Stop The Horde
They Are Billions is the perfect example of a great concept with lacklustre execution. Armed with a decent aesthetic and a unique twist of horror and real time strategy, The Are Billions is let down by a rigid gameplay loop, a lack of building variety and a steep difficulty curve. While there is fun to be had here, and the game certainly has its fair share of stand-out moments, veterans of the genre will be disappointed with the simplicity of building whilst newbies may find themselves struggling to work out the best strategy for expanding and progressing.
The game itself is broken down into three distinct play modes – Campaign, Survival and Challenge Of The Week. The former sees you take part in a series of increasingly difficult chapters that repeat the same process of building a colony up and defending it against an onslaught of zombies. Some of the voice acting here is lacklustre, although the little cinematics and cut-aways between chapters does help with the sense of progression. If I’m honest though, it’s also the weakest part of the game and much has been said already about the lack of variety in this mode. Having said that, the developers have said they’re working on improvements which is certainly nice to see.
Challenge Of The Week is essentially an online leaderboard where you can compete against others for a top score across a specific map but the real meat of the game comes from the Survival Mode. Here, you begin by choosing the parameters for a custom game, from the difficulty spike of the zombies through to how many colony members you begin with. There’s some good meat to the various customisable options too although the later difficulties are a little too challenging for my liking. However, it’s also here where the trophies are unlocked so the game does encourage you to at least try these modes.
However, even on the lower difficulties the AI can easily decimate your colony if you’re not well prepared. Herein lies the other problem with the game. With a lack of a tutorial mode, They Are Billions throws you in the deep end and allows you to muddle through the various options to get a feel for how to build and progress. With no save/load feature and an autosave in place every time you leave the map, there’s little room for error here which can be frustrating, especially when one mistake can cost you the entire game.
For anyone familiar with other RTS building games, the concept here is pretty much the same except They Are Billions focuses on defence rather than offense. You build tents for more colony members, which in turn allows you to build sawmills to chop trees and quarries to mine stone. The defences for the town begin as wooden walls before progressing up to stone, courtesy of placing a workshop to research new buildings. Sentry towers, lookout towers and ballistas can all be added to beef up the defences of the city too and energy towers add to the grid space across the map for buildings to be placed down.
Coupled with that, you’re given a handful (or none, depending on the aforementioned chosen difficulty spike) of soldiers to help explore and clear out rogue zombies nearby whilst building barracks allows you to recruit new soldiers to add to your defensive lines. It’s all pretty standard fare but after about 5 or 6 hours, the lack of upgrade options feels disappointingly sparse.
Beyond stone and wood buildings, there aren’t a whole lot of other options here and the lack of real customisation in how your colony looks and where everything is placed relies far too heavily on the random nature of the maps and where you begin from.
They Are Billions is a bit of a double edged sword when it comes to its grind and learning curve too. The game certainly has its fun moments and thwarting a large horde of zombies before it breaches your defences is gratifying and heart-pounding stuff, especially as you notice your walls begin to crumble. However, the longer you play, the more the rigid gameplay loop becomes apparent.
As another personal gripe, you’re informed via your minimap and an audio cue that a horde is approaching from a certain direction. However, when you move all your forces to that part of your camp, the attack comes from a different direction which can lose precious seconds as you scramble your forces together and head off to the other part of the outer walls. While the controls are acceptable enough for console, this is also a game that’ll inevitably play far better on PC than the cumbersome PS4 set-up, especially given the finicky nature of selecting individual units to move.
They Are Billions is one of those games that will undoubtedly improve over time. Given Numantian Games’ desire to improve the campaign mode, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see other community-requested features added too. There’s certainly potential here and the game has enough positives to make it worth checking out, even with its appparent flaws. The zombie genre is undoubtedly saturated but They Are Billions feels surprisingly unique with its premise, enough to recommend it to real time strategy fans. It may not have the best gameplay loop and the building can feel a little lacklustre at times, but there’s enough promise here to make They Are Billions a game worth checking out.