This game seems like a labor of love, and from the reviews a lot of people have thoroughly enjoyed it, so I hate to slam it. However, I want to make the review I wish I'd read before spending $13.49 on it.
Full disclosure, I played it all the way through once. I used a controller. I never played Shelter 1.
So, I thought that this would be some kind of immersive, animal simulator/survival game. I anticipated stalking various animals, pouncing on them, maybe carrying the food back to a den or caching it somewhere. I looked forward to being chased by wolves, maybe having a kill stolen by a bear, deciding if I should let a sickly kitten starve so that there would be more food for it's siblings, maybe having one of my kittens just straight up snatched by an eagle. I thought I might get to climb the odd tree, track or stalk prey, and getting alerts from awesome feline ears that something big was coming.
Here's my experience: SPOILERS (such as they are) BELOW.
The intro is you, a pregnant mother lynx being chased by wolves. This teaches you how to move, run and jump. I never once had to jump in the actual game, and maybe I missed something. You get away and find a cave and make 4 babies. I think you can rename them (6 character max) but I just took the default names. I didn't remember any of them, and if there was a way to access them during the game I didn't find it. I didn't look because I didn't see a need.
You run around and catch animals by running into them. You don't swipe, or pounce, just ram em while they run and veer. I say animals, but all I ever saw besides those intro wolves were rabbits and something small. Voles? Mice? Whatever. There's the odd bird, but they don't land. Maybe you can jump and catch a low flying one, I didn't try. The rabbits were what fed my family. The intro didn't teach me that there is an energy circle you use while running. Standing or walking recharges it half way. If you eat, then you can completely fill it, but you don't need it, so my mommy lynx fasted for the last half of the game. You feed your kittens in the den a few times and then they're big enough to follow you. Which is a pain if the rabbit you're chasing does a 180 and suddenly you can't tell it apart from the 4 kittens who are also behind you.
There is a scent button, which opens up this game's version of eagle sight/ wraith vision/ scan mode. The smell screen paints nearby animals in red, and has some symbols which are in no way explained. The tree is your den, and the cat one is one of your kits. The others? I dunno.
Early on one of my kittens starved. The only way I could tell who was eating more was who was slightly bigger. Eventually the hungry ones stop moving and if you can catch food and bring it to them in time, all better. If not they're gone. The only way to try to direct the food is to pick up the ones you don't want to eat and move them away from the food.
This whole game made me feel like I was missing something, so I started heading in the direction of a symbol with 3 trees, thinking maybe I could find a deer, or get eaten by a bear. No such luck. It was a woodsier environment than the hill where the den was. I found no food, it was a long ways off, another kitten starved. From then on I stayed within sight of the den. Not that I or the kits ever had to sleep or take Shelter, there were just a lot of rabbits on that hill. You feed the kits, they get a bit bigger and begin occasionally catching their own voles to eat once in a while. Autumn, comes, you're told that seclusion calls to the cubs. They weren't interested in the last rabbit I caught them, then they ran away. Good riddance.
There are things that you can collect after you or you cubs have eaten, I don't know what they did. There are random collectibles - I do not care. It's bad enough when an assassin is collecting feathers, I am not going to play as a lynx looking for them, especially when that takes time away from feeding my kittens, which is the point here, I thought.
That's about it. You can play as one of the kits in a new game where they're the mother now, but I don't see why I should. Two hours of chasing rabbits. Thanks.
I've seen a lot of reviews with people saying how invested they are in the game, but I honestly think that's what the player brought to the experience, not anything the game does. It's an atmospheric, idyllic game with no dialogue, so if you're seriously into role playing I can see why you'd love this. Like playing a Skyrim character and making him a vegan sworn never to use a blade. If you want to, it's there, but the game doesn't notice or care. If that's what you like then I do recommend this game. If not, pass.
Update: Read many more reviews and watched some videos, and decided to play again to see what I'd missed.
- As soon as the kittens were big enough we set out on a non-stop wander. Specifics will follow, but here's one of my main complaints. This game has two features that I see other reviewers raving about: Your attachment to the kittens, and the beautiful relaxing exploration. I find these two to be completely at odds with each other. If you're attached to the kits then why not just stay put near your den where there are many rabbits and no hazards and feed them non-stop. The main danger in the game is starvation for them, and that always seemed to happen when I was wandering through places with no food. The exploration wasn't remotely relaxing, it was stressful. The feeding mechanic is just a timer to death that can be postponed but never turned off until the cubs leave and the game ends. Again - how is that relaxing?
So what specifically did I miss on my 1st playthrough?
-I did name the kittens this time. Bronx, Hudson, BK and Lex. I forgot which was which very quickly. My attachment to them did not differ.
-You can make sure the smallest kitten eats first by dropping the food directly in front of it.
- We found and ate frogs. We found a nest on the ground and shook another out of a tree. Ate the eggs. I startled some deer, a fawn ran into me, I caught it, the kittens feasted. Okay.
- We drank at various water sources. Seriously? I completely missed this in my first playthrough. You don't have to drink at all? Plus, it constantly looks like you and the kittens are drowning yourselves. Your entire head, or entire kitten is underwater. It's just poorly animated though, you'll be fine. Except for the time I slipped down a slope into water. Then the screen went black, I woke up on the bank. I assume time passed and my kittens got hungrier.
- You walk towards the 3 tree symbol to get to the woods. You walk towards the snowflake symbol to reach Snow Land.
I didn't see the wolves again, but then, I'm not really sorry about that. Am I supposed to lead my kittens to the wolves? Is that the relaxing exploration?
I also didn't mention that the smell function lasts about 4 seconds. Smell mode might make hunting better, and would definitely help when chasing white rabbits on snow.
I didn't explicitly point out that you at no time actually have to reach "Shelter" in this game, past the intro. Someone will chime in to say that you have to jump on top of a rock to get away from the wolves, but I wouldn't call that shelter, it's a hiding place.
I also think that if I knew less about animals this might be more fun. As someone in the comments mentioned, this is not how lynx hunt. I might add that wolves are not actually bad jumpers themselves. Although it is true that many lynx kittens starve to death, there are other dangers to them besides one pack of wolves. Going in I certainly thought that at least at the beginning I'd be feeding myself and nursing the kittens. Because, you know, mammals?
If it wasn't clear, I still think this game was a big let down. If I seem venomous it's only because I feel deceived by all the positive reviews.