With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. This time I’ll be looking at They Are Billions, a real-time strategy game released by Numantian Games in June of 2019.
As you might guess from the title, the apocalypse here is that tried and true classic, zombies. However, this time it is zombies in space! They Are Billions takes place on another world where the entire population has been turned into zombies, except for one city hidden within a protective crater.
After 200 years of isolation, the emperor of the city, dubbed the New Empire, decrees a campaign to retake the planet. You take up the role of a young general who has volunteered to take up this challenge, after a good dozen other attempts have failed in the 13 years following the initial decree. This is the story for the campaign mode of the game, where you progress through various maps with different objectives as you try to rebuild.
In Survival mode, you play on a single map and try to see how long you can survive against increasing hordes of zombies. Challenge of the Week is a set map in the same play style as Survival mode, where you can compete against other players to try to get the best score. The developers have also added the ability for users to create custom maps.
Back to the campaign, you initially get to choose from one of two champion characters. Then, before starting the first mission, you can adjust the difficulty setting of the game – which only impacts the “victory points” score you get for completing each map. Unless you are very confident, or have already played the game, I would suggest sticking to the lower end of the settings.
The campaign mode also features a research tree. You earn “steam” for completing missions, which can then be spent to unlock various upgrades. You do not start with enough steam to research anything and must complete the initial mission first.
For the actual missions, you typically start off with a Command Center, which lets you build all of your other structures. The initial types are dwellings, where your population lives; resource extraction, where your population works to gather materials needed to improve the colony; energy, which is needed to power buildings and expand the colony; military, where you train your soldiers; and defense, which are things like walls and guard towers. You also start with a few troops, so as not to leave your colony to be overrun by the first zombie you trip over.
The resources in the game are: colonists, food, energy, gold, wood, stone, iron, and oil. You need colonists to work in your various buildings, energy to power your buildings, and food to feed your colonists. Gold, wood, stone, iron, and oil are all used in producing various buildings or military units. There is, somehow, a functioning train from the capitol that drives through to drop off new colonists.
The basic flow of the game is you build tents to get colonists and then build hunting cottages or fishermen cottages to get food for your colonists. You then need to build a sawmill to get wood and a quarry to get stone. To be able to build in an area, you need to have built a Tesla Tower to allow for power to flow to that area and have enough Mills generating electricity to power those buildings.
You also need to focus on defending your colony by building walls around the various areas where zombies might attack. Fortunately the zombies don’t swim or appear out of the woods, but can attack from off the edges of the map. The map also starts populated with plenty of zombies lingering about.
There are also waves of zombies that attack every so often. In the screen shot above, there is a little marker on the bottom left side showing that on day 22 there will be a zombie attack. That is how long you have to build up defenses and troops before there is a serious attack on your colony. In the meantime, the occasional zombie may wander in, if you do not clear them out first.
You can also find resources on the map as you explore it. On the initial map, you find a small cache of stone in the area where you can build a quarry. To clarify, you can only gather resources that exist on the map. You need to build sawmills next to the forest portions of the map and quarries next to stone on the map.
You can also find sign posts, which provide some additional in-game information. This is pretty much how the game goes. As you progress to later missions, you get new buildings and units that use metal and oil. But, in general, it comes down to building up a city and defending it against zombie hordes.
After the first mission, the campaign does branch out and allow you to select one of multiple missions to take up next, each with their own slight variations on the setup and objectives. You can also spend your steam to unlock one of the first upgrades, which I expect will be the assault rifle for most players. Your initial unit, the scout, fights with a bow and arrow, which is smart if you are trying to be stealthy.
They Are Billions has a Steampunk-style world, with the art style being full of cogs and gears. Overall, I feel that the art works for the game. The music is good, though I think the voice acting is a bit bland – at least the English version of the game. This is particularly notable in the opening cinematic.
The gameplay borrows fairly heavily from Blizzard’s Starcraft series. The setting is a neat idea, to have a zombie-infested Steampunk world seems fairly original. It also borrows the idea of hero missions, where you take your champion through a zoomed in map.
I personally liked the concept enough that I got this game when it was in early access, where the only gameplay was just the survival map. I was a little disappointed with the campaign mode initially, though replaying it again for this review, I may have been a bit harsh in my judgment. Maybe it was just that tiny gap I missed in building the fence that caused me to fail the starting mission twice.
The game is quite challenging when you are first starting out. Unless you are very well prepared, you will likely lose — either to a random zombie coming in from an angle that you didn’t think posed a risk, or the timed horde rampaging through your settlement despite what you thought was a solid defensive line. The difficulty scale also lets you tweak the game once you feel you may have mastered the basics.
Overall, I would give They Are Billions a “B-“, or 7/10 stars. It is a challenging real-time strategy game for most players, and if you like that genre then it’s worth checking it out. The addition of player-made maps also gives it some extra replay value. However, I would recommend picking it up when it goes on sale.
They Are Billions is available on Steam here, where it has a very positive rating. It has also been ported over to the Xbox and PlayStation. For more information about those platforms, you can check out the developer’s website.