I’ve always been a fan of the humble zombie. Ever since Resident Evil scared the socks off my feet in 1997, I’ve always been in their corner. There’s just something about a slow, shambling corpse coming towards you that hits all the right notes for me, just like They Are Billions initially did.
Throughout the years, the zombie has slowly seeped into pop culture. Now zombies are pretty much everywhere, in nearly every genre you can think of.
Despite that, I still looked forward to They Are Billions. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have.
What is They are Billions?
They Are Billions is an RTS (real time strategy) game in which you need to survive for a set number of days against hordes of zombies. It mixes steampunk aesthetics with some general horror elements, to create a unique style.
The permadeath gameplay style complements the aesthetic rather well. Unlike typical RTS titles, you can’t save whenever you want. You get autosaves, and you can save when you quit but you can’t make multiple saves to go back to if you screw up.
On the PC, They Are Billions is pretty highly regarded, with its fun gameplay, customization options and campaign. On the PS4, the only thing that made the leap is the fun…and even then it’s buried deep.
It goes without saying that I’m unimpressed with the state of the game on the PS4. The campaign is MIA (to be added later according to the developers), some maps from the PC version are missing and the controls are incredibly unwieldy, though it does get better with practice.
It’s unacceptable that there’s a huge gulf in terms of content between the PC and console versions. They Are Billions isn’t labelled as ‘Early Access’ on the PS4 so there’s no reason it shouldn’t have parity with the released PC version’s campaign.
Only Survival mode is available on the PS4, with only one map to play on initially. The others unlock progressively as you survive on the map before them, though the score needed increases as you get to the later maps.
It’s similar to how maps on the PC version of They Are Billions are unlocked, though I can’t say I’m a fan of being forced to play on the same map (even though its randomly generated every time) until I luck out and survive the game.
Even with all the maps unlocked, you’re looking at a paltry 4 maps total. FOUR! Seriously. Who thought this was acceptable?
I’d have wished for more customization options for the mode too. Just being able to set the strength of zombies, the in-game time you have to set up your base before the huge swarm descends on you is nowhere near enough. Whatever happened to being able to tweak starting funds or the map you’re playing on?
To say the game’s challenging is an understatement, especially if you’re playing it for the first time. There’s no concessions made to the console player at all, with the UI mostly being similar to what’s on the PC.
There’s also no tutorial, which makes the gameplay a trial and error affair for the first few hours, as you struggle (and die) to get to grips with the build order and gameplay quirks.
And there certainly are quirks to learn.
Too much to juggle lessens the fun.
Chief among them is that the game handles population and workers independently. You’d have thought that if you have 10 population, that’d be 10 workers right? WRONG!
It makes for an unnecessarily complex game in where you need to build copious amounts of population centers JUST to have enough workers to everything.
Even aware of that limitation, I STILL find myself stuck at times needing more workers since practically everything requires them. It’s one thing for an RTS to force the player to juggle resources but to make it so complex seems so counter intuitive.
That unintuitive nature extends to the controls too. While you can use a keyboard and mouse to play the game, it’s very unwieldy on the DualShock 4. Responding in a timely manner to a rapidly escalating situation is next to impossible with a controller.
Just a take a look.
Since there’s no tutorial, you have to experiment to find out what does what. Till now I’m still wondering if there’s a shortcut to select all units free units at once. A tutorial would’ve (and hopefully will) done wonders to clear things up and I REALLY hope one’s coming in the future…
There’s a silver lining to all this; the gameplay is still as fun as the PC version.
Building up your base while fending off roaming zombie hordes (and surviving the occasional mobs) is incredibly fun. If you love turtling in RTS games (like me), you’ll LOVE They Are Billions.
I just wish there are more buildings you can build…there’s a distinct lack of turrets and automated defenses in the game, meaning you’re going to need to man chokepoints with warm bodies.
They Are Billion forces you to be on the ball constantly, as even a single zombie can quickly screw up your game. They can infect your buildings, which in turn creates more zombies…which can quickly snowball and overwhelm even the most secure of bases.
Multiple times, I’ve had just ONE single zombie reach my population buildings and infect them…which leads to a massive army of the undead within a short time. Needless to say, there’s no stopping them at that point.
It’s punishing, unforgiving and most of all…very fun. There’s no other RTS where you can be swarmed by a huge mob of zombie. If you thought a Zerg Rush in Starcraft was impressive, wait till you see the zombie horde rush you in this game.
Most impressively, the game does it all with little to no performance hit, at least if you keep the view relatively zoomed in. If you back up too much though, the framerate tanks and you’ll be even more hard pressed to keep up as buttons won’t be as responsive. Even scrolling is a hassle then.
Despite some technical issues, it’s definitely a great sign that the core gameplay of They Are Billions is still alive and well on the PS4. Let’s just hope the developers spend the post launch time with polishing the gameplay while adding in content updates.
The bottom line.
Despite the missing campaign mode and the finicky controls, the core gameplay of They Are Billions is intact. Survival mode is definitely fun but is lacking legs with its lack of customization options.
I can see myself playing it for a while but the lack of Campaign hamstrings any longevity the game might have, especially if you’re one who wants a narrative to go along with your gameplay.
There barebones nature of the game definitely doesn’t do it any favors, and I honestly feel that more should’ve been done to warn buyers about the state the game’s in. As it stands, I feel cheated, as I expected features on par with the current PC version, not one that seems like the ‘Early Access’ version of the game.
If you can overlook that, more power to you. You’ll find a highly enjoyable RTS behind the hassle you have to go through. If you’d like a polished experience though, look elsewhere.
Great core gameplay, but unintuitive controls and lack of campaign, maps and tutorial makes it hard to recommend to all but the hardcore.
– Fun gameplay.
– Smooth performance.
– Missing features.
– Finicky controls.