The survival genre has been hot for the last few years. In a trend that started to pick up steam with Minecraft, games that feature a struggle against overwhelming odds have become more and more popular. These games have you struggling either until you die or until a specified amount of time has passed and have by and large been played from a first-person perspective. The survival genre has gone on to be adapted to simulations and role-playing games, but I don’t recall seeing a survival real-time strategy until playing They Are Billions.
They Are Billions is a real-time strategy with an interface very much like the one you see in StarCraft and StarCraft 2. The gameplay centers around a future Earth in which most of humanity has fallen to zombie hordes. Your job is to build a colony that can survive and flourishes as the undead hordes advance. To survive, you have to use a tactic known in StarCraft as “turtling.” This consists of building layered defenses around your colony that are able to defend against the zombies.
The Best Defense is Not a Good Offense
If you’re a fan of planning defensive strategies and emplacements, you’ll love They Are Billions. You rely heavily on walls and turrets to defend your colony, and a small mistake in your plan can cause your whole settlement to be wiped out. You also have to measure defense against the need for expanding. Your first instinct will be to wall in as small of an area as possible for an easy defense. You’ll find very shortly into the game though that this doesn’t work.
You have to balance the need for a strong defense against the need to expand for resources. There are eight different kinds of resources in They Are Billions: Gold, Food, Workers, Wood, Stone, Iron, Oil, and Energy. Above all, each of them require space to construct. You need to have room for tents for your workers to live; you’ll need to find deposits of stone, iron, and ore for quarries; you’ll need to construct new mills and power plants for energy; and you’ll have to farm, hunt, or fish for food. The acquiring of all these resources is intermingled, so you’ll need one kind to build a building to get another kind which requires you to strike a balance or be caught with a deficit of a resource at a critical time.
Since you’ll have to expand as time goes on, resource collection goes hand in hand with defensive measures. The more land you cover, the more you have to spend to build walls and soldiers to man them. There’s a limited selection of units you can create in the game, but each of them has a unique purpose. The cheapest soldier, the Hunter, is just a basic ranged unit which gets the job done, but lacks enough force to deal with multiple undead without being grouped together. As time goes on you, gain access to Soldiers, which have a more powerful attack than hunters, and Snipers which move and shoot slow but have a mighty shot. By the time you reach the endgame you’ll have access to giant mechs and flamethrower units which you’ll need against the absolutely huge mobs of zombies.
They Are Billions, Literally
One of the things that makes They Are Billions so unique is the number of units that appear on screen at once. The developer, Numantian Games, claims their engine can display up to 20,000 units together on-screen at a time. When you see the vast swarm of enemies that attack you as the game goes on, it’s hard not to be impressed. When you start a game, you’re given a little time to put your base together before the hordes start pouring in. Once they do though you’ll see a river of zombies flood towards your settlement. It’s not just for show either. This game is tough as nails, and even one zombie breaking through unchecked can destroy your colony.
One of the mechanics of the game is that zombies are infectious. So if the undead break through your defenses and catch up to one of your villagers, That villager can become a zombie, which will infect their household, and those fresh zombies will infect the next house and so on. In a matter of a minute or less, you can watch your once prosperous colony become a village of the damned. There’s no starting over either. Each time you begin a new game you only get one save, and if you try to exit the game, it demands you save first. This makes every run through an ironman mode scenario. However, each playthrough should only last three or four hours, so it’s not too much of a sacrifice to learn from your mistakes and start over new.
Right now They Are Billions is in Steam Early Access, but there’s quite a bit of content available already. There are four maps, and Survival mode already implemented. A campaign mode featuring the story of humanity’s downfall and the rise of the dead is to be added in the future, and the game looks and feels great. There’s very little of the Early Access growing pains to be seen here, and They Are Billions already has the feel and polish of a released game. I’m excited to see what Numantian Games will bring to the game next and I can’t wait to see the final version.