I’ll have a proper playthrough later on the blog, but I did want to get some thoughts down about Sarah Northaway’s Rebuild for iPad before I went to heavy into how it plays and where it grabs you.
First off, I am super tired of zombies, especially in games. A big part of that is I appreciate zombie movies, and zombie games often miss the point of what makes zombies special. Zombies and vampires and witches aren’t just creatures to be defeated – they and their powers and limitations represent something, and movies have done well to establish why a zombie (originally a voodoo creation) is a frightening idea. Zombies are sort of stand ins for Body Snatchers or Mimics or Impersonators – they look human, but really aren’t. Zombies, of course, take this to the final limit by removing everything ‘human'; they are purely flesh and appetite. This has made them perfect symbols for communism, consumerism, middle class conformity or pub gits.
Games, being games, eschew this sort of thing and make them, more often than not, another mindless horde to be gunned down. There are no questions of humanity here, not that I cared much in Doom, Dawn of War, Medal of Honor or whatever either. And let’s be frank – the real fear we have of zombies is not that they will kill us, but that they will make us one of them – conscious, but unfeeling and uncaring. Walking vegetables that feed on ‘real people’. Zombies are not enemy soldiers. To reduce them to “guy down the street I can chop into bits” cheapens the whole monster. Kind of like making a genie that sings showtunes. But we’ll leave Robin Williams out of this.
And let’s be more frank – no game that really tasks you with killing the enemy is all that interested in making the enemy interesting.
So zombies, the new gaming cliche, are sort of perfect for a game about just making it out alive, surviving missions and gathering crap to get through another night.
What makes Rebuild sort of special is how it asks the very simple question “How do people make it through another night?” No, the zombies are not made human, but as a superior invading force they may attract a cult like following. How do you eat? If you need more people to man the base, how much housing do you need? (I think that a single hospital would be fine, but they cheat a lot to force you to expand.) Where do you assign your talents and how do the skills you have on hand dictate your next move?
Rebuild is the sort of strategy game that doesn’t have a lot of surprises. After your pushed through a few plot points, they have their payoff (or not) and you know what to not do next time. But it does have choices, and some of these are pretty serious. Your two major stats are food and happiness. Let food get too low and people start starving – but to keep food up you need people on farms and that means one less hand for zombie killing, escape finding or resource scavenging. Keeping happiness high might mean spreading disease or booze or a cult, but the obverse of that is people desert your leadership.
And, as the leader, you always have an out – a personal escape plan – but I’ve never pursued that route fully. Yet.
Rebuild is sort of a city builder in reverse. All the structures are already there, ready for you to claim them. But you need to clear zombies, check and see if there are supplies and decide if your limited building skills are better used on a school or lab or apartment or farm or bank or what have you. Your needs dictate your expansion, but so do your opportunities. If your best guns are wounded, no point in trying to clear out a school full of zombies when clearing a nearly empty field might let you build a school only one turn later.
Rebuild doesn’t pepper you with constantly evolving decisions. But god does the random map generator make you work. Even if you have a plan or strategy in place, that doesn’t mean you have the manpower or time to get to the bar (happiness) or lab (research) or school (training) before you run out of ideas.
And, like X-Com, it is more fun when you kill your friends. Being able to name the city and your sidekicks gives the game a connection worth cultivating.
But more on that later.