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United Colors of Megaton.
When Unicube started demoing Sheltered for me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was dramatically similar to this year’s This War of Mine. Both feature desperate scenarios where people must survive in a found shelter in a world of scarce resources, risky exploration, and the inability to blindly trust anyone you meet. In fact, your characters can get depressed or catatonic from trauma just like This War of Mine. But the developers were ready to address my concerns by showing me what’s truly different about their upcoming work, and it turned out to be quite significant.
Instead of a shit-hits-the-fan scenario, Sheltered takes place in a post-apocalyptic land after some sort of radioactive incident. Replacing the three strangers of TWOM is a family of four: two parents and two children. I was floored when right out of the gate, Dean Foster informed me that the game does not limit your family in terms of gender or color. That’s usually the question I end up asking after the demo, but the idea was right at the forefront of the conversation. If you want a multi-racial family with two moms, go for it. You can even add a dog or a cat to the mix. However, they still need to survive.
Each playthrough is randomized save for a handful of constants: You live in a found underground shelter, there’s a broken-down camper van missing some parts, and you need to explore the surrounding land for resources. The places you’ll find and visit, the people you’ll meet, and your overall experience should be different each time, though still probably somber in tone. Also, based on a variety of D&D-style stats and traits you assign to your family, each member will serve different purposes and have different reactions to events as you progress.
In the demo Foster showed me, which featured a mom, dad, son, and daughter (each with different skin color), both children were suffering from radiation poisoning. The father went exploring to hopefully find some anti-radiation tablets. The game also separates itself in that you only set a character out to explore, not where they go or what they encounter. Rather, at some point, the father radioed back to his family indicating that he found a person and asked his family what he should do. At their advice, he talked to the young woman, and then the screen changed to allow us to witness the exchange.
He was given the option of trying to trade with her, flee, recruit her, or bully her. Recruitment was thankfully successful, but it was important to keep in mind that she’s another mouth to feed. Eventually, a trader shower up at their door, offering to trade, the conversation managed via intercom for safety’s sake. The family obtained one pack of medicine, given to the daughter, and not long afterwards, the son passed away. Aside from getting depressed, which can be monitored via Sims-like stat bars, families are given multiple options as far as what to do with the bodies. They can bury them above ground like normal, incinerate the body for extra fuel, or even harvest the body for food, which has a side effect of causing additional trauma.
Sheltered also features a crafting system, with multiple levels of items and efficiency, and the ability to expand the shelter further underground, providing more space for stuff and people. As for the aforementioned camper van, if the family finds all the missing parts, they can start exploring a wider radius. With all the makings of a compelling and varied survival experience, coupled with a colorful pixel art design, this game could be another hit. We’ll find out when it comes out later this year for Xbox One and PC. Also, keep an eye out for it on Xbox’s Early Access program as it is the only non-AAA title selected for it thus far.