Did you know I used to be a war photographer? I’d head out into the battlefield, alongside the men and women risking their lives to protect us, and document their brave actions for posterity. Even with all that, none of the horrors I’ve witnessed prepared me for what I‘d see when I came back home. At least out there, the enemy wasn’t trying to eat us.
It’s moments like these that made me pause while playing Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville. In between scavenging for supplies, shoring up defenses and clearing out buildings infested with zombies, I took a moment to talk to one of my survivors, who until then I’d considered simply as a useful soldier armed with a pistol. Now he was a person. I was touched. I gave him a pet bulldog.
Indie designer and developer Sara Northway, creator of the ingeniously zany Incredipede, is back with another sequel to her successful post-apocalyptic city-builder, a franchise that seems to always find itself on our Best Android Strategy Games of All Time list. This time, the game features a long story mode with multiple cities to develop, various factions to compete or ally with (including a commune of earth-loving hippies, a boys’ boarding school that managed to hold out during the zombie apocalypse, and even a small colony of…more enlightened…zombies), and host of new perks, equipment, events, and, according to the Play Store at least 200,000 words of story text. And just like the original, it’s super addictive (think the “just one more turn” syndrome of Civilization games), and incredibly fun.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Rebuild 3 is a city-builder/strategy game where you’re trying to reestablish cities that are infested with zombies or “zeds”. You start each level (or city) with just a few buildings under your control, and gradually expand by clearing out and then reclaiming surrounding buildings (and sometimes repurposing useless building, say an office block, to something more necessary, like a hospital). It’s not all that easy of course: you’ll have to scavenge for construction supplies, cultivate farms to feed your small community, find and encourage survivors to join you, maintain your population’s morale, and of course, fight of frequent hordes of invading zeds.
Along the way, you get to use equip your survivors with weapons (And pets! And orphan children to take care of!), train them in different skills, and manage your sometimes shaky relationships with other colonies of survivors. You even get to found a new government, picking your policies as you see fit. Overall, the gameplay is fast and highly enjoyable. While the updated user interface is a little less user-friendly than its predecessors (equipping survivors with weapons, for example, can only be done through a very specific menu, and not any other menu that features equipment), it’s only a minor setback to the otherwise awesome experience. And quick word of advice: play on the classic, turn-based mode. It’s far more satisfying to wait and see what each day brings, and also easier to micromanage, than the real-time mode (I mean, do you really want to deal with survivors’ grievances while simultaneously fighting off a zombie attack?).
The standout parts of the game however, are those little narratives that emerge about your survivors. From hilarious moments during paramedic training (“Then people worried about catching STD’s from giving mouth to mouth so they took the breathing part right out”), to the harrowing decision to leave behind a sick survivor, to the professional skeptic who had a change of mind after the zed apocalypse, Northway has lovingly woven together a rich tapestry of personal stories and touching human moments that help us connect with the survivors as people. More than expendable builders, scavengers, and soldiers, your people dream for a better future, brood over the past, agonize over their decisions, and sometimes decide on their own course of action. Sure the characters aren’t actually autonomous, but Northway has managed to create with prose and clever scripting what the Sims has failed to achieve over three sequels and countless offshoots and expansions: bring your characters to life.
In short, get the game. Fight some zombies. Establish a community. Rebuild.
A great city-builder with engrossing narratives, and of course, the ever-present threat of ZOMBIES!