Another week, another review, another game with zombies in it: the contemporary media consumer cannot open a book, switch on the TV or pick up a controller without being confronted by the undead. Credit then to the one man team at Survivalist Games for trying something a little different, as Shelter is a zombie apocalypse themed game with a difference – a card game.
Firstly, pardon my inexperience in the genre. I have tried two or three card games, such as Magic: the Gathering and Runespell: Overture, and have never really got on with them. The story is set up via a series of comic-book style stills, introducing us to our character player who is in search of his wife, and must set off across Bristol to find her – yes, Bristol, another refreshing change of pace.
Selecting a pin on the main map of Bristol will take you to a specific battle with a zombie horde. Separating the survivors from the zombies is a barricade, and in front of this obstacle and either side is a row of empty spaces where combatants’ cards go. You have a set deck, which you carry through as you journey and battle, and from this deck which you are randomly given a selection of cards. These cards are made up of weapons, defensive modifications, healing items and other beneficial objects. You can only slot a limited selection in front of the barricade and have a limited hand at any turn.
This is where implementation of tactics and a modicum of thought enter the game. You really need to look carefully at your opponents played cards and the cards in their current hand, although you don’t know what is left in their stack, just who many cards they have left to play. This makes you adjust your played cards accordingly. So for example, if you are going to encounter a lot of standard zombies, which can stack, or be played in front of the barricade one on top of the other, you will need a weapon that can ‘kill stack’ or damage all cards in one spot. Not all zombie cards can do this and if, for example your, enemy has a lot of armoured zombies, you will need a weapon that is specifically armour piercing.
The actual act of playing Shelter is fairly deep and involving. However, there are a few problems: it is slow paced and even the addition of a fast forward button that can be hit during enemy turns can’t alleviate the impatient felt when waiting for cards to shuffle and move around the screen. This graphical ambition seemed to make the game a little unstable, creating a number of occasions where the game simply shut down. When you are on the map screen, this isn’t too much of a problem. When you are halfway through a battle, and all progress is lost, this can be very frustrating and this occurred on several occasions.
It also felt a little obtuse and difficult to successfully engage with the concepts at play, despite the presence of a tutorial that is very easily breezed through (in terms of difficulty it has to be stressed, not time – it is again often painfully slow to get through), only to be confronted with a huge difficulty spike as the first real level is encountered. There are deep mechanics at work here, but only a passing introduction is made to them, and much trial and error, and luck, is need to make any progress.
Presentation is one area that the game cannot be faulted on, as the comic-book style, much in the vein of the Walking Dead, lend the proceedings a sombre and serious note. This is further added to via the soundtrack, a dour, minimalist piano echoing as you play. However, the music is repetitive and very quickly grates, as there is literally just that one one tune that plays endlessly throughout the whole game, no matter the scenario.
Despite an ambitious graphic-novel art style and some deep mechanics on offer, Shelter lacks urgency and pacing that denies it worthy of much of your time; the whole thing left me cold and ultimately bored, one that failed to maintain my interest. If you are familiar with, or a fan of card style games, you may find something here to intrigue you, if you are willing to accept a slow place, an unpredictable difficulty and some technical issues.
MLG Rating: 6/10 Format: IOS/Android/Windows Phone Release Date: 13/06/2013
Disclosure: Midlifegamer were provided a copy of Shelter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of a week on IOS. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.