Title: They Are Billions
Version Played: Xbox One
Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Developer: Numantian Games
Genre: Colony Building RTS / Zombie Slaughter Simulator
Official Site: Numantian Games
Release Date: 7/05/2019
Where to Buy: Digital / Physical
They Are Billions is most compelling RTS I’ve played in a decade, and a must play for fans of real-time strategy games that are less Command and Conquer and more Hoard & Cower. You’re not waging war, you’re preparing for a deadly horde, and this subtle inward shift changes everything, making They Are Billions a welcome, unique take on the genre and one of the best games I’ve played all year.
So, how does this all work? While They Are Billions evokes the visuals of the legendary Command and Conquer, Billions plays like Age of Empires (or Empire Earth). You build a lot of walls, outposts, and defenses. You’re a civilization striving toward stability, and if you fail to realize this difference, you’re dirt.
To put it another, not at all politically charged way, this is a game about border security.
They Are Billions comes down to a loop of extend/defend/upend. Extend your territory by building up resources and energy carrying extension towers. Defend that territory with walls, garrisons, and troops. Upend the enemy via carefully executed raids to root out infestations, and re-jigger your territory and resources for maximum output, all in the hope that you might just be ready to face hell on earth.
It’s intoxicating, and this delirious combination of colony building against a slowly ticking clock is why this review is late, how I lost a whole weekend and explains why I went to bed at 3 am last night. No, my day job wasn’t proud of me either.
Oh yeah, it’s a rogue-like (sort of). No, save scumming. Randomly generated maps. And as each game day ticks by, a deadly horde of thousands (not billions) of zombies approaching your camp. Will you be ready to survive the onslaught?
(You won’t be, not for a long time).
If you’re someone who lived for 60-minute no-rush rule online RTS games, you’re at home here. You slowly build out your colony a house, a power plant, a fishery, a sawmill at a time. The game is maximizing these resources and protecting them. All the farms in the world are great, but if you don’t have enough fire-power to safeguard them, well, forget it.
Because each resource requires another; camps require energy but produce workers, workers are needed to populate buildings like sawmills, which are needed to build guard towers (and so on), your colony is prone over-extending itself in the quest for more resources. Especially regarding stone and iron.
Because keeping the most important pieces of your budding settlement tightly protected is key to surviving the enemy’s onslaught, this is a precarious balance. Expand too slow and you won’t have the tech to put up a fight. Too fast, and they’ll be too few soldiers to cover all the territory and too many soft targets.
You will fail, and as thousands of zombies rip and gash and gnaw their way inward, taking out defenses, soldiers, farms, resources, and any hope of survival en route to your command center, you’ll actually smile.
You can’t help but be impressed at the carnage – as if you’re watching a glorious house of cards tumble down in slow motion in a fury of blood, flesh, and disease. The ‘all is lost’ moment hits you, and you’ll sit back and watch all your hard work go to waste, using that time to think hard about what you’ll do differently next time.
It’s great. They Are Billions’ an RTS for the city planner, basically about getting your shit together in the face of uncontrollable elements.
And I do mean uncontrollable. They Are Billions’ map is randomly generated, plopping your command center in a location that doesn’t much care about the available resources. This is problematic because until you gather twenty stone to build a barracks, your base is basically zombie kibble.
Thus, you’re routinely under the gun in some pretty unfair circumstances, as you scramble to find a quarry and fend off the trickling hordes with your limited militia while you do so. It’s a *lot* of fun, but this is a flaw for sure.
Life might not be fair – and games are under zero obligation to be, but you’d hope a single player experience like this wouldn’t set the player up for failure at a somewhat frequent clip. If you don’t have a quarry near your starting location, it’s 3-to-5 and pick em’ regarding whether or not you’re going to survive for any amount of time before the zombies overwhelm your shamefully barren base.
It’s also sorta hard to see those zombies. You’ll get a notification that zombies are attacking your camp, but because they’re gray, they blend in to the map, so you might have trouble actively locating where the attack is coming from if you missed the mini-map indicator.
These are irksome yes, but not deal breakers. The good news is the control is solid and the gameplay true – even on a console controller (Keyboard / Mouse support is supported). These hiccups only register because the rest of the title is so darn delicious and charming and flat out wonderful.
This is also not a particularly robust game in terms of options. The actual gameplay is in-depth and complex and exciting and challenging as you can hope for, but there isn’t much in the way of a presentation or major campaign to provide context. There are weekly challenges and all sorts of options for setting up how you want to play – number of zombies, how long until the major horde invades etc, but not much else.
And that’s fine. This game delivers where it needs to, and if They Are Billions was too busy delivering different ways to play, one would worry they wouldn’t focus on how you play, which they very clearly did – and the title is better for it.
Ultimately, I can’t tell you how They Are Billions compares to the RTS games of today. I don’t play them. However, it does stand shoulder-to-shoulder with classics like Warcraft II, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, and thankfully, blissfully, stays the hell away from the actions-per-minute zerg rush insanity of Starcraft.
I review games because of titles like They Are Billions. Things I’ve never normally try, but catch my eye, and well, sometimes you get lucky and discover something truly special.
Verdict: They Are Billions is a joyous celebration of all the things that make this genre special: personality, strategy, and crushing, a damning defeat that almost demands you try again.
So maybe I’m telling you something you already know – it’s already a hit on PC. In which case, yes, the console port is as good and controls fine.
They Are Billions is a complete delight. Simple to learn, impossible to master, and a total, utter, complete decimation of your daily schedule if this type of game looks appealing to you.
Buy it. Play it. Love it. Survive it.
- Amazing atmosphere
- Thoughtful, tense gameplay
- Ability to pause and plan is welcome
- Replayable for years
- Hard to see where zombies are attacking sometimes
- Hard to see attacking zombies
- No ability to load a previous auto-save. No save scumming.
Paul Meekin writes, edits, and consumes all things interactive, interesting, weird, and unique. Reach out via [email protected] or via Twitter @MeekinOnMovies