Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville
US: 29 May 2012
I found myself rather taken with a little flash game that I played on Kongergate a few years ago called Rebuild (”Rebuild, A Game About Zombies and the Economy”, PopMatters, 16 August 2011). Developed by Sarah Northway, this free to play zombie infested game took a slightly different take on the genre, presenting not another survival horror game about fleeing from and blasting zombies. Instead, the original Rebuild is a city management game, though one about managing a city’s populace, its food supply, its resources, and the zombie hordes that surround it.
Besides its well executed turn based mechanics (due in large part to a fairly intuitive interface for directing your survivors of yet another zombie apocalypse), what I liked about the game was its rather interesting approach to apocalyptic fiction. Unlike your typical zombie game or zombie film, Northway’s game was about merely surviving, but as the title suggests and the game’s mechanics reinforce, this is a game about rebuilding despite and in the face of the apocalypse. It was not merely about getting by, but trying to get somewhere despite overwhelming doom threatening on all sides.
Essentially, Rebuild puts you in charge of a group of survivors in a city beset by zombies. You need to manage resources like food, building materials, ammunition, and the like, while assigning your people to various roles, like soldier, builder, leader, engineer, and scavenger. In addition to preparing defenses for potential zombie raids at night, the player is tasked also with attempting to build and expand safe territory within the city, to make a secure place livable within the city by reclaiming or building apartments, factories, workshops, schools, police stations, etc. You also can outfit individuals that you recruit with weapons and other equipment to improve their abilities.
The thing that was neat about the game is that small encounters effected your individual workers, creating neat little melodramas within the larger framework of the city building and area control game at the center of the experience. I actually ended up using Rebuild in a course I taught a few semesters ago about video games and narratives (how video games tell stories) because of the rather clever ways that drama emerged from the gameplay.
Northway followed up the game with another free to play flash game called Rebuild 2 not too long after, which featured similar, but slightly more refined packaging and gameplay. However, I was delighted to discover recently that Northway had followed up with a third game in the series, but this time packaged for a consumer audience on Steam, Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville.
Rebuild 3 once again offers the same basic premise as the first two games. Additionally, though, even more narrative elements have been layered onto the experience through the addition of factions of other survivors (that is, the “gangs” alluded to in the game’s subtitle) to compete with or ally yourself with during your attempt to rebuild during the zombie apocalypse.
The gangs here add even more color to the game, with groups like the religious sect, The Last Judgment, or the hippie conclave, The Luddies, or the group of lost boys, St. Michael’s School for Boys, serving as interesting and amusing antagonists to compete for control over several city blocks with. These groups create subquests in the larger framework of the game, things to accomplish to either get these guys on your side or off your back as you attempt to complete campaign missions. Also, many of these missions flesh out the backgrounds of these other survivors and begin to flesh out a larger mythology for the world of Rebuild itself.
Rebuild was already an addictive experience that stole hours of my time (hours that I don’t in any way regret losing) when I first encountered it in its free to play form. I’ve found Gangs of Deadsville to be equally addictive, discovering that an hour or two that I intended to spend playing through a mission quickly becomes four or five hours spent getting through two or three missions because I just want to see what might happen next. Rebuild is a different kind of zombie apocalypse tale, one that is not so hopeless because it uses the mechanisms of city management to allow for a new approach to the genre’s traditional approach to survival, challenging you to not just settle for difficult circumstances but to rebuild even in the most dire of circumstances.