After Bethesda announced Fallout Shelter at E3, it took mere hours for fans to rocket a game based on micromanaging a charnel house to the top of the iOS charts.
A resource-management game crossing Sim Tower with Vault-Tec lore, Fallout Shelter has the twin distinctions of both dethroning Candy Crush, and of inspiring a new wave of perversion in a fan base of apocalypse devoted fans.
Debuting last Sunday, Fallout Shelter gives fans champing at the bit over Fallout 4 reveals the opportunity to manage their very own Vault-Tec fallout shelter, free of charge. And yes, that includes being free of constant “suggested” micro-transactions. There are opportunities for micro transactions, but they’re not necessary to experience the game at it’s best.
So far, so good. A great addition to the Fallout franchise, well done Bethesda. This game’s not gimmicky, it’s not milking players for cash at every chance, and thought for the fans has clearly gone into the product. The producers have tapped into a rich vein for this fandom: control over the infamous Vault-Tec Vaults.
This is something I know I’ve wanted for a long time. Ever since leaving Vault-101, all I’ve wanted to do is get back into those little hobbit holes and figure out how they work. They’re ticking clocks, time capsules of humanity actually designed to warp their inhabitants for the vague purpose of “Science!”. For Vaults aren’t just designed to preserve human life, they’re designed to experiment on it. Nine times out of ten, if you stumble into a vault, you’re about to encounter the remnants of a mad science experiment gone awry. Or at least the remnants a soft mad-science experiment, such as mad-sociology.
The remaining Vault, usually a control experiment, is usually destroyed by a horde of raiders and mutants. There are no survivors.
But if we ran the vaults, these problems would vanish, right?
In order to pick up and enjoy Fallout Shelter in the first place, it’s tacit that you enjoy playing god. You know full well that you, and you alone, can make the hard choices those ants on your screen aren’t equipped to handle. You want to make this work, so you’ll be applying cold, practical solutions to in-game problems.
Unfortunately, playing the game practically creates some sticky ethical situations due to the game’s shallow nature. There’s only a slim degree of control over this world available to you, and nice options aren’t always available. Inevitably, you’re going to end up with a dystopian nightmare.
The mechanics of Fallout Shelter itself are simple, and once figured out show a steady pattern. You need power, food, and water to work. As you expand your vault and your population (to a max population of 200 vault dwellers), your required resources increase. To build the more efficient buildings
Realizing this, your best chances at growing your population are to impregnate as many of your female dwellers as often as you possibly can. So you dump six random dwellers into an extra long bunk house and wait for desperate scared people to start hooking up. Good luck keeping track of who’s sleeping with who.
The other option is the commonplace arrival of an exceptional dweller, with stats placing him objectively above all other dwellers. If this dweller happens to be a man, you’ve just streamlined your incestuous cesspool. Within one generation, this entire Vault is going to be related by a single parent.
Either way, now randomized threats start arriving in the form of localized fires, rad-roach infestations, and raiding parties. The women you just finished impregnating, who were before so good at fighting for you and your cause, now run screaming from any room in danger. Pregnant women can’t be harmed, but they’re rendered effectively useless in any all-hands-on-deck situation. Way to go, dum-dum, you just cut your militia in half.
This means a system of structured armament reassignment is due. If your women won’t fight when pregnant, then why do they need guns? Or at least, certainly, not the best guns. The best weapons go to the defenders, with women disarmed altogether. Thanks, patriarchy.
Note: Of course no thanks is necessary, complete control over a society’s tools of force is thanks aplenty.
The same no-harm safety rules for pregnant dwellers apply for children, until a childhood timer runs out and they transform – poof! – into an adult. An adult who has suddenly, and without explanation, become mortal. Life here is confusing and brief.
Your well-intentioned vault has become a hell. Constant shortages due to your booming population mean children and pregnant women run screaming from vicious roaches and electrical fires as the exhausted, sexually unsatisfied men of your lower castes try to hold off the barbarians at the gates.
You’d have castrated them long ago, but you were afraid it might dull their blood lust. War is the closest thing these men have to love now.
There are too many hungry mouths to feed here. You send some of the weaker men into the wastes to seek their fortune. Either they will return strong warriors, or die in the sands.
Occasionally soldiers fall in battle inside your Vault, but you lack the funds to remove the rotting corpses. You let the bodies fester. Let them remind the survivors of the cost of war.
Your Vault radio stations spread propaganda praising you, but it becomes more and more self-referential with each year. Within a decade, a new language has formed just to worship you. Your radio also pulls in a trickle of newcomers, but it’s not enough to undo the genetic damage of continuous forced inbreeding.
Family relationships do not form. Nobody remembers who they had a baby with, and to end the shame the Overseer (you) begins to eliminate last name’s across the board.There are no more surnames.
Everyone is Cher. Everyone is Shakira. Everyone is Tiffany.
Nobody ages past “adulthood”, and while child to parent incest remains blocked in the game’s programming, newly matured adults can still hook up with the handful of unrelated (or partially related) extant adults. Adults who have known them since infancy, mind you. It’s surprisingly uncomfortable to watch.
Eventually, you realize how quickly the game fails to escalate. The gambling aspect of the “rush” feature is a small thrill, amounting to a 50/50 chance of either a small reward or a small problem. Exploring the wasteland reveals a series of repetitive events. You’ll keep running into fugitive slaves on the run, and more often than not they will die when you’re not able to help them. The vault itself quickly runs out of allure once you’ve built all the rooms.
At some point you’re coming back for the dings, whoops, beeps, and chirps of gathering resources and finishing tasks. The soundboard for the game is lovely, reminding me vividly of slot machines.
There’s a set list of weapons, outfits, and dwellers to collect for obsessives, but no amount of hoarding will get you past the realization that these people will never leave the Vault. There is no way these sick, twisted children of incest will (should?) ever see the outside world.
Cut to you, staring down at your smartphone’s app list. Delete? Or wait for an update and hope new options appear? It’s never going to give you a satisfactory ending. This is a game of small distractions, built on bringing you back for little VLT bells and whoops.
This is asking a lot of a free game that, really, has already delivered. For a bit of Fallout joy, I have no complaints. But there’s no story here. This is a cute little taste to whet the appetites of people who have been replaying the franchise over and over for five years now. Not being a cash grab alone places Fallout Shelter well above most mobile games. It speaks well of Bethesda that we expect so much more of them.
Hopefully a patch will deliver more depth in future. Is a wave of radiation riddled incest babies scattered across the wastes really the legacy Bethesda had in mind?
Together, we set out to create a Vault where people – for once – wouldn’t have to suffer. Instead, we created a hole of endless suffering without even the hope of escape. We are all Lucifer.