Real-time strategy (RTS) games have not always fared well when ported to console. In spite of this, I was very excited when I heard They Are Billions would be coming to PS4 and Xbox One. They Are Billions has cultivated a fairly impressive fan base over on PC, and it is not hard to see why. The steampunk real-time strategy game is a standout in its genre.
The basic premise of They Are Billions is to save your civilisation from ever more deadly hordes of zombies. The caveat to what elevates They Are Billions above other games with similar premises is its execution. They Are Billions nails everything it sets out to do, albeit without actually putting billions of zombies on the screen, but we can let them off for that one.
Disclaimer: They Are Billions is insanely addictive. The mechanics of expanding and improving your territory whilst fighting off evermore challenging threats is more enticing than you will realise. Hours easily slipped by without me even realising it. The strategy has deep layers beyond just building and fighting off hordes. You must carefully consider how many farms you want, for example. It looks all good having all those resources, but if you don’t build the appropriate defence systems to protect what you have built, then you can kiss it goodbye.
And kiss it goodbye you will. You will lose resources. You will lose camps, soldiers and defensive systems. They Are Billions will induce real sweat, but it is all worth it. That tense atmosphere is gut-wrenching and intoxicating all at the same time. You will look forward to these deadly encounters as they are what really test your grit. Be prepared to lose some battles to win the war. Ultimately, your goal is survival by any means. Even in chess you must sometimes sacrifice your queen to win the greater battle.
Every move you make needs to be backed up by careful consideration. There is little room for taking your eye off the ball even for a moment. A few zombies creeping around your perimeter will soon transition into a full-on horde attack that will test the limits of your strategy. These vicissitudes in circumstances mean you must always be prepared; carefully positioning your builds and your soldier units will be of paramount importance.
If you fail to make the correct preparations, you will lose it all. They Are Billions uses a system whereby the map is randomly generated. This serves to only heighten the tension as you know any encounter could be your last. Concentration is a must. Further, this also serves to add a great level of replayability. The fact that each map is randomly generated helps make things feel fresh when you start over, thus increasing the replay value you get from They Are Billions.
Aesthetically, the game is striking with its unique art style. The grungy steampunk vibe really brings the game to life and adds realism to the environment. The buildings are appropriately designed, and everything looks how it should be. This serves to enhance your experience with greater immersion. The distinct colours and style really pops, and there’s a surprising amount of colour in what you would think would be a dreary environment.
Performance-wise, the game runs well considering it was originally made for another platform. The translation onto consoles in a visual/performance aspect is fairly well done with just a few minor issues. Later in the game, you might experience some hiccups like I did on the base PS4 hardware where fps can take a hit. Moreover, you may need to sit a little closer to your TV screen in order to make everything out. This is a game where you cannot afford to be even slightly impaired.
The make or break for a game like this is how well it can be translated to console to be accessible without the need for keyboard and mouse. Naturally, the best way to play this game is with a mouse and keyboard, but with a controller it was…playable. Now, I do not want to sound harsh because there is no magic solution. The nuances that a mouse allows for is not possible with the controller. The issue mainly is with how high-stakes the game is, and you might find yourself getting frustrated at your input method when you are in those tense battles.
In an attempt to remedy this, the game does allow one to pause the action and make commands. This is a useful feature as the time-sensitive nature of the game means a controller cannot always keep up. On the downside, this feels like it detracts from the intention of a real-time strategy game. After all, pausing the game to make moves is not real-time. Ultimately, there is not a lot more the porters could have done. Translating an RTS from PC to console is historically difficult and can only really feel natural when the game is built-up with a controller in mind.
All in all, we should be glad that They Are Billions has made its way to PS4 and Xbox One. It is a real gem over on PC, and this gives console gamers the chance to experience one of the best RTS games in recent memory. They Are Billions exudes tension, and it will make you sweat. Plan carefully and make appropriate allocations of resources…even then you will probably die. You are facing thousands of zombies, after all. This is a unique experience, and if you can look past the mild frustrations of the controller, then you will not regret your venture into what They Are Billions has to offer.
Developer: Numantian Games
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 1st July 2019