Real-time strategy games (RTS) are a rare breed on consoles and it was surprising to hear that They Are Billions would be coming to PS4. This is a game that has launched to critical acclaim on PC; the natural platform for this genre of game. Unless built from the ground up for console, RTS games can often find the transition to the console space tough. Due to the precision required and the complexity of these games, it is incontrovertible that they are best suited to keyboard and mouse. However, if translated well enough, an RTS game can feel right at home on a console.
To begin with, They Are Billions is a standout game in its genre. It is not quite up there with Age of Empires and the kind but rather stands almost on its own and admirably so. They Are Billions is a steampunk strategy game set on a post-apocalyptic planet. Your objective is to build and defend colonies to survive against the billions of the infected that seek to annihilate the few remaining living humans. Now, it is not quite billions but I am confident the numbers reach into the thousands in the more hectic onslaughts.
Moreover, I would be wise to point out that hectic is putting it lightly. Although not quite billions, you can face up to 30,000 infected at a time. Yep, you read that number right. Not 300, not 3000, 30 god-damn 000. You will face this monstrous amount of infected in the campaign mode. Here, you will lead the campaign under the orders of Quintus Crane, ruler of the New Empire, and reconquer the lands devastated by the infected. There are 48 missions with more than 60 hours of gameplay. Through the campaign, you can also uncover the mystery behind the apocalypse… and find out how indeed did the pandemic start?
What They Are Billions absolutely nails is the nail-biting tension as you face a wave of infected. Everything is progressive in this game. You will start off with a small colony and slowly progress it into a thriving community. The caveat here is that the more you build, the more you have to lose. Fail to fight off an infected onslaught and there is no going back. There is no save to revert to. You are dead, and so is your colony. This forces you to focus at all times. Taking your eye off the ball for even a few moments can make the difference is a game like this. They Are Billions demands your full attention and strategic acumen if you are to survive.
Difficulties do scale so there is the opportunity to start on lower difficulties for those who perhaps are not so well versed in RTS games. Do not be fooled however as even on the ‘easier’ difficulties you must still have your wits about you. They Are Billions does not hold your hand very much at all and this can be daunting for newcomers to the genre. You are metaphorically thrown in the deep end and expected to pick things up as you go. You will fail. You will have to re-start colonies from the very first step but each time will bring a worthwhile and satisfying progression in your know-how.
Moving onto how the game plays with a controller now and this matter is somewhat divided. In a way, the porters have done as good a job as can be expected to translate a PC RTS game to console and controller. The game allows for you to enable shortcuts which does make navigation easier but it is still obvious that this game was designed with keyboard and mouse in mind. Thankfully, you are able to pause and make some strategical moves on the pause screen. However, this does take away from the real-time element of the RTS genre this game belongs to but is a necessary sacrifice.
Performance wise things run very smoothly for the most part. Visually, the aesthetic is very true to the steampunk vibe. That being said, the game can struggle slightly when you are facing the larger hoards of infected as FPS can take a bit of a hit at least on base PS4 hardware, on which this game was reviewed. This only presents an issue due to the high-stakes nature of the game and can prove to be a mild frustration in the more hectic battles.
Overall, They Are Billions is a worthy addition to your game library this summer. RTS games on console are a rarity and there is nothing else really like this on console. You may produce buckets of sweat as the tension rises but it is this experience and emotion that will keep you coming back to They Are Billions to start and build new colonies.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*