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Rebuild

Score: 90%
ESRB: 12+
Publisher: Sarah Northway
Developer: Sarah Northway
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Strategy/ Survival Horror/ Turn-Based Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

Just try telling somebody you’re playing a mashup of SimCity and The Walking Dead. You’ll likely get a quick response of, “What?! Show me!” That’s the kind of reaction that any good mashup should prompt, and Rebuild lives up to the hype. It’s not graphically sophisticated, any more than the early entries in Will Wright’s empire. What we did respond to was the decision to have realistic faces on characters, and visible changes in each character as you equip them with weapons, clothing, or even pets. Yes, the pets do confer some stats on your character, but don’t confuse this experience with Pokemon. The outlook in your city after being overrun by zombies is understandably bleak. Visuals are often disturbing to youngsters, hence the 12+ rating. There’s not anything in the way of animated graphics, but the art style and the music is frequently unsettling. The music deserves special mention. Gritty, industrial sounding, and perfectly tuned to your bleak surroundings, the soundtrack of Rebuild adds a ton of atmosphere to the experience. It’s rare to find music so perfectly matched to the game experience. The graphics, while attempting to retain a rough edge, veer too close at times to looking juvenile or hokey. Rebuild stays on the right side of things, but the primary colors and block graphics are occasionally the enemy of setting a gritty post-apocalyptic tone.

Gameplay:

The premise of Rebuild seems terribly ho-hum at first; aren’t we saturated with zombie culture yet? The difference is in the delivery and execution, both of which Rebuild gets right. Mixing genres does wonders for almost any entertainment media, so long as both sources are treated with reverence. Creator Sarah Northway obviously loves her some zombies. She gets the desperation and the hopelessness of battling against a zombie threat, not to mention the dire consequences of being among the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. She also appears to get the notion of a well-paced and balanced game about collecting, creating, and managing resources. Cultivating something has been fun for a while, whether it was ants, apartment buildings, or pet shops. All the elements of both styles of play come together nicely in Rebuild.

The basic goal of the game is to secure your city against the zombie threat. The zombie body count is almost irrelevant; you’re trying to return some order and build a place where humans can thrive. It’s a turn-based game where each cycle is defined by actions your folk can take around town. Basic actions include scouting territory to reduce the fog of uncertainty after the city was overrun by zombies. Once you’ve reconnoitered, you can decide on a style of play. Are you going to expand slowly while reinforcing your base, or burn resources to move as quickly as possible through the city? The former strategy has points in its favor, including the human headcount you’ll retain at the victory line. The downside of a slow-and-steady approach is that you may run low on food or resources. The speed-first approach has merits in terms of recruiting new humans and gathering food, but you’ll be more susceptible to attacks at home. Both approaches, or a hybrid, are valid ways to play. Because Rebuild is flexible and open-ended in its play style, there are always reasons to replay, making it a great investment for fans of strategy/resource games.


Difficulty:

Always with the hordes of zombies... It becomes hard to fight an enemy with superior numbers, unless you can employ a superior strategy. Battles are fought between turns, with reports made to you about losses or glory. In a world where many games have glorified the act of slaughtering zombies, Rebuild goes in a different direction. You’re always the General here, giving orders and reading battle reports after the fact. Decision points include who to send on what mission, and how to equip your outgoing troops. You also have to defend the home front, so the decisions about who to leave at home are at least as important as troop deployment. The challenges in Rebuild are all about planning and strategy, rather than twitchy moments where you attempt to remove a zombie’s head with a golf club.

Strategic options include your approach to acquiring items such as food and weapons. Once you’ve scouted new locations, you can search them for things left behind that might be useful to your cause. You can also recruit new folk to join you who might be useful fighters, builders, or scouts. Options at home include farming, building fortifications, and researching new ways of staving off the zombie threat. Certain members of your group are better equipped to perform these tasks, and you can stack the odds in their favor by equipping them with items that enhance natural abilities. You do have a character of your own, but the game requires that you take ownership of the entire population. It makes things challenging, but gives you an immense feeling of satisfaction when you reach the end with your group of survivors intact.


Game Mechanics:

As you might imagine, the mechanics have a bias toward simplicity. There’s a minimum of swiping actions or things other than selecting options from pop-up boxes reporting activity from around the city. You do drag to move around the city and tap to reveal the details of locations where you need to scout or deploy troops. There’s a lot of good background on each character you can explore if you like, but this does require navigating down a few menus. The controls, like most of the game’s design, are practical at best. Rebuild has a DIY aesthetic that you’ll either love or hate, in the sense that nothing feels overdesigned. Perhaps in a future release we’ll see some fine tuning of the interface, but it’s perfectly adequate right now.

The whole package is more than the sum of its parts, thankfully. Rebuild delivers consistent fun for fans of zombie games and fans of strategy games looking for something unique. The idea of creating a city-building game based around the zombie apocalypse is inventive, but Northway’s execution of the idea is what makes Rebuild special. Not only does Rebuild play well the first time, it rewards replays by giving you many different ways to win. We’re looking forward to taking on bigger challenges and to seeing new creations from Sarah Northway on iPad!


-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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