When Bethesda Softworks announced the upcoming sequel “Fallout 4” at this year’s E3 expo, it was a seismic event in the video game world. The highly anticipated post-apocalypse game is due in November, and to tide fans over, the company has released the addictive mobile game “Fallout Shelter” (free; iOS). For hardcore fans of the series, it’s a lot of fun.
The world of Fallout is among the most engaging creations in gaming. Frightening and funny at the same time, the franchise posits a post-apocalypse America populated by mutants, ghouls, paramilitary factions and roving bands of raiders. Also, giant irradiated scorpions.
The makers of Fallout provide an eccentric spin on the genre, however, by imagining an alternate universe where the technology and cultural signfiers of the Cold War persist into the 21st century. The derelict buildings are Art Deco artifacts, the abandoned cars are crazy atomic-powered sedans, and the surviving robots retain the perky American optimism of a civil defense film strip circa 1952.
Keep vault dwellers alive
Tonally, “Fallout Shelter” is focused on this particular aspect of the franchise. It’s a mobile simulation game for the iPhone and iPad (Android coming soon) in which you play the overseer of an underground survival bunker. These Vaults play a big part in the mythology of the Fallout universe, but here the conceit is largely played for laughs and dark irony.
You start out with just a handful of rooms, built into the side of a mountain, that serve as home for wasteland survivors. Your job is to keep your vault dwellers alive by producing enough food, water and power for the populace.
Like other games in the sim genre, it’s all about resource management. New vault dwellers regularly show up at your door seeking shelter, and you must put them to work within the complex. Each new survivor is generated using the familiar SPECIAL stat system from the other Fallout games – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck.
The trick to a happy and healthy Vault is to figure out which dwellers are optimally efficient for which job. Certain types of workers are best suited to the Water Treatment Plant, and others you’ll want to employ in the Cafeteria. Tougher characters can be equipped and sent out into the Wasteland to gather technology and resources. You can also pair a male and a female in the Living Quarters to produce the next generation of li’l vault dwellers.
Main course is coming
Meanwhile, as overseer you must confront those crises that tend to complicate life after a nuclear apocalypse: radroach infestations, raider attacks, this sort of thing.
In the early portions of the game, strategy requires making trade-offs and taking the occasional calculated risk. You can choose to rush certain projects – the new Power Plant, say – but if you overtax your workers or equipment, a chain reaction could devastate the entire Vault.
There comes a tipping point, however, when the game starts to pretty much play itself. Once you’ve got a decent infrastructure in place, focus shifts to collecting the game’s assortment of rare gear and enhancements. To its credit, the game does not require in-app micro-transaction purchases to get to the premium items. Keep at the game, and you’ll eventually be able to acquire all the goodies.
“Fallout Shelter” is a nice little concept; a flavorful genre riff designed as an appetizer for the main course coming in November. After the initial rush, it’s the sort of diversion you might call up for a few minutes each day on your mobile device, just to check on your little digital wastelanders.
New This Week: Hit the links with EA Sports “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour’ (PS4, Xbox One) or solve supernatural mysteries in the open-world indie PC game “The Vanishing of Ethan Carter,” ported this week to PS4.