They Are Billions is a post-apocalyptic real-time strategy game. It was released on early access via Steam in 2017. The game then made its way to a full release in June 2019 before hitting consoles in July.
Although there isn’t much of a narrative to the title, it does feature a tantalizing setting. The action takes place more than 100 years into the future. A fast-moving infection led to the collapse of human civilization, with technology regressing significantly.
The only survivors now live in colonies set up as fortresses to keep the zombies at bay. You take on the role of a leader of a new colony that is trying to reestablish humanity to its former glory.
They Are Billions starts out as a pretty standard RTS game. You build resource-gathering units to harvest wood and other materials. Then comes the military units to combat the upcoming zombie horde. Think Age of Empires, where you need to build up your settlement and collect every resource you can get your hands on.
However, things take a turn after the first few days. That’s because They Are Billions is distinct from other RTS games by being entirely focused on defense. Here the only option against the billions of zombies is to hold up and pray that your defenses don’t fail.
The ultimate goal is to ensure that the undead never make it into your settlement. Once they break through the defensive perimeter, you are toast. Whatever this zombie infection is, it spreads at a lightning pace. Just one enemy can lead to your whole village succumbing within a few moments.
If you do manage to keep out the zombies, then you get a chance to build more elaborate building and elect officials. These can provide extra bonuses that will help. Although, you shouldn’t expect too much in the way of free stuff in They Are Billions.
As the horde can arrive at any time from any direction, you have to keep a constant eye on everything. The fact that you don’t know when you will face the next attack builds a lot tension throughout each game.
In truth, you feel perpetually on edge while playing They Are Billions. Fortunately, the game forces you to start on an easy difficulty setting. Once you have completed this, you can move onto the more challenging scenarios. It is in these harder rounds that you really have to explore the surroundings and start to develop strategies.
Learning From Mistakes
One of the big design choices in They Are Billions is that you cannot save the game manually. Instead, you rely entirely on the autosave to mark your progress at the end of specific periods.
In other games, this might be considered a glaring omission. The developers of They Are Billions purposely included this, though, as an essential part of the gameplay. Players have to learn for themselves rather than be shown what to do in this game. A lack of manual saving effectively forces you to learn from your mistakes as you cannot simply rewind. Each failure acts as a kind of lesson in the dangers that await you.
If you want to make progress in They Are Billions, then you have to learn quickly from these lessons. This is just one of the ways that this RTS is not just about tactical skill or quick reactions. It requires thoughtful planning and some patience.
The ability to pause is another example of this. Players don’t need to process a hundred actions at once. Rather, you can take your time and get a thorough understanding of everything that is happening. This slower approach lets you see your mistakes and know what went wrong. For the most part, the game gives you a real chance to learn with each playthrough.
They Are Billions certainly has a unique style when it comes to the aesthetics of the world. The steampunk post-apocalyptic look gives off a strong comic book vibe.
Despite this, and the vibrant colors on display, it is not very impressive to look at. The visuals just are not of a high enough quality to truly appreciate the art style. Ultimately, the developers probably made a decision to sacrifice the graphics in favor of the huge numbers of enemies that can appear on screen at once.
On the other hand, the sound design creates a genuinely frightening experience. Hearing your helpless workers bellow out terrified screams as the horde reaches their homes is properly scary.
And while the musical score is extremely limited, what is there gets across a great sense of dread. This is especially true for the song that plays over the title screen.
There are some really promising ideas in They Are Billions. The gameplay is addictive and you can gain a lot of satisfaction from successfully learning and improving. A great setting and unique focus on defense helps to give the RTS genre a fresh appeal.
Nevertheless, They Are Billions does have its fair share of problems. Most notable are the poor visuals and lack of optimization for controller support. Where other RTS titles have shown that a gamepad can work with the genre, the developers have failed to implement a working solution here.
If you can get past the shoddy controls, then They Are Billions has the potential to keep you hooked for a long time.