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Hidden Shelter

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: White Vortex
Release Date: Jan. 27, 2021

About Lauren "Feffy" Hall

I am a freelance writer based in Canada, where it's too cold to go outside; therefore, we play a lot of video games. I'm an expert zombie slayer (the virtual kind), amateur archer (for actual zombie slaying and general apocalypse purposes - it could happen), and a work-in-progress wife and mother (IRL). My claim to fame: I completed the original MYST without looking up cheats. It took several years. What other accomplishments does one need in life?


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PC Review - 'Hidden Shelter'

by Lauren "Feffy" Hall on March 16, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Hidden Shelter is a first-person horror game, focused on exploration, while telling a dark story about love that transcends the notion of reality.

Occasionally, an obscure game like Hidden Shelter shines brightly amidst the slough of subpar psychological horror games that it leaves in its wake. What appeared to be another stereotypical thriller that's cheaply fueled by jump-scares and convoluted plotlines ended up being something more compelling. While Hidden Shelter is not without its problems, my overall impression of the game was about as positive as any creepy, paranormal horror game can leave you with.

If a game like this doesn't leave you feeling at least a bit uncomfortable and jumpy after playing, the developers are doing it wrong. I'll admit that Hidden Shelter had me going a few times!

Hidden Shelter, which is voice-acted entirely in Portuguese (don't worry, there are subtitles), begins much like most first-person survival horror titles: Something terrible has happened.

Your car has crashed in the woods, it's dark, it's raining, and one of your friends, Diego, is missing and could be injured — or worse. Upon following a lit pathway through the dense trees, you and your friend find a key. Then, you find a big, ominous-looking house: number 421.

According to the lead developer of this game, Renan Barreto, the usage of that house number wasn't random, and unlike more obvious, symbolic number choices for such a sinister place, such as 666 or perhaps the number 13, as is commonplace in the horror genre, the number 421 has a "darker" meaning than it first appears.

"We've decided to give this number to the house because 4 means death in Japanese and in English 2 (two/to) 1 (one/someone)..." Barreto explains, "so, in this language mix it would mean something like 'Death to someone.'"

It's a clear indication of what you're in store for. It doesn't take long before you realize just how much that is true.

Often in horror games, you are part of the audience and dutifully uncovering pieces of the story as you explore the environment, picking up clues and tidbits as you go. In this genre, even with the odd jump-scare or flashback, you are relatively safe from any real or even perceived danger. You are usually handheld through the plot and aren't as much a part of the story as you are simply witnessing it.

In Hidden Shelter, you aren't directly connected with the horrors that clearly occurred inside the mysterious house, but you are a part of the story now, and, as it will become apparent, you are most certainly in danger.

This threw me off.

Apart from a few survival horrors, such as Frictional Games' terrifying adventure game Amnesia: The Dark Descent, in which you are helplessly (and almost constantly) hunted by a monster or two in the castle, the story-driven element of adventure titles generally leaves you untouched by the evils that lurk within. I was momentarily stunned when my character, bravely facing a screeching, bloody monster as it flailed madly in my direction, was instantly killed upon contact with it.

It's a great way to bring a player right into the thick of it, though; being vulnerable to death in the game with no real way to survive beyond simply outrunning the scary things makes it feel more realistic and makes you more aware of your surroundings and actions as you play.

When the humiliating "You died" text taunts you on the screen, your determination and motivation are almost palpable.

Hidden Shelter's atmosphere genuinely captures the feeling of being completely alone — as alone as you can be, since you have a friend following you around and providing some storytelling via the dialogue — and helpless in this large, mysterious and gloomy mansion. It's evident that something isn't quite right in the house; there are boxes everywhere, and the hallways and rooms are glumly punctuated with creepy paintings. They're a nice touch, and it's helpful to pay attention to the paintings (hint, hint).

Meanwhile, a phone rings suddenly and stops; there is garbage and debris scattered around for seemingly little purpose; several large, broken statues that also add to the creepiness; oddly placed doors; and a series of confusing corridors and levels. While the house appears to be empty, all of the lights are on and you get the distinct impression that you not alone and someone — or something — is watching you.

