It’s hard to imagine that there is a way to kill a zombie that hasn’t already been demonstrated by some form of media. But that doesn’t mean the influx of zombie games is slowing down; in fact, it appears there are still billions of zombies to kill yet. At least that’s what They Are Billions on Xbox One wants you to believe.
The strategy genre has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, especially for console players. What was once a strictly PC genre has now evolved into much more. Mixing zombies with strategy, though? That’s something I can’t recall being done all too many times before. Of course, we have the original Plants vs Zombies, before things got all exciting with Garden Warfare, but since then the majority have always been sci-fi related. Now though the zombies are back, swarming by the millions and to keep them at bay, you’ll need the finest strategy you can plan.
If you’ve not yet heard of it, They Are Billions is a steampunk strategy game set on a post-apocalyptic planet, in which building defensive colonies to survive against the billions of charging undead is just another part of everyday life. The goal, like most zombie themed titles, is survival. This isn’t easy though and here survival will mean keeping out the intense and often overwhelming hordes of zombies.
Before you can get into the thick of it though, you must first set up your game via a selection of options that each combine to create a Score Factor – an overall multiplier based on the difficulty your chosen settings have created if you like.
The options that play the pivotal roles in each new game revolve around Map Type, Game Duration and Infected Population. Map Type is the general environment your randomised map will be placed in. There are four different locations for this, however only The Dark Moorland is available to boot, with other options including The Peaceful Lowlands, The Frozen Highlands and The Desolate Wasteland unlocked later on. Game Duration meanwhile essentially sets the difficulty by allowing players to choose the required number of days you must stay alive. To win any given game, players must create a colony from the available resources, and survive the chosen length of time; 150 days is deemed an Easy difficulty option due to a longer time to establish defences before the hordes of zombies arrive. A mere 80 days is seen as Brutal, with both Accessible and Challenging options also available. Infected Population is another quite simplistic factor which simply determines the number of undead you’ll face during your effort to survive; six options range from the easiest option of ‘Just a few Infected’ through to ‘Max Population’.
When you get into the game, you’ll start with just five units – four rangers and a soldier – and by expansion and management of resources including food, wood, stone, iron, gold, and any manpower that can be spared as you grow your community, must build a solid defence.
The best way to do this is by erecting as many walls as possible between your settlement and the encroaching zombies, all whilst making the most of any available technologies such as flamethrower units, archers, soldiers, guard towers and so on. Basically, you want to ensure that anything outside doesn’t get inside. Should you fail and a wall comes tumbling down and a building is destroyed, you’ll find one of your faithful survivors changing allegiances and get infected by the horrible disease, allowing them to potentially take down your entire community if you don’t act fast.
Gameplay wise and The Are Billions is played from an angled, top-down perspective, which is the typical choice for most strategy titles, especially those born on PC, and so you can always be sure to see where the action is without any real effort. When each and every one of these actions comes down to finding the correct option within the menus, and selecting it with a cursor, you’d hope the transition to controller would be made as smooth as possible, however sadly that’s not the case here. Yes, it’s easy enough early on, however when the hordes really start building, it quickly shows that the cursor isn’t quite as smooth as it probably should be. You can always turn down the sensitivity, but by that point, you’ll find it difficult to select the exact thing you want first time due to the largely populated settlement you’ll have created within little to no time at all. That said, it’s good to see Mouse and Keyboard support in place – but I’m not sure how many Xbox One gamers would actually use that method.
To get used to it all, playing on easy is certainly the best way to go. There is nothing in the way of a tutorial to ease players into things here though and in fact, in terms of actual playable modes, the Xbox version of They Are Billions brings just two options to the table – Survival Game and Challenge of the Week. Disappointingly the lengthy 60-hour campaign available in the PC version hasn’t been included so gameplay is very much focussed around the repetitive nature of picking a difficulty and seeing if you can hold out for a win.
Within each game, the map is randomly set, meaning you’ll never be forced into playing the same maps over and over – at least not exactly the same maps – and with certain environmental advantages to be had such as lakes and cliffs, there is at least something new each time to break up the monotony. But even with the slight changes in locale, doing the same thing over and over is always going to get tiresome, and never has that been more true than here with They Are Billions. For example, the start of every match I played was the same – I built tents which increased my population and the number of workers I could have helping build my community, and they would then get to work as soon as I had constructed a place to produce food and a place to sort basic materials. There are only six options available to construct between them all, with Hunter’s Huts, Fisherman’s Cottages and Farms all producing food, and, Quarries, Sawmills and the Foundry constructing materials. As you build your way towards these, there is only really one thing to worry about, and that is the management of building and growing, all to ensure you have enough workers, whilst keeping your defences topped up. Do this on a consistent basis and you’re pretty much pinned on for success.
Of course you can always ramp up the difficulty which sees things become even harder thanks to a combination of a larger number of zombies and the awkward controls, but the general idea is still the same. For many, that will quickly prove to be something that isn’t worthy of numerous hours of rinse and repeat.
But while the gameplay isn’t the best, it has to be said the visual appeal is there. With the steampunk/near Victorian era feel to things, They Are Billions certainly looks rather impressive, and even though the zombies could have done with a little more fear factor, the level of detail is certainly rather nice to look at. There is also a rather classy retro feel to it all.
Overall and whilst the zombie/strategy market may be relatively quiet compared to every other zombie infested genre, They Are Billions on Xbox One doesn’t quite provide what was hoped for. The visuals may be nice but with such little content to speak of, and such a repetitive nature to the gameplay, there isn’t enough to really warrant you drop everything to get hands on.