The hunt goes on, and on, and on, and on…
When I first read the description for Shelter 2, I imagined a game that simulated an animal's plight to raise her cubs while fending off numerous threats such as predators, starvation, and harsh weather. Being a human mother is difficult, but animal mothers can't purchase food, hire babysitters, or let the TV entertain their children for hours on end. Unfortunately, it has only taken a few playthroughs to realize that this game amounts to little more than a feeding simulator with pretty visuals.
Shelter 2 pulls players in at the beginning with a semi-exciting scenario involving a pregnant lynx that is trying to escape a hungry pack of wolves. After leaving them behind in the snow, the lynx finds a small cave and has four cubs. As the sun rises, the lynx emerges and sets out in the snow to hunt for food to feed her babies. That's pretty much the extent of the game. All players do for the next two hours is hunt for food and lead their cubs around the open world to other shelters.
I suppose another big part of the game is trying to figure out what to do next because the game offers almost no direction. Players aren't told to hunt, or find new places to sleep, or to teach their cubs to hunt for themselves when they grow large enough. Instead, they're simply thrown out into the elements. I guess this could be an intentional way to simulate what a new animal mother might experience, but it ends up being frustrating and extremely monotonous.
It would really help if there was more gameplay variety and also more things to do besides hunt. For the majority of the game, I found myself hunting rabbits that scurry about, and then feeding them to my cubs. It's rewarding to feed them and watch them grow, but that gets old after hunting the twentieth rabbit. One time I managed to find and kill an elk, which was definitely a highlight, but I can't imagine why there are so few creatures to hunt in this virtual world. While realism is a fine attribute, it doesn't always translate to engaging gameplay.
What is odd, however, is that it's possible to choose for the mother to eat rather than the cubs, but there's no penalty for not feeding her the entire game. Conversely, there's a very rare chance that one of the cubs will starve to death if they're not fed, so it helps to pay attention and feed them all equally.
Another gripe I have is the lackluster map design. It's extremely simplistic and only displays symbols to show things like caves, rivers, and meadows. These symbols are only in the approximate vicinity of the area they represent rather than being placed in the exact spot. As a result, it's not always easy to find your way back to a cave using the map. What's even worse is that when players approach the edge of a map, the game pauses, shows a loading screen, and then faces players away from the edge. The first couple of times I didn't know what the hell was happening because it didn't look like I was even close to the edge of the map.
Shelter 2 isn't all bad, though, as the unusual watercolor-style visuals help to create a uniquely attractive view of nature. I also enjoyed certain moments like the joy of finding new prey and teaching my cubs to hunt as well as a sense of pride when they left me to venture out on their own. However, I never felt like my cubs were in danger of perishing as a result of anything besides negligence. Ironically, it's a good thing that this game only lasts a couple of hours, because it's barely deep enough to hold my attention for even that long.