They are Billions is a steampunk zombie survival RTS that originally released on the Steam early access program back in 2017 and has now lurched its way onto consoles. It’s hard. It’s bloody hard. Even with the difficulty on low.
I grew up playing RTS games. My childhood mainly consisted of the Command & Conquer series (until Westwood studios shut down), spending hours on the slower burning Warzone 2100, before working up to StarCraft 2 and the more recent survival RTS Frostpunk. My tactic was always the long game. Turtling. Spending hours building up my base and armies to destroy the enemies; the concept of They are Billions therefore really intrigued me.
Currently there are two game modes: Survival and ‘Challenge of the week’. Unlike the PC version there isn’t a campaign mode, it’s coming at some point though. Until then your choices are limited. If you’re not a fan of sandbox RTS modes, the console version might not be for you. I’ve heard people say the campaign mode is a bit slow, although I haven’t played it myself.
Survival mode gets you to survive a set number of days (the more you pick, the easier the game becomes). Every game helps you find better ways to survive, develop tactics to try and stop the spread of infection and beat back the waves of zombies. If zombies infest buildings their number rise exponentially, causing more issues. If too many fall your defences become overwhelmed, then It’s game over man.
There’s a careful balancing act of gathering resources, building an army and compartmentalising landmass. To expand you need to build Tesla Towers, but they need workers, wood and gold, so you need homes and quarries. They then require more space and more resources! Any positives gained though advancements in tech are undermined by the space more investable buildings take up. This parallels Frostpunk in some regards. You’re alway on the back foot!
When you’re trying to balance all these different variables security sometimes goes out the window. Especially if resources become tight and you need to quickly expand. There seems to be two options, slowly build out, making smaller areas and building protection, or quickly expand leaving yourself vulnerable for a period of time while you get defences sorted over a larger area.
They are Billions really makes you think before making any choices. If you screw up and the zombies get in you can’t panic build in the area they’re attacking in. Prior peroration is needed. You do get a warning before a wave of zombies attack, although this is only compass direction. I times like this you can pause the clock clock. This stops time and allows you to think how you’re going to deal with a situation. A feature a lot of people will appreciate. If you fail and zombies destry your City Hall (much like your dungeon heart in a Dungeon Keeper or War for the Overworld) it’s over.
You need to learn this all yourself though; there isn’t a tutorial. It’s a steep ramp when you’re first thrust into the game. While it doesn’t take long to figure it all out some could be turned off before then. They are Billions also lacks some quality of life features other RTS games have. For instance it assumes you know that grey rocks are stone, blue are iron and small pools of blue, water like liquid, are oil pools. While most RTS players can take an educated guess, text when hovering over resources would remove this ambiguity (a feature some RTS games have had for nearly 20 years).
Other than these minor points I’ve generally not had many issues with the game. I found a bug stopping units from passing though gates; however, this seemed to resolve itself. Units can also become trapped when exiting towers, if they’re built too close to other buildings. This has been frustrating, especially when trying to move units to areas of infestation.
They are Billions controls quite competently with the controller though—you can also use a USB keyboard and mouse—which presently surprised me. This does come with a caveat, the PS4 controller needs to be powered on the entire time, so every few minutes you need to move it. Or it disconnects and the game pauses. Something that will get annoying. It is really the best way to play.
Load times are a bit longer than I’d like to get into a game, but when you’re in, it runs without interruptions apart from a save screen every now and then. I have heard some complain it chugs when you get into the endgame, although I haven’t experienced this.
If you’re after a fun survival RTS or a game that tests your ability to make strong defences, before kicking you to the floor They Are Billions is for you. The game is fun, but take a few failures to really get into.
Should you play it? Yes
Why… It gives you that “one more try” feeling, making you want to make biger and better defences to finally beat the clock.
But… Yes. You can easily play on console, it doesn’t mean you should. If you’re going to pick up They Are Billions and you own one, get the PC version instead. It’s really the best place for RTS games—especially if you want to use keyboard and mouse.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Review code provided by Numantian Games.