Fallout Shelter makes you shut tiny, happy people underground in a nuclear wasteland


Lots of people are excited for Fallout 4, the newest jaunt through a doomed futuristic land with a patina of quaint nuclear nostalgia. But in a climate of sequels, it's cool when studios offer alternative modes of playing with the worlds they make, just in case Armed Trundle: Volume 4 makes you feel kinda 'over it'.

Fallout Shelter is a great little mobile game that's already out on iOS—though I initially found its user interface a little scatterbrained, its structure should be familiar enough to fans of popular but simple building and management games like Tiny Tower. You're in charge of building and making your own underground Vault—that's where the folks of the Fallout universe ride out the radiation—allocating your Dwellers to work on power stations, water purification and other tasks according to their skills.


If you like lite games where you level up characters and gamble with their lives, this game is real cute. There's a dash of The Sims, mostly in that you can pair Dwellers up and have them make babies. You can also zoom in on the rooms where your Dwellers are living and working, and listen in on their adorably naive blue-sky chat ("This really is the perfect job for me!" "I want to draw you a picture later! Any requests?") alongside endless days of laborious crank-turning and tank-scrubbing or whatever it is they are seen doing. I had one guy come to my Vault with no particular skills, so I decided to send him out to the Wasteland to "explore" (equipped with nothing, assuming he would not return). He willingly marched forth, a smile on his face, promising to make the Vault proud.

This game makes me feel really bad.

The cool part is that even though it's a free-to-play game, the monetization isn't annoying. You can "gamble", in a sense, on speeding up production of resources, but there's always a risk of an "incident", which makes things worse for you in the end (you might have to watch as your poor smiling Vault Dwellers fight "radroaches" crawling up from the fetid earth). You also can earn or buy lunchboxes, full of helpful stuff. The in-your-face thrill of a lunchbox full of surprise items, and the immediate advantage they provide, is almost exciting enough to feel good about spending a buck or two on.


When video games first came to smartphones, there was much fumbling—how, companies once wondered, will we simulate the thrill of game controllers with a touch screen? Years on, mobile games now sensibly have their own kinds of design, and clever game companies are exploring clever ways to make tie-ins of their bigger and more traditional properties. See also: Hitman GO, a lovely alternative that reimagines the dead serious killer bald guy assassin game as a playful, strategic board game with cute play pieces.