There aren't many games that allow players to bond with characters as effortlessly and as wordlessly as the Shelter series. Placing you as a mother providing for her young cubs, what begins as a simple quest for sustenance very soon--and very subtly--becomes a family's journey, their personal struggle against the world. To lose even one cub is a tragedy. To lose them all is unthinkable.
Here are five ways that Shelter 2 brings out your maternal instinct (whether you knew you had one or not).
# 6 - Customisation
After an intense introductory sequence, the mother lynx will give birth, thereby introducing you to your new family. Apart from simply being adorable, each cub comes with its own name, which you can either keep or replace with one of your own choosing. It's a small touch--so small it doesn't even show up in the gameplay--but one that instantly makes your furry family feel all the more real.
# 5 - Hunting
With your cubs named, it's time to get into the real meat of this game (pun very much intended). While the first Shelter mostly had players digging for vegetables to survive, Shelter 2 puts you in the paws of a predator. Rabbits, rodents, frogs and even deer are all fair game for your hungry cubs. You can only get so close to your prey before they spot you and flee in all directions, so quick reflexes are essential if you're going to bring home the bacon. While snatching up a small mammal to eat is satisfying in its own right, returning to your mewing cubs with a tasty prize in your jaws makes the victory so much sweeter. By the same token, missing your prey and returning empty-handed is an awful feeling, and you can actually see your cubs grow thinner as they go without food.
Shelter 2 features controls that are fairly basic and intuitive, which makes the experience all the more immersive. You use WASD to move and L-Shift to sprint, while controlling the camera with the mouse. Keeping your prey centred on-screen is easier said than done, though as most will suddenly change direction to shake you off, and the camera scrolls a little too sluggishly to keep up. While small animals are instantly caught as soon as you make contact, you'll need to jump with the space bar to bring down larger game. This takes a little more coordination to pull off, but seeing your lynx leap ferociously onto a deer is well worth the effort.
#4 - Choice
Most of the food you find isn't big enough to go around all of your cubs, with small animals only feeding two at a time. This means you need to keep track of who's been fed and who could use fattening up, or else you'll find one of your cubs getting too weak to follow. Picking up a hungry little lynx by the scruff of the neck is an oddly tender moment, coupled with growing desperation to find some food soon. You can also choose to feed yourself instead of your cubs, but this only replenishes your stamina; you don't actually need to eat. This is a missed opportunity by the developer to add more depth to the game, and more weight to every decision.
#3 - Death
While your family of lynxes are further up the food chain than the badgers of the first Shelter, they do still have predators of their own to worry about. When a pack of wolves appears, they descend on your family like a snarling, howling plague. Neither running nor fighting seems to work against them, and if they catch you, you'll be knocked out and wake up with one less cub at your heels. It's heartbreaking, but hits a little less hard than it did in the first game, because it's hard to see what you could possibly have done to prevent it.
#2 - Solitude
As time goes by and their bellies fill up, your cubs will mature and eventually be able to chase down prey of their own. Here you really feel in your element; terrorising herds of deer is exactly the kind of wholesome family fun every young lynx should have. But suddenly Autumn comes, and your now-grown-up cubs leave to start families of their own. This triggers the following three emotions: surprise that family fun time is over, relief that you don't have to put their needs first any more, and sadness as you realise you don't know what to do with yourself any more. Fortunately the game soon guides you to its conclusion, so you aren't left snagging lonely dinners for one until the wolves return.
The #1 Shelter 2 Feature - Family Tree
Once you finish the story, you'll have the option to start a new game as one of your grown-up cubs, continuing the family into a new generation of furry felines. While this offers nothing new in terms of gameplay, it feels nice to know that your little ones made it, and went on to give you grandcubs every bit as adorable as they were.