It's been a rebellious week here at Gamereactor. We've just shared our review of a first-person shooter called Insurgency: Sandstorm, and now it's time to tell you about another game that explores a similar subject but from a very different perspective.
Rebel Inc. is the new game from Ndemic Creations, the indie studio that delivered iOS smash-hit Plague Inc., and despite the fact that the two games have very different themes, there are actually a lot of similarities between them. While Plague Inc. examined the sobering subject of contagious diseases with the potential to wipe humanity off the planet, Rebel Inc. asks players to consider a very different idea: what happens once the war is won and the soldiers have all gone home?
To that effect, you're put in place as the governor of a small region - there are five all told - who must stabilise the area in the aftermath of a conflict. That's easier said than done because throughout your time at the top, until you either stabilise the region or get the sack, there is a procession of fires just waiting to be put out. From mundane things such as making sure everyone has got access to running water and vaccinations, through to the suppression of violent uprisings with advanced military technology, it isn't easy putting a country back together after it has been ravaged by war.
Further to that last point, both games by Ndemic are centred around difficult subjects, although Rebel Inc. is built around an even more delicate and nuanced theme than disease control. Obviously, we offer this opinion from a position of blissful ignorance, but it feels tactful and respectfully done, and at no point did we think the subject matter glorified as the overall tone was very matter of fact.
The game works by throwing you into a region that's split up into sectors. Using the budget assigned to the rebuilding effort, you assign funds to Civilian, Government, and Military initiatives that then go on to define the prosperity of the region as much they affect your ability to deal with the inevitable violent uprisings that you're forced to face down. It's a constant balancing act where you have to proactively plan while at the same time react to the situation as it unfolds around you.
For all of the weighty decisions you have to make, the pacing is actually rather pleasant, and you never, ever feel rushed as the action can be paused whenever you like. When you leave the map screen to assign funds to a new initiative, the action auto-pauses until you return so you're never left scrambling. You're free to tinker and spend money as you see fit, although there are mechanics in place to stop you overloading one area quickly (for example, spending all your money on military might to smash the insurgents early on) as repeated expenditure in one area prompts inflation that raises subsequent costs, and corruption is always a big concern too.
You've got to choose your plans wisely, adding new initiatives in each area as you go, building your infrastructure as broadly as possible without leaning too far in one particular direction. That said, you'll also need to react to events and your hand will be forced on more than one occasion, and your best-laid plans will often be left by the wayside as you respond to an event that requires your urgent attention, usually depleting your budget in the process.
The vast majority of your time is split across the three initiative menus and the map screen. On the map, you can see where your initiatives are rolling out via subtle little icons that unobtrusively tick away in the background. After a period of relative peace and quiet at the start, the insurgency begins and without military intervention, you'll quickly lose your job and with it the game. You can clearly see where the insurgents are attacking, and depending on the number of units you have available, you can engage rebel forces across multiple sectors. Eventually, garrisons can be built to support ground troops, and adjacent units also boost the effectiveness of their nearby allies.
There's a lot more to think about than simply throwing your units at a problem. For example,
coalition forces can stick around to help, but foreign soldiers can antagonise the locals if you're not careful. Airstrikes can also offer vital support to those on the ground, but there's a very good chance that dropped bombs will, at some point, land on civilians and you'll have to explain yourself (or, at the very least, cover it up). The interaction between your forces and the insurgents is very simple - little dots on a map and a progress bar to show who's winning - and you'll be directing your units all over the place as you look to corner enemy forces and wipe them out once and for all.
There is a series of different maps to play on that unlock as you advance (or you can pay extra to unlock them if you want to play on "easy"), but just as significant are the various characters you can assume at the start of every new game, as each one offers a different skill-set. You can lean towards a more military approach, have your budget in annual instalments (the action takes place over many years, not days and weeks), or go for a more well-rounded play style. The different leaders will have an impact on some of the initiatives you can select, on the one hand giving you new and previously inaccessible avenues to pursue, although potentially they might limit you on the other. Generally speaking, the differences between characters are more subtle here than you'd see in games like Civilization VI or Crusader Kings 2, but they do impact the action in interesting ways.
When you're not tending to your forces on the regional map you're left to pick new initiatives and try and shape this post-war society and boost your popularity until the country is either completely stable or at peace after talks with the rebels (if the talks don't cause your popularity to plummet with the locals, that is). There are so many different options to choose from and there is a decent range of strategies to explore, although one criticism you could level at Rebel Inc. is that once you've found a winning strategy, it often pays to stick with it at the expense of experimentation, at least when you're playing on "normal" as we did for the purposes of this review.
Rebel Inc.'s greatest trick is making a complex simulation feel easy to navigate and simple to understand. There's a ton of depth here and several hours of engaging content to dig into, and given the low starting price of £2 / €2.29 / $2, it's most certainly worth checking out if you're either a strategy fan looking for something to play on your commute or a Plague Inc. veteran hoping to explore a fresh scenario that borrows some of the mechanics that made Ndemic's first game such a success. The UI is intuitive and accessible, the theme is explored with tact, and the various systems interact with each other to create a series of interesting decisions for the player to mull over at their leisure. All in all, Ndemic has crafted a mobile strategy game that has plenty to offer to anyone looking to lose themselves in a fascinating and engaging post-war scenario.