'They Are Billions' for PC is a deep strategy game that finally makes you fear zombies

They Are Billions is aptly named as they really are in the billions, and it's on you to survive. In a game about building up a steampunk settlement and fending off hordes of undead, I've failed more times than I can remember, and I'm okay with it. This is a title that's currently in Early Access and as such should be taken as a work in progress. Things may change and any faults I highlight here may be addressed in future versions.

In its current state, They Are Billions is worth checking out for zombie fans.

Expand, defend, survive

If Westwood lost the plot back in the day and brought zombies to Command & Conquer, we would have enjoyed They Are Billions before EA digested the studio. Numantian Games has taken what really shouldn't work well together and mashed up a number of genres to create something rather special. I'm talking base building, resource management, exploration and adventure, strategy, and survival — the latter is incredibly hard, even on lower difficulties.

Firing up the game is an interesting initial experience. There's no tutorial aside from a few resources to get you accustomed to what you should do, but unfortunately, in the first playthrough, it's not what you will do. I found this rather exhilarating since you're thrust into the wilderness with but a handful of survivors with no true leader. You're fending for yourself alongside citizens of your doomed colony.

Steampunk meets strategy, survival, and zombies.

The end goal is to survive against the clock, which can be configured as part of the difficulty. The recommended setting for newbies is 120 days, which is what you'll need to last for. But don't allow turning things down lure you into a false sense of security. You will still get destroyed. Time and time again. Your task is but to turn your initial starting camp, consisting of an HQ and a few soldiers, into a heavily fortified base of operations. It's easier said than done, for sure.

Depending on the configuration of map settings, resources may be scarce — comprising of wood, stone, iron, food, and oil. Expansion may also be limited by terrain, which forces you to think outside the box. And careful consideration must take place when looking to branch out the colony to cover that forest you desperately require for a few homes. It's far too easy to get carried away and go big too quickly without the necessary defense force to back it up.

They Are Billions forces you to work fast and slow simultaneously, and it's a thrill. Do you focus on the clock or on ensuring immediate survival?

It's a tough world

Zombies are located in packs across the map and slowly move towards your location. There are also hordes that are set to storm across and bash down the gates at certain points in time, and are spread out further in longer games — hence making 120 and 150 days much easier to survive than 100 and below. These hordes are something out of the movie World War Z. Your screen literally fills up with undead monsters.

One has to take advantage of all tools available at their disposal. One incorrect choice could mean the difference of scraping by and getting wiped out. And wiped out I got, numerous times. I've lost count the number of colonists I've allowed to be cut down and turned into yet more zombies. But I couldn't simply stop and turn off the PC, I wanted more. And that's a testament to the game's longevity.

It's easy to lose control of a seemingly mild zombie outbreak.

There are strategies that work better than others, and I'm certain those who crunch the numbers can maximize efficiency. You cannot place resource buildings close to one another — preventing you from stacking numerous fishing huts on the same pond. That said, there's sometimes not enough time between attacks to both rebuild and waste valuable moments in placing that next building just right, according to some form of plan.

And while the undead may not be smart — they'll not win any pub quizzes — it only takes one crack in the defense for them to turn from a nuisance into a critical problem. I recall sending out a squad of around 10 veteran soldiers to clear out a location for expansion and retrieve some resources found on the ground. An easy time indeed. While putting up walls, towers, and a few resource buildings, I also saw an infected house on the map and wanted to take it out. After a handful of shots hit the building, I immediately regretted that decision.

Also, I learned quickly not to place tesla towers anywhere without thought. If they fall, the surrounding buildings lose power. And I don't have to explain how that's bad. Losing doesn't necessarily beat you down until you get fairly far with a few hours invested in a colony, only to watch your precious survivors turn undead and infest everything else within the walls. Fending off attacks and watching hordes of undead get zapped by towers is rewarding, allowing you to forget about previous failings quickly.

They Are (quite literally) Billions

The game itself looks pleasing enough for a zombie survival game. Initially, The Are Billions reminded me of Factorio, which also headed down the steampunk-esque design route. Even in Early Access, I encountered zero issues regarding performance, enjoying a stable frame rate and everything worked as expected. What we have thus far is fairly polished, leaving me excited to play more once additional content is eventually added.

For now, only the single survive mode is present, though a full campaign is in the works. Multiple map types are available, though you will need to unlock them by actually surviving, which allows for some degree of progress. Going at it, again and again, may tire you out eventually, and unlike other games, you'll not be rewarded with anything for getting everyone killed. And you're going to lose a fair few times.

Still, I find myself returning to the field with a new plan in mind, and I'll keep going until I win again. Just another fifty or so losses to endure beforehand. They Are Billions is a fantastic mashup of various genres, mixing up a number of game mechanics and it has a little something for everyone. Even in its Early Access state, it's well worth the price.

They Are Billions is available on Steam in Early Access right now for $24.99.

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Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.