Nature might be red in tooth and claw, but it’s also a beautiful, pastel-coloured patchwork. Shelter’s gentle, cute looks might conform to certain aesthetic indie game expectations, but they’re a trick. Shelter lures you in with the bloodless story-book charm before hitting you with gut punch reminder of just how capricious nature can be.
You’re a mother badger, protecting five cubs as you journey through a forest in search of food and refuge. Your cubs usually stick close, but will occasionally be distracted by the noise of prowling predators or the sight of food. As they’re incapable of feeding themselves, you must stalk prey via some uncomplicated stealth mechanics and uproot veg from the earth, trying to ensure the morsels go the cub whose greying coat suggests is the most hungry.
Your cubs aren’t the only hungry things in the forest, however. Birds of prey screech up high – and the simplistic, dash-between-the-long-grass evasion system doesn’t make the shadow they cast any less scary – and wolves prowl beyond your sight in the dark. These things will snatch your cubs, just as readily as river rapids will drag them from you, or fire claim them, and after the brutal instant, there’s little you can do but keep walking.
It’s about the journey, in short, and the inevitable losses on the way. Try and play Shelter as a perfectionist and you’ll fail, the victim of a cruel world and occasionally clunky, unclear rules. Better to simply do your best, allow Might and Delight’s fantastical art to enthrall, and let nature take its course.
Shelter is released on August 28 on PC.