- - 6.5/106.5/10
An excellent single-player RTS with a palpable atmosphere that would score much higher with improved gamepad support and the standard tutorials available in its PC counterpart.
Video games are at the mercy of many different things: the developers, the publishers, the reviewers (like yours truly), and even the players of the game after release. One thing could compromise the goodwill that a game earns and make people question it in the hands of any of these people. Why bring this up? Because today’s topic is a game I do believe you should support, especially if you’re a fan of the genres and gameplay it represents. The only caveat is that it has some…problems, that are hopefully slated to be fixed in future updates. With that being said, let’s talk about They Are Billions on Xbox One.
They Are Billions is a single-player, isometric, real-time strategy (RTS) survival game with a steampunk setting developed by Numantian Games and published by Numantian Games and Blitworks. Your goal in this game is very simple: survive the nearly endless hordes of zombies that would overtake your populace and claim victory by preventing their relentless advance. The title is also no exaggeration – you will occasionally see your entire isometric horizon blotted out by a seemingly infinite horde of zombies, usually followed by a swift and merciless defeat on your part.
Going into this game blind, the atmosphere is spot-on for its subject matter. The world is filled with the ominous sounds of monsters lurking in the shadows as you tirelessly work towards building up for the oncoming waves of enemies. The sense of impending doom is in the air at nearly all times and only drowned out by the sound of your production lines roaring to gather resources and your constant attention-shifting between your controlled units. There are unfortunately some hiccups in your way of a perfectly efficient survival plan though.
The game plays like a traditional RTS title in all of the ways that count – mass selecting units with click and drag, gathering resources and placing structures near their appropriate environments (ex. sawmill next to a forest), creating macros to select specific units on your board so that you can play as efficiently as possible, etc. You’ll build housing structures like tents to create workers/commoners for your settlement, but in order to go further and actually stand a chance, you’ll need to research better ways to defend yourself, which will take precious time and resources. As you progress like this, you’ll begin to notice that there’s plenty of complexity but not much explanation beyond what I’ve mentioned so far as to how you progress. Additionally, you may have already lost and not known why, and this applies to just about any difficulty or environment.
It’s at this point that I think it’s important we talk about the game itself in its current state on Xbox One. This game is a ported version of the original PC title, which recently left Early Access on Steam. In the current PC version of the game, there have been major updates compared to this console version, including a full-length campaign mode that will walk you through how to play. The console version sports Survival Mode exclusively and carries no such tutorials for the uninitiated, making this version of the game exceptionally brutal if you don’t have the persistence of a marathon runner.
In my case, I persisted and attempted to play through the game’s Survival Mode on various difficulties and settings, but this is when the real glaring issue with this port reared its ugly head – the console port controls are abysmal. At times, using a controller was borderline unplayable and left me with nothing but frustration. Even the most basic in-game actions required me to practically research the control scheme and, even then, it was far more trouble than it was worth. But I wanted to learn and succeed.
And so I did. Trial and error is your best friend when playing They Are Billions, and it takes every shortcut to remind you of this. It can take just a single zombie breaking through a wall you’ve placed or a single combat unit of yours dying to the endless horde for an unceremonious end to your otherwise perfect run. Your attention to detail (and liberal use of the pause button to monitor the mini-map) is something you need to perfect to really experience what this game has to offer.
So what’s the verdict? I want to recommend this game desperately, I really do. In fact, it’s absolutely worth buying and playing…on PC. The gamepad support for the Xbox One port is almost unbearable and hinders a player from truly experiencing this game the way it’s meant to be played.
The good news is that They Are Billions supports keyboard and mouse functionality on the Xbox One. I have to mention this because it is crucial for anyone looking to play this game on systems outside of the PC. I would not wish the gamepad controls for this game on anyone, but if you’re going to play it and enjoy it, it will most certainly be with a keyboard and mouse. If you do play it that way, it’s near certain that you’ll have a great time.
They Are Billions is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows and Steam on PC.