Part tower defense and city builder, They Are Billions is a real-time strategy game which flows swings between cautious turtles as you sink to ward off the zombie hordes and deliberate dashes to expand your territory and exploit essential new resources. Introduced last year in Steam Early Access with a survival mode that challenged you to spend a certain number of days on a randomly generated map, the game now includes a handmade campaign mode as part of the version 1.0 release. This is our They Are Billions Review.
They Are Billions Review: About
- Platform: PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox One
- Developer: Numantian Games, Blitworks
- Publisher: Numantian Games
- Genres: Real-time strategy, Survival game
- Release Date: 12 December 2017
They Are Billions Review: Gameplay
When you first start a new map and watch your isolated base surrounded by zombies, the title of the game feels accurate, like an understandable exaggeration. Stray zombies take refuge amid war, running around in small groups until you warn them and occasionally saunter over to your settlement. There aren’t billions, but it seems that you can. Fifteen days later, the horn rings to signal the arrival of the horde, and soon, as a ruthless river of undead besieging your defenses, you begin to suspect billions of billions may be an understatement.
Survival mode and most maps in the campaign provide a similar experience. First, set up a perimeter with patrol routes to take out advancing zombies, explore the immediate area to identify choke points and nearby resources, build structures around your base to enhance the economy, and secure it all with troops and reinforcements to the first wave of attack. Survive that, and the second step is a quick land grab to claim entire tracts of fertile new land, clear out the wandering undead, and manage your production to generate all the resources needed to populate and farm your vast colony.
The ebb and flow that plays here are beautiful. The arrival of each wave of zombies is indicated, so you always know exactly how many days to prepare for the attack. How you use that time is where the interesting strategic choices arise. Whether it is wise to expand north to the iron, you can build soldiers with or east, where there is a vast forest that provides natural cover and timber needed to repair fencing and watchtowers. Such choices come with every wave, and your prospects for surviving the next depend on the decisions you make.
It is also incredibly tense. Outside of the horde attacks, a single zombie who manages to dodge your patrols and roam your settlement can mean game over. If only one manages to attack a home, everyone inside becomes infected and goes on to attack, multiplying the danger to unmanageable levels in an instant. Death is fast. I lost entire colonies because I saw no gap in my defensive line-up. Before I know it, death is spreading across the camp, and weeks of desperate survival count for nothing.
Survival mode is based on permadeath, as you would expect. But the campaign also contains different levels of permadeath and iron-man elements to compel you to accept the consequences of your choices. For example, if you get caught off guard and miss a campaign mission, you have to restart that mission from the beginning instead of reloading a save from mid-mission before it all went wrong. It’s even fined for the mission reward for every failure.
Somewhat ironically, an option to back up your campaign has been added since the launch of 1.0, and the developer has indicated that he can continue to adjust his approach in this area in future updates, making these decisions seem uncertain. The campaign is faltering with the inclusion of survival elements, which do not fit well with the flow of exploration. The campaign cards are handmade – they are the same every time you play them.
They are mostly puzzles where the solution is discovered through increasingly efficient resource management. Most of the maps here present satisfying challenges, and the permadeath aspect penalizes you for experimenting within these maps. Knowing you’ve messed up between 60 and 65 days can make it hard to start over from day zero. The campaign fares better as a softer introduction to They Are Billions. The technical tree blocks many of the game’s structures, units, and bonuses behind research points collected by completing missions.
This means that early missions will teach new players the tricks of the trade by only worrying about a handful of buildings and a few units, rather than overwhelming them with too many concepts to understand at the same time. As a new player myself, I also appreciated the customizable difficulty levels that let you slow down the research tree while serving missions that help you progress with the lesser technology available to you. Once I was comfortable, I was able to face the difficulty of matching my improved skills.
Adding variety to the campaign are a few non-traditional mission types. There are Hero missions where you control only one unit infiltrating a small base and Swarm Attack missions that are beautiful barebones tower defense battles. The elimination of much of the base buildup and economic management – or even everything in the case of the Hero missions – exposes the remaining combat as shallow. Even worse, removing the core mechanics simply misses the whole point.
As a result, none of these mission types are particularly enjoyable and quickly become irritations that you have to wade through to accomplish the right missions. Adding variety for the sake of variety, in this case, serves only to reduce rather than enhance.
They Are Billions Review: Conclusion
They Are Billions, in both the original survival mode, throughout most of the campaign and the one-off challenge of the week cards remains a sleek and immersive strategy game. The knowledge that you are only one misstep away from a disaster creates a gripping, tense atmosphere that is unusual for the genre. And the cycle from defense to attack and back as you move from one wave to the next offers both rapid urgency and the ability to set clear short-term goals.
It’s a cleverly designed game at its core, despite the distraction. Just as a lonely zombie can cause you to go down, sometimes a strong idea is enough.
Part tower defense and city builder, They Are Billions is a real-time strategy game which flows swings between cautious turtles as you sink to ward off the zombie hordes and deliberate dashes to expand your territory and exploit essential new resources.