Sheltered: The deeper you are, the safer in Unicube’s strategy sim

What does “family-friendly” mean to you? If you think it means “I must be friendly to this family”, congratulations, you are officially the right player for Sheltered, a survival sim in which a raggedy group of kinsfolk try to carve out a home underground. If, on the other hand, your definition of “family-friendly” excludes radiation poisoning, cannibalism, wolves and the finer points of corpse disposal there’s the door. Be sure to put on your hazmat suit before stepping through it.

Created by Unicube of already post-apocalyptic Wakefield, UK (I’m allowed to call it that because I was born in the area), the game resembles an ant-farm held up to footage from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Your family, a set of spindly but charming 2D sprites, moves around inside a metal bunker crafting things, fixing things, eating, sleeping, having arguments and doing their best not to succumb to either sadness or malnutrition. Above, dead cities wither in unforgiving sunlight, and dust rolls over bruised expanses of rock.

Sheltered may look primitive alongside, say, Fallout 3, but it’s made up of thousands of variables. Each character has to worry about eight resource bars, including three that are psychological. Let one of those needs go unmet, and the consequences could be dire. Characters also have distinct strengths that gradually flip over into weaknesses as they’re put through the wringer. Let all strengths become weaknesses and the character may become catatonic unable to feed or help around the bunker.
It may look primitive, but it’s made up of thousands of variables
Exploration is an important means of gathering food and craftable materials, but is also a great way to meet other, equally desperate human beings. When this happens, you’ll be whisked off to an encounter screen where you can negotiate a trade, recruit the other survivor or fight a battle (firmly the least preferred option, given that a single gunshot can kill). The situation in the wasteland also worsens as time goes on. Less pliable threats such as mutants may attack your shelter, trapping you inside: if they breach the airlock, you can choose to hide while they nick everything rather than resisting. You’ll struggle to survive later without all your hard-earned supplies, of course.

One of Sheltered’s neater devices is a journal system, which generates a brief but evocative scrap of text for every major event in your family’s subterranean existence. It sounds like a nice thing to pore over with your loved ones, all cosied up together over a dinner of biscuits and bottled water. “Hey, remember this afternoon from August, when that drifter pulled a knife on Timmy and your Ma shot his head off? How we laughed. Anyway kids, I’m just going to take a little stroll up top. I may be some time.”

Survivor Stories
Knock knock who’s there? And do they have a knife?
Much of Sheltered is freshly generated every time you play (only the bunker’s starting layout stays constant) but a few scripted scenarios may pop up, allowing the designers to tell more of a story. Exactly what these involve hasn’t been revealed, but we’re told some are pretty “dark”. There’s an element of randomisation within each scenario, so even if you know roughly what’s coming you may be surprised. Trust nobody.

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