They Are Billions Xbox Review: Try not to die. Die a lot
They Are Billions involves building up what you believe to be a settlement that offers your best chance of survival, only to see it crumble before your very eyes.
And while this sounds like it could be a horribly cynical and doomed loop that will leave you demoralised, it actually creates a system where you look to learn from your mistakes and try again.
On the surface, They Are Billions Survival Mode feels very simple and tinged with nostalgia from earlier RTS hits like Command and Conquer.
You start with a Command Centre and have to build up your base and settlement to take on the various challenges found on the map.
This includes orchestrating land grab by tying up the map in your own defences, which will be put to the test throughout your game.
But this is also a game that is less about navigating many levels and more about conquering a straightforward scenario.
Try not to see your whole empire destroyed by an ever-growing threat.
This impending doom is filled by a zombie horde that grows in strength, the longer you manage to hold out.
It starts pretty simply, with only a small group smashing against your walls but before long, this threat grows into something that truly tests your skills.
They Are Billions doesn’t have a ton of features found on the home screen right now on Xbox One, but it does allow you to change the difficulty through various option settings.
Adding more days to your game means you have more time to build a formidable base, with everything you need to win on the random level you’re dropped into.
You can also tune how much wandering undead you will find on the map, which are not tied to the potentially game-ending zombie tide that periodically swarms onto the map.
These come from different directions and at different times, with a klaxon telling you how long you have until they arrive.
But the information you’re provided is vague enough to make it tricky to know precisely where to station your defences.
Other options open up to you when you finally win a game, which is not something that came quickly to me.
You will eventually unlock new maps and different scenarios which will allow you more room to expand but less territorial cover to use to your advantage.
And these can have big implications when it comes to you winning a game on Xbox One and PC.
Being able to build a base surrounded by cliffs, trees and lakes make it possible to construct your defences more densely.
Zombies can’t make it through the forest, giving you a respite closer to the end of a game.
But they also block you in, making it harder to find the room for the various building needed to win your victory.
This can leave you squeezing into different spaces, leaving you to make uncomfortable decisions which you won’t know were wrong or right until it comes to test them.
That’s part of the beauty of They Are Billions; it creates a loop of failure that somehow feels rewarding.
I built a base once that held up deep into the closing stages but just so happened to have one weak spot.
It was an overlooked two-block slither of wall, surrounded by forest, complete with spiked defences and a tower to keep an eye on things.
It never got tested properly until a whole horde invaded from a certain angle, and I found I had planned poorly.
None of my other bristling defences could do much to help me as the undead smashed through and toppled my Command Centre.
But losing in this way different feel like a terrible experience, but more that I had learnt another basic premise of keeping my settlement safe for a little longer.
They Are Billions also has a great way of opening up the game that many RTS players will remember.
You start with the basic resources and workers, which allow you to put up wooden walls and towers.
These are followed by growing levels of sophisticated buildings, which unlock new option that prove vital to you winning.
This network of resources is coupled with how many people you can bring to your settlement, which means having enough food and power.
It all becomes a tense balancing act as you shuffle your workers from different projects, while also keeping an eye on your growing enemies.
There was one game where I had built up an impressive horde of workers with the help of the Inn that ended with me converting nearly all of them into soldiers.
A surplus of Iron and some lousy planning decisions led me down a route of building my own horde, none of which had anything past the Sniper in terms of weaponry.
They Are Billions gives you a few different routes to explore when trying to survive the Undead, many of which can be shaped by your starting position.
Overextending yourself to build a new oil platform could prove a fatal mistake, or it could be the thing that unlocks the more powerful soldiers needed to keep your walls standing.
And this can be vital, as it only takes one enemy to smash through a dwelling to then set off a terrible snowballing effect.
Breaking through your base will help swell the ranks of the infected, sometimes surprising you into an early defeat.
There are a lot of decisions to be made, and you only have one chance at getting it right.
Unlike other games in the same genre, you can’t save your base and then revert back to it when you find yourself in a sticky situation.
The game autosaves throughout and even wipes it when you have been defeated, making it impossible to turn back the clock.
This style of gameplay isn’t really an option you can turn off, and it also may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
But it does feed into the replayability of the core gameplay, making it essential to help you properly learn from your mistakes.
One of the things that kept me going is that I never felt cheated by the AI or the situation.
There may have been times where I got a crummy starting position, but there was usually enough time to change my fate.
And that’s why They Are Billions was an enjoyable game that I could play over and over, without feeling frustrated.
When it comes to other areas of the Xbox One, there might be things that fans won’t enjoy so much.
The gamepad version is pretty easy to use but can sometimes reduce you to trying to spot where the icon is.
This can be a bit frustrating when you’re in a hurry, but luckily, it’s also pretty easy to pause time and get yourself back on track.
Overall, the crawl speed and lack of clear command options can slow down your game in the wrong way.
Audio-wise, They Are Billions does the job but probably won’t leave you particularly creeped out.
And there is the question of the game being released without the campaign mode found on PC.
This isn’t currently available on the console version, but the good news is that it will be added at a later date.
They are Billions has a Survival Mode that will put you through your paces and force you to learn from your many, many mistakes.
Combining a savage game loop with situations that can be overcome with proper planning and resource management, makes for a winning formula.
They are Billions might not appeal to everyone, especially with its clunky control system and current lack of campaign mode.
But the way in which core gameplay keeps you coming back for more punishment puts They are Billions the same league as other brutal titles that have proven fantastically popular with hardcore gamers.
Addictive yet purposeful, They Are Billions is an ultimately rewarding experience that players will want to repeat, even after countless failures.
SCORE ON XBOX ONE – 3.5/5 – May change with the release of Campaign Mode.
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