Anthony "Tony" Magestro--or known on the field of battle as Metzge--is an avid writer, gamer, and entrepreneur. When he's not writing, gaming, or entrepreneuring, he enjoys cooking, trippy movies, and trying to be awesome to varying degrees of success. Feel free to check out his LinkedIn page, especially if you need freelance help with content writing or digital marketing. Or just like to network, that's fine too.
Before FarmVille and Candy Crush Saga were even things, there were the virtual arcades of yesteryear that stole many an hour of my (adolescent) youth. I’m sure there are many of you who know of domains whose names are long-forgotten, though evoked with such a reverence that not only 90s kids remember, but arguably all true gamers with a stable Internet connection: EBaum’s World, Kongregate, Newgrounds, and Armor Games, to name but a few. However, it is within Kongregate that our tale begins, like so many others of this millenium: you and a group of survivors must Rebuild society amid a zombie apocalypse.
Where most zombie survival games nowadays fall into the action-RPG genre, Sarah Northway’s Rebuild series paves the way in the 4X-style strategy arena. The story starts virtually the same in Rebuild 1, 2, and 3 (entitled Gangs of Deadsville, which is currently in beta on Steam): you and a group of survivors have managed to secure a chunk of a city overrun with the shambling undead. You and your ragtag band of the living seek to take back the town and re-establish civilization, namely by clearing surrounding areas, expanding your borders, and making use of the resources around you.
On one hand, it reminds me of State of Decay; on the other, it also reminds me of Civilization. I think Northway might be on to something… perhaps a cure for this disease that is the oversaturation of a once niche genre. Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville looks pretty promising, but can it hold its own against the tide?
Though Rebuild 3 has more meat to it than its browser-based brothers, it’s retained a lot of the simple and intuitive mechanics signature of Flash games. This time around, each survivor is divided up into one of five classes: soldier, scavenger, builder, leader, and engineer. Each one has its own specialties that are pretty self-explanatory… builders build, leaders lead, soldiers sold, and engineers engine, as one can imagine.
As I set my party to work, I leaned back in my chair and watched as they completed their tasks. Scouting runs exposed new territory and resources to exploit, and luckily there were a few pockets of survivors to the south who needed a place to stay. New houses were built, new farms were plowed, new post-apocalyptic technology (or apocalyptech, I guess) was tested and implemented. Having spent a few extra study hall hours in the library back in high school perfecting my skills at this game, my insight on how to run my own zombie-free town came flooding back. That is, until, the Luddites attacked.
On top of an improved engine, graphics, and interface, Rebuild 3 introduces other NPC factions to the fight for survival. Thus far, I’ve encountered the Luddites, a group of literal ecofreaks. Not that I think those who respect the environment are ecofreaks; I just don’t know how else to describe conspiracy-theory-crazed hippies with guns.
They are but one of many factions vying for power in the Pacific Northwest where your journey as post-apocalyptic city alderman begins. And by journey, I’m referring to the series’ first campaign, stringing along increasingly difficult scenarios (as opposed to its sandbox predecessors). With other additions like survivor perks, new equipment and random events, and the beautiful new art, Rebuild 3 certainly means business.
As I reflected, a third game came to mind: Mob Rule. Though being the boss of a 1920’s gang has little to do with enduring a zombie infestation, the premise of the gameplay was fundamentally the same. Expand your operation and snuff everyone else out if they got in your way. Despite Rebuild 3’s artistic superiority over a game almost 20 years its senior, I feel Northway and her team might take Mob Rule’s lead in presentation: a little animation of clearing ruins or tilling soil can make the mundane seem a little… less mundane.
Although this latest rendition of Rebuild is the most well thought-out of the series, its features and mechanics still feel like I’m playing on a browser. The game does well to deviate from the action-RPG trail, but it could use more action and RPG to it, if only to demonstrate how survivors’ stats affect the outcome of battles (or to even render a battle at all). Aside from a DEFCON-esque sign telling me how much danger my stronghold is in, I have no clear read on how to strategize. The combat simply becomes a game of stacking as many soldiers as possible and rushing your target. I mean, what’s a zombie game without the thrill of KO’ing some zombies?
Regardless of its shortcomings, Rebuild 3 has a lot of potential. It is in my opinion, however, that the developers must go all the way if they’re truly seeking to push their limits–and to justify the game’s current price point of $14.99. That isn’t to say this game doesn’t deserve to be paid for, but the developers are in the unique position of answering this burning question: Why buy this version when you can just play the other two for free?
This game has so many great features and mechanics, but they still leave me wanting more. Much like a shambling zed attracted to the smell of flesh, it isn’t wise to tease us with something you know we crave.
At the time of this preview, you can procure a beta copy of Rebuild 3 (version 0.9.0) on Steam, with the full release slated for early 2015 on PC, Mac, Android, and iOS.