As you search for Diego, you slowly unravel the terrible tragedy that has taken place under this gruesome roof. The tale of love, loss, grief, and madness that has been suffered within the walls of the home will soon lead you to fear your situation and search more purposefully for Diego. As time goes on, you and your friend — who is either Charles or Bernard, since I became confused early on and never worked out which one I was — begin to fear the worst for Diego, as something sinister is lurking in this place.

As you find keys, unlock doors, find more keys and unlock more doors, your odds of upsetting the bloodthirsty monster, who seems to be behind all of the sadness and terror in this house, appears to increase. You learn fairly quickly to avoid certain areas when possible, and that's mainly because the monster is very quick and will likely catch you. While it's terrifying to be chased by such a beast, it becomes something of a nuisance when you fail to escape several times in a row. The repeated presence of this monster pulled me away from some of the horror generated by the game because much like in film and TV, when the thing that hunts you is rarely seen until it's too late to escape, it actually tends to be scarier.

Speaking of film, the developers, Renan Barreto and Tiago Neri, consider themselves to be storytellers, and to that end, the story is where this game shines. In fact, the title was made using a TV script written by Barreto, so it's no wonder that it reads like a thriller novel rather than a simple adventure offering.

The ambience in the Hidden Shelter comes from so much more than the story itself, though. The music is well done, and the monster has a bit of a theme song or a riff, which certainly added to the blood-pumping feeling and urgency to get the heck out of Dodge when the monster chases you off the property.

The graphics, while far from stellar, are still really effective, and there's a fair bit of detail included to add to the overall state of gloom and disrepair evident in the house. The statues and creepy taxidermy especially made me feel like one was about to come alive at any moment.

While I am aware that the game was made by only two people — two very devoted people who poured their heart and soul into this enormous project — I feel like there were a few missed opportunities to truly scare the pants off of the person playing the game. I mean, why didn't the statues change position to watch you, as I had anticipated so many times as I walked past them? That seems like an obvious one. Another would be an alteration of the paintings; moved furniture would have sufficed. Maybe I've seen too many horror movies, but to me, this would have been an extremely tempting opportunity to mess with people.

That is, after all, what horror fanatics want.

Hidden Shelter hasn't left much to complain about when it comes to anything other than the graphics and perhaps the overuse of the scary bad guy. It has a very intuitive autosave, which is great, as so many games sometimes leave you in the stupidest places. I also liked the seemingly random puffs of fog or mist in the house and on the property; I believe that these are talking points for the characters in an attempt to progress the plot, but I can't confirm. Regardless of their actual purpose, I was intrigued.

The tutorial was unique and simple, which was nice, as it can be difficult to nail that element in a game. Sometimes it's too long, too complex or too detailed, and other times it's too scant to be of any use. This was quite visual and obvious without giving away any interesting pieces of the story.

Menus and loading screens look a bit dated, but that had no effect on my gameplay, so it's hardly a deal breaker, and apparently there will be a second game released, so I'm hopeful for some fine-tuning on some of the more mundane details.

Finally, the voice acting is pretty well done as far as I could tell, since it was all in Portuguese. To me, who does not speak the language, they appeared to sound way too chill at times, considering the very non-chill situation they found themselves in. Maybe that's the language, or maybe Brazilian people are better in a crisis — I don't know. The calm voices seem odd because my heart was pumping hard when they were casually chit-chatting about all the murder that had obviously happened.

Considering that it was created by a two-person team, Hidden Shelter is a decent game. The price point is cheap when you consider everything that went into it, and, all of my personal gripes aside, the story, ambience, and immersion you experience when playing are all top-notch for the genre.

The game takes about four hours to play through, which for some is not enough time, but in my eyes, the story would've gone on too long if it didn't end when it did, and let's be honest: There are only so many keys to find and doors to unlock before it gets monotonous.

There were some minor bugs, but they were fixed in a later version of the game, which speaks to the developers' devotion to their masterpiece, so I wouldn't hold those technical issues against them. I'd certainly be interested in seeing what Hidden Shelter 2 has to offer, which points to a compelling story and gameplay.

After playing Hidden Shelter, which was memorable and engaging, if I am ever stranded on the side of the road near a scary, looming mansion, I may reconsider going in to use the phone.

Score: 7.9/10

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