When Steam announced another zombie game on their downloadable roster was available for early access there was a faint cheer of excitement from fans. After all, what could a new zombie game give us that Dead Rising and Call of Duty’s Nazi Zombies couldn’t?
But then, the format of steampunk-inspired They Are Billions was announced and gamers from across the gambit of gaming turned their heads. They Are Billions isn’t a standard zombie game. The game – developed by Numantian Games – takes inspiration from real-time strategy and survival games and focuses on outlasting opponents for an allotted time. And yes, the zombies here are literally billions, depending on the game mode. The innovation and simplicity of the game show just how popular the zombie genre can be, and how open to spin-offs the traditional format is too.
A New Breed of Zombie Game
The game is influenced by leading real-time strategy game Age of Empires and StarCraft in the way the gameplay works to run out the clock with such a strong enemy threat. The game is, in some ways, a tower defense game taking elements of supremacy, strategy and survival games (collecting resources, managing resources etc.) with the onslaught of hoards of zombies. The game is essentially a cross between Age of Empires on a higher difficulty setting and Dead Rising – and it is already popular with players and reviewers, according to the 9/10 rating on IGN. The buildings themselves are also secret weapons against you – as those which get infected can rapidly spread the zombie virus and lead to dozens of fast moving corpses, a mile away from the shambling hoards usually peppering zombie games. The zombies in the game give an element of unpredictability. Yes, you can usually spot them heading towards you on the map, but the speed and specifics with which they lay down their assault can change. The trick is to stay vigilant and practice the game in low-difficulty setting until you possess the skills required to survive the undead offensive. As you progress through the game, both defense and attack will become key priorities and juggling them will require the strongest RTS game skill set. Indeed, the game will quickly give new fans the opportunity to flex their RTS muscles, and perhaps help them hone their skills for future titles.
The Influence of Zombie Games
The unusual premise for a zombie game definitely helps They Are Billions stick out from the pack. There have been quite a few “out there” zombie games that didn’t rely on the standard format (or the Dead Rising shopping mall/entertainment complex/any other location premise). For example, Zombies, Run!, available on Google Play and iOS takes the concept of running from zombies and implements it into a workout regime. Runners are able to listen to music, and when they hear a cue are forced to run faster to “escape” the zombies chasing them on a GPS map. Betway’s Lost Vegas slot takes the concept of zombies overrunning Las Vegas and uses it to theme a humorous slot game. The gameplay is reminiscent of traditional online slots, but uses the added angle of zombies to give extra tension to playing, while there are Elvis impersonator zombies, tourist zombies and other typical Vegas tribes.
PopCap Studios’s Plants vs Zombies focuses on growing a garden and flexing those green fingers in an attempt to defend against a set of shambling corpses. This game too takes a comedic look at zombie gameplay and provides a lighter way to game with zombies with tower defense gameplay – only the towers are plants here. Sony Computer Entertainment Japan’s The Last Guy features a top-down perspective and maze style of gameplay as the titular character attempting to lead other survivors to safety; while Sega’s The Typing of the Dead is an educational game where players have to type words as quickly as they can in order to prevent zombies from attacking them, effectively being taught touch typing in the process.
Zombies in Pop Culture
The success of zombie video games comes in part due to the endearing love fans of pop culture have for the reanimated. Almost every year since George Romero gave us the original zombie action of The Night of the Living Dead, we have seen a zombie film in some variation. The next few years are set to give us sequels to Brad Pitt mainstream zombie blockbuster World War Z and the Dead Snow series. While Romero’s series is set to receive three new installments with Road of the Dead, Rise of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead: Bloodline. Zom-com fans have An Accidental Zombie (Named Ted) to look forward to, following on from Zombieland, Warm Bodies, and Life After Beth with a nuanced take on the traditional zombie attack film format. While on television, The Walking Dead continues to live on, with season nine airing in late 2018, and Netflix series Santa Clarita Diet in its second season. The theme of zombies is so timeless mainly due to the various interpretations and the range of artistic licence that filmmakers and storytellers can take from the genre. The fact that zombies don’t exist means the potential is limitless.
They Are Billions has not only revolutionized zombie games and how players connect with the undead, but has also no doubt given inspiration for the future of zombie games. Given that players usually know what to expect, zombie games are less of a risk, so by changing the format, players can experience gameplay they otherwise wouldn’t have done. Moreover, it’s a genuinely difficult game, which we don’t get enough of these days. As gaming technology grows, zombie games are likely to be one of the first to embrace it, given the established fan base. Pop culture shows that while trends come and go (ahem, vampires) there are some fan favorites that remain timeless, ageless, and domineering – just like zombies themselves.
Have you played They are Billions on Steam early access? If so, what do you think of it? Is it as truly groundbreaking as we’re making it out to be?
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