The Rebuild series has had a bit of an identity crisis on mobile: what is known as “Rebuild” on iOS is actually Rebuild 2 on PC, and the original Rebuild never graced mobile systems. With the release of Rebuild 3: Gangs of Deadsville, both platforms are back in sync, although we had to wait a bit longer to play the third installment on the go. Luckily, the wait was worth it: Rebuild 3 is an engrossing strategy survival sim that feels right at home in the palm of your hands.
For players new to the series, Rebuild takes place in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with infected undead, coined “Zed.” In Rebuild 3, you’ll take on the role of a survivor with apparent immunity to the illness who sets out in search of other remaining humans in the Pacific Northwest. The campaign follows your progress through a series of cities as you travel toward Canada in hope of finding a cure, rebuilding the areas you cross along the way.
That rebuilding process is, unsurprisingly, the primary focus of the gameplay. After creating your character (including their appearance, gender, and major skill), you’ll be placed in a city with three other survivors that complement your chosen specialty. There are five different skills—Defense, Scavenging, Building, Engineering, and Leadership—and each one is useful for different aspects of rebuilding. Defenders are best at fending off zombies, Scavengers find loot in abandoned sectors, Builders can repair and reclaim structures, Engineers can research technologies that support everyone else, and Leaders are best suited to recruiting new survivors and negotiating with nearby factions.
Your primary objective in each city is to reclaim enough territory from the zombies to build a proper town complete with city hall. If there are other factions of survivors within the city, your goal after building a city hall becomes dealing with them—in whatever way you choose, with diplomacy or deadly force—essentially securing the location and letting your main character move on to the next Zed-infested zone.
While you’ll always be working towards these primary goals overall, there are lots of secondary day-to-day requirements that will keep you consistently occupied. Survivors need a steady supply of food from reclaimed farms or scavenging trips; you need materials for rebuilding and fortifying your expanding town; the ever-looming hordes of zombies must be dealt with before they attack and take over sections of your city, or worse, kill your survivors.
All of these needs are dealt with through ongoing survivor management. You’ll need to assign survivors to tasks and then wait for them to be completed. The time it takes to finish a job depends on its complexity, as well as the number and skill levels of the survivors assigned to it. A level 10 Builder will reclaim a building much faster than a level 1, but having both Builders work on the same task will be fastest. A lone low-level Defender will be at great risk during a zombie raid that a group of Defenders could handle easily.
Rebuild 3’s biggest change in this management system is its switch to real-time. Past Rebuild games have used a turn-based system that had players assign survivors to tasks and then choose to end the day, jumping ahead to the next day and the results of the assignments. Jobs that required more than one day’s work would simply count down while those that finished would report on the results one-by-one. During the actual assignment phase, nothing was actively changing.
Rebuild 3’s clock speed can be adjusted to turn-based, full day progression for fans of the classic system, but it’s designed for real-time play. As long as the clock is ticking, events are progressing: food is being eaten, survivors are working on their assignments, and Zed are inching closer. You can pause at any point and micro-manage from the stopped state—setting survivors up at their next location without worrying about the clock—but no actions are taken until you hit that “Go” button again.
This real-time system is a great addition to the series and our preferred way to play. It allows for sudden alterations to your strategy without major penalties, such as recalling survivors to defend the fort if a zombie horde shows up unexpectedly. And it lets the game flow much more smoothly if you aren’t too hyperactive with the stop/go button, instead tracking survivors as they finish tasks and dragging them to their next assignment fluidly.
When you’re not moving your survivors around town like gun-toting chess pieces, there are still a plethora of menus and systems to manage. Rebuild 3 is overflowing with content and details to control, from the major items like survivor skillsets and equipment, to your city government’s rules and regulations. Everything you do affects your city and its inhabitants in some way, whether you’re insisting Defenders conserve ammo at the expense of riskier Zed attacks or giving a dog to a character that’s allergic to animals. Seemingly small decisions, like turning a parking lot into a bar instead of a church, can have meaningful ramifications on your group’s morale—especially if anyone on your team is devout.
The obviously large choices of the game are who to assign where and what to prioritize—should you really recruit two more Builders if you’re already low on food? Can we spare a Defender at the fort to clear out Zed at the nearby gas station?—but dozens of smaller, yet critical, choices pop up frequently as in-game events.
Neighboring factions will make requests and demands that can lead to alliances or war; lone survivors will show up at your gate requesting food, but may rob you in the night; children will stumble upon hidden crawlspaces in newly reclaimed buildings that can be investigated, but at potentially huge costs. It’s easy to become attached to your survivors as you watch them level up and share their life stories, as they risk themselves on assignment and wind up in the makeshift hospital, and as they build friendships and even romances right before your eyes.
It’s unfortunate that you have to leave most of those survivors behind each time you move on to a new city. While we understand the need for a somewhat fresh start—the game would be far too easy with twenty leveled up survivors toting guns and cars at the start of each map—the things that aren’t carried over make the campaign feel a bit disjointed. Although you retain the same main character and up to three (or a few more on later maps) other survivors when moving on, you lose basically everything else. Researched technology is completely forgotten and factions that show up repeatedly—specifically, the recurring trader Gustav—act like they’ve never met you before. Maybe short term memory loss is a side effect of Zed exposure, but we would have liked to see a bit more continuity throughout the trip to Canada.
Speaking of continuity, one of the other greatest changes in Rebuild 3 besides the addition of real-time is its aesthetic overhaul. Rebuild 2 suffered from a lack of cohesiveness, with oddly photorealistic characters within a cartoonish cityscape and a random isometric zombie attack cut scene—all of which felt like they came from different games. Rebuild 3 has been redesigned from the ground up, with totally cohesive visuals across characters, maps, event dialogues, and everything in between. The design is almost too seamless in some cases: buttons that can be tapped or held-down for info aren’t always immediately apparent. We only just realized you can tap on a character’s happiness icon to get a detailed report on what has been affecting their mood, and are now wondering what other hidden menus we’ve missed.
This is likely more of a mobile-specific issue, since you can hover over objects on PC. But the benefits of playing on a touchscreen and physically dragging your characters around the map make up for this minor learning curve: using your fingers like a strategic maestro is tangibly rewarding, especially since most icons and objects are fingertip-sized. The always available stop-go button, quick-start skirmish mode, autosave, and anytime-save features also make this an easy choice for mobile.
It’s certainly an easy choice for us. Rebuild 3 has been our go-to game since we got our hands on it, and with its amount of depth, details, and difficulty levels, will continue to be until the real zombie apocalypse hits. And probably after.