Shelter 3 tells the story of a small group of elephants trying to make their way back to the herd.
Posted by Nate on 10 April 2021 at 12:24PM
Might and Delight's Shelter series has been an interesting one to see develop over the last eight years. The first game, releasing in 2013, was one of the first 'walking simulators' to be covered by big media outlets and drew the inevitable Journey-but-with-badgers comparison. The distinctive and unique art direction combined with the unusual protagonists drew a lot of attention, including from myself, and the experience was a positive one. In this third venture, you play as a mother African Elephant as you try to reunite your small group with the herd while directed by a spirit.
I'm very disappointed to say that a lack of focus, absent potential mechanics and no emotional connection with the subject matter hinder this experience from being a worthwhile one.
The opening of the game is minimalistic in instruction, other than you'll need to make your way over to the herd. Going in with expectations and experience, I was anticipating an active duty of care for your young as you travel the lands. You have a meter at the bottom of the screen which depletes when moving faster. One assumes this is stamina as it replenishes when you eat, but curiously, it disappeared once all my young had perished making it seem like a redundant mechanic (but I'll get to that later). There are button prompts as you make your way through the opening area but they were somewhat difficult to interpret. For example, there was a symbol with right mouse button stated underneath. This made you splash your trunk around in water unless you were on land, in which case, you get locked in an overly long animation accomplishing nothing. It took me some time to understand that this did not represent drinking and that in fact, both elephants and calves drink automatically when standing in water.
There are a lot of automated system in this game, far more so than the previous games in the series. I must say I came in with anticipation of actively caring for the young, but they essentially do everything themselves. In fact, the game felt like an exercise in walking from point A to point B. While this in itself is not an issue within games, the environments look open enough to encourage exploration, yet there is nothing to discover. There is other wildlife, such as buffalo and herons, placed sporadically across the lands but they don't interact with you or your presence in any way. You can literally clip through them, just as you can with the other elephants in your small herd. The immersion is broken by this lack of physical contact.
Such as the previous games, you are tasked with the protecting your young from the elements and predators. I did wonder how this was going to work, as mature elephants don't tend to have natural predators. Crocodiles, lions and hyenas may take an opportunistic attack if a calf is isolated. However, in Shelter 3, crocodiles will attack with precise, one hit kills even when the herd is grouped together. At one point I approached a large expanse with conveniently placed bushes and the music changed its tone to communicate impending danger. Then, before I could do anything, a tiger ran in from off the screen, killed a calf next to me, and then zoomed off again. It felt like I had made a mistake but with no figurative or environmental signposting, how was I supposed to know that would happen immediately? I think, and I could be wrong here, that these events are scripted, or at least intended to happen. If they were scripted, they were poorly executed. Also, there was no reaction, remorse or sadness from the surviving elephants and calves, which I believe to be somewhat uncharacteristic for the species.
Upon reaching the conclusion, I checked the Steam achievements to take a look at what I had missed on my play through. To my surprise, the only one I didn't achieve was to drink from a puddle (which I did actually do near the end of the game). It's disappointing that it appears I hadn't missed anything and the finale of the game wasn't impactful at all.
It's clear that Might and Delight have been developing the visual style since the first game and the environments are impressive and a delight to travel through. The amount of detail in the landscapes is so much more advanced than in the previous games. It's just a shame that these environments were so easy to become disorientated in as you head towards the marker. I felt like I was meandering through the lands finding dead end after dead end until stumbling across the intended path. There is what I call 'video game vision' where the screen darkens and highlights interactive parts, such as the edibles, as well as the 'quest' marker. The soundtrack was very pleasant to listen to though its cues didn't seem to be placed particularly effectively. Interesting encounters weren't always marked by a change in tone and there were periods of the game without music when it felt like there should be.
It didn't feel all that smooth to play. As well as the aforementioned clipping through other living organisms, the elephant's turning circle was oddly difficult to manage and the missing controller support did not help with the movement. At one point an elephant was stuck in the walking forward animation but travelling backwards â€“ an amusing bug, but coming just as a calf had been killed, the timing wasn't great. These are all forgivable if playing the game felt like a worthwhile experience, but the unsatisfactory conclusion lacking in a meaningful message just left me with a feeling of disappointment.
I'm sorry to say that Shelter 3 does not live up to the series' standards and was a thoroughly disappointing experience. All the groundwork is there for an interesting game, and the initial premise is certainly a good one. I feel the game did not manage to convey how real elephants behave amongst each other and how they react to the outside world. I commend the developers for creating games such as these with a range of animals, situations and locations, but this entry just didn't leave a positive impression. To me, Shelter 2 remains the highlight of the series.
- Beautiful landscapes
- Good music
- Story was not impactful or meaningful
- Doesn't capture the behaviour of real animals
- The animals don't feel like they have individualities
- Controller support would have been nice