Brainsss…..and building materials…..and socio-economic infrastructure….
I’ve long been a fan of the Rebuild flash game series (one and two) and their unique take on the zombie theme. Rather than explore the zombie apocalypse from the perspective of the lone survivor (for the millionth time), the Rebuild series has the player collect survivors to revive destroyed cities while fighting off the zombie hoard. In Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville, developer Northway Games has a chance to turn this idea into a fully fleshed out experience. Unfortunately, Northway doesn’t seem to understand what makes the game tick, and so misses the mark.
Each round starts the same. The player controls a small band of survivors and limited territory in a once thriving city. Using each survivor’s specialty (engineering, building, soldiering, leadership, and scavenging), the player expands out to conquer new territory and while fending off zombie attacks. The player must balance several key resources to ensure their team remains safe, fed, and happy. Inhabiting the same town are multiple factions with their own goals and seedy stories. Some factions are zombie staples, such as the Pig Farmers with questionable meat sources, but others are genuinely new and entertaining, such as the ninja gangsters (Hint: Always ally with ninja gangsters. This goes for in game and real life). Players may trade with factions and ultimately form alliances…or just murder the whole lot. Northway Games carried over the foundation from the flash game and it remains solid as ever.
At its heart, Rebuild 3 is a game of scarcity. The early game is easily the most entertaining when the player is making tough choices over what resources should go where. Risking the future of the survivors on scavenging enough food can be thrilling and gives the player real choices. As the game progresses, these decisions fade and take the fun along with them. Rebuild 3 doesn’t have a way to either channel the many resources of the mid and late game or continue the pressure of the early game. If the player survives the first few turns, they fall into a bland pattern of killing and expanding until they achieve victory. The nail-biting team management of the early game becomes annoying micromanaging as they player must move 7+ characters each turn without the attending weight of failure for sub-optimal choices. In a game about scarcity, Rebuild 3 has no idea about what to do with plenty.
The confusion extends to the campaign. Each level begins and ends the same way with little variation in-between. The player starts off with five tiles, expands until they run into factions, and then either converts or kills said factions. Occasionally, new objectives are thrown in, but they often reflect the “click end turn to win” style that plagues the modern Civilization games. In only one level does Northway Games use Rebuild 3’s setting in a meaningful way and that is also the best level in the game. The factions could have been another interesting avenue for development, but they too are ignored. They each have stories associated with them, but the player must actively seek out those stories through mundane game actions that, on every other level, would produce the same old diplomatic menu. Rather than focus on the strength of the setting, the campaign acts like the quickplay feature with some mild variations.
I hate to write this review because I love the potential of the series. Underneath the poor execution is an amazing game screaming to come out. Assuming Northway Games can learn from their mistakes, I would absolutely welcome a Rebuild 4. As it stands, I have a hard time recommending this game. If the idea appeals to you, it might be worth it on a Steam sale. Otherwise, pass.