I remember my first base. I had a pretty good setup going on, lots of food, tons of gold, a few tents filled with colonists, I was ready to grow my base into a bonafide fortress to tackle the upcoming onslaught of the undead They Are Billions asks you to prepare for. One day, after about an in-game week in my post-apocalyptic society, the game warned me about a large group of infected approaching from the east. “I can take them,” I thought. I had a few troops and some walls, so I took point and awaited the assault. They got in. They got to my tents. And then it was over.
Game Name: They Are Billions
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Publisher(s): Numantian Games
Developer(s): Numantian Games/Blitworks
Release Date: December 12, 2017 (PC)/July 5, 2019 (Xbox One)/July 9, 2019 (PS4)
Price: $29.99 (PC)/$24.99 (Console)
They Are Billions is a real-time strategy game in which you’re tasked with establishing and maintaining a colony for a predetermined amount of time while fending off waves of undead attackers. The game sprinkles in some tower defense on top of the typical tropes of real-time strategy, and the resulting mixture is tense, oppressive, and addicting. They Are Billions is no understatement, as the amount of infected on the screen at once will completely overwhelm you (and your framerate) if you aren’t adequately prepared. This is a strategy game through and through, and your gameplan will be the determining factor in how long your colony survives.
That gameplan needs to be watertight, because even one zombie slipping through your defenses can mean the death of an entire run, especially in the early game. If a zombie destroys a building, it’ll infect the workers inside, and then those newly infected will attack more buildings, and so on. They Are Billions is all about culling the herd and preventing this exponential spreading of infection from happening in the first place.
You likely won’t make it too far in your first attempts of the game’s survival mode. Not just because it’s tough, but also because there isn’t any significant tutorial to show you the ropes outside of a wall of text tucked away in the pause menu. While that wall of text does provide detailed explanations of mechanics and resources, it’s a lot to take in all at once, and you’ll regularly forget bits and pieces of information and have to check the menu frequently. This, combined with being unfamiliar with upgrades, ideal building placements, and the general gameplay loop, results in a very confusing first hour with They Are Billions.
The game’s controls are another aspect that can scare off new players and sour the experience for even RTS veterans. These types of games are designed to be played with a keyboard and mouse, and while there were considerable efforts made to get They Are Billions working with a gamepad, it’s still a jumbled mess of hotkeys paired with a joystick-controlled virtual mouse. They Are Billions does support keyboard and mouse input on consoles though, so if that’s an option for you, you can disregard everything I just said about the controls. They Are Billions isn’t unplayable with a controller, but it’s incredibly clear that this game was made with a mouse in mind. Thankfully, there is a pause feature so you can take some time to plan your next move and not worry about fighting the clunky controls.
The controls unfortunately aren’t the only problem They Are Billions faces in its transition to consoles. The game doesn’t work very well on televisions. Units are small and easily get lost in the background, especially during large scale attacks or even just in the late game when your colony gets busy. The game’s art style doesn’t help either, with the muted colors helping the units blend into the background even more. Text is pretty hard to read, too. If you can play this game on a monitor, do it. Like most strategy games, this is not a game for the living room.
If you stick with They Are Billions through its growing pains, you’ll be rewarded with a tense and addictive strategy game that actually has interesting and innovate ideas for the genre. The gameplay loop kept me glued to my TV for hours, evoking the same “one more turn” feeling that normally comes with games like Civilization.
Expanding your colony and uncovering the surrounding area never failed to be exciting in any of my They Are Billions runs, and the larger the colony gets, the more involved the game becomes. Even while you’re waiting for resources to accumulate, there are still things to do in the form of sending out scouting parties to locate valuable resources and take on rundown villages filled with infected (just be sure to keep them close in case a horde decides to arrive at your doorstep). I would divide my troops into two groups: one for exploring and one for manning the guard posts along the colony walls. You’ll develop strategies like these will each consecutive run in They Are Billions, and each new plan will bring you one step closer to achieving your goal.
In some strategy games (XCOM comes to mind), when things start to go wrong, you can just load an earlier save and adapt your plan. Not in They Are Billions. They Are Billions has ironman saves, meaning you can’t reload when things go awry. The game constantly autosaves and saves upon quitting. No matter what happens in They Are Billions, you have to stick with it because the save system isn’t there to save you. This can be disheartening, especially if you make it to 60-70 days and lose everything, but not being able to reload to get out of a sticky situation adds to the tension that They Are Billions already delivers in droves.
The console version of They Are Billions is lacking the campaign mode that was recently added to the PC version, but it’s not that huge of an omission considering survival mode is the main draw here. There are four different survival maps that create randomly generated worlds that stick to a certain theme, but these aren’t enough to give They Are Billions an incredibly long lifespan. While there are difficulty modifiers that provide an extra challenge, once you get a solid strategy and base layout down, the game loses a lot of its luster. Still, the central idea of defending a base effectively takes a long time to master, and They Are Billions delivers enough content to keep players entertained for a while.
They Are Billions is a truly unique entry in the real-time strategy genre. It’s an incredibly compelling mix of RTS, survival, and tower defense, and it’s one that I’ll come back to if I ever get a craving for a strategy game. It’s brutal, but it’s rewarding, and any RTS fan will feel right at home fending off the seemingly endless hordes of the undead. The game struggles a bit in its transition to consoles, but in doing so it brings the game to a wider audience, an audience that should definitely give this game a shot.
Review Disclosure Statement: They Are Billions was provided to us by Numantian Games for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
They Are Billions blends the best aspects of tower defense and real-time strategy to create a tense and oppressive atmosphere where one mistake can lead to the downfall of your entire colony. It’s stressful, it’s challenging, and it’s rewarding, offering just about everything people love about real-time strategy. A lack of content and variety, alongside some small technical issues, hold it back from being truly excellent, but regardless, They Are Billions is a fantastic new take on the RTS genre.
- Punishing difficulty
- One small slip up can end a run
- Tension never wears off
- Lack of in-depth tutorials
- Occasional framerate issues
- Light on content
- Awkward control scheme