themselves are pretty active on the games Steam forum and are shouting out for feedback. These are all good signs, and if you loved Lemmings or Worms for that matter you’ll find something in this game that will be right up your street.

Flockers is the first game that has been released this way that I can wholeheartedly recommend without any reservations whatsoever. In its current state it’s fully playable and offers some real head scratching challenges. The fact that it’s great for a quick 10 minutes of play or equally, several hour long sessions trying to beat your high score and climb the leaderboards, really speaks to the games strengths of simplicity of design and real hidden depths of its challenges. I’m looking forward to playing this game throughout its development and as a member of the community maybe helping to shaping the way it turns out upon full release.

Flockers is currently available via the Steam Early Access Program and can be found here
http://store.steampowered.com/app/260330/

Developed and Published by: Team 17