They Are Billions is a dystopian, steampunk, real-time strategy game with one goal; survive the zombie onslaught bent on humanity’s destruction. With some great set pieces, unique development mechanics and a Dark Souls level challenge and permadeath feel, They are Billions has set itself up to be one of the most exciting, nail-biting experiences in recent RTS releases.
Originally releasing on PC via Steam, this intense RTS has recently shambled its way over to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Armed with my controller and no idea what I was in for I set out to see just how well I could survive the Zombie apocalypse. So grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy our review of They Are Billions for Xbox One.
TRB sets players on a randomly generated world with some seriously wonderful steampunk vibes with one goal; survive. Using your wit, resources and skills you must create a colony that can withstand hordes of the undead over a predetermined set of days. It’s a gruelling, fast-paced experience that forces players to think quick and react even quicker.
The world of Billions is wonderful to explore and discover, with each playthrough offering a new and fantastic map to venture forth into. Random world generation means you’ll never really play the same map twice and with multiple tilesets to unlock the game offers a lot of variety for players to experience.
The game carries many of the usual mechanics you’d expect to see in an RTS. Basic buildings, combat units and upgrades are all present and accounted for and function as you’d expect. An interesting mechanic that harkens back to Age of Empires is a mayor system. After surviving a certain number of days you will be granted a choice of a new mayor who brings with him or her some perk or ability. During my time I was offered everything from special units to increased production. It’s a nice added touch that helps bolster your colony for the oncoming onslaught.
One of the best features of the game is the complexity and depth of the city building. On the surface, you will experience a pretty standard RTS. However, necessity and mounting zombie pressure will quickly force you to explore just how deep the game mechanics go. Units, buildings and resource management all become mini-games in and of themselves forcing you to pause the action to think through the strategy on the fly.
Yes, pausing mid-match essentially freezes units and production but allows you the opportunity to power down buildings or re-assign resources to other projects. When you resume the game all orders issued are carried out. This is especially useful when being attacked by the horde who are vicious, unrelenting and can devastate your colony in literal seconds.
It’s important to understand that They Are Billions is a tough game. Arguably one of the toughest RTS experiences I’ve played through. One zombie, if left unattended, can devastate your colony before you have time to react. Special infected reek havoc on your units and leave you open to horde waves. Quite frequently I found myself going from thriving colony to zombie wasteland in under a minute. It’s one heck of a challenge that can be fun and rage-inducing all at the same time.
This brings me to the single most frustrating element of They Are Billions. The game is built from the ground up to function best with a keyboard and mouse. I have no doubt that it plays incredibly well on PC. If Steam’s store page is anything to go by the game is amazing. I can attest to the fact that game’s concept, gameplay and world-building are all wonderfully handled and engaging.
However, this game is almost unplayable with an Xbox controller. Basic movement becomes confusing quickly with camera control being regulated to both analog sticks at the same time. The controller makes cursor movement either too sluggish or too quick. Selecting units and maneuvering through the world is cumbersome and challenging at the best of times. Navigating all of the menus is an exercise in frustration and this is all even before the hordes attack.
RTS’s can work with a controller. Games like Halo Wars have proven that it can be tackled. However, because of the very fast-paced nature of TRB, the controller is simply to slow to keep up. The game does support mouse and keyboard controls on Xbox but even there the mouse still doesn’t respond as a mouse does on PC. The game offers no key mapping so keyboard commands become a challenging game of guess who.
After a few hours of frustration, I ended up using a weird hybrid build. Controlling units and constructing buildings was regulated to the mouse. Building rotation and camera zoom were managed with the controller. Finally navigating the world was handled with the arrow keys on my keyboard. It was clunky, it was messy and it took away from the whole gameplay experience.