When it comes to videogame dystopias they tend to fall into two main categories. Dingy and dirty like Fallout and Bioshock, or so obnoxiously clean that you know something is wrong. Much like the Mirror’s Edge series, The Tomorrow Children from Q-Games falls into the latter category.
As far as microtransactions go, these ones are fairly harmless. Freeman dollars can be collected as random drops and all you can really buy at this point is slightly longer lasting gear. By working hard you earn rations coupons which buy all the gear you need for gathering resources. So while buying Freeman dollars does help, it doesn’t create a pay to win atmosphere, especially since this is a completely cooperative game.
The world of The Tomorrow Children looks like someone spilt a big pot of white paint on the ground and everyone just sort of learnt to live with it. In reality, Soviet Russia tried to mind-meld the whole of humanity and failed spectacularly, nearly destroying every living thing and turning mankind into the aforementioned paint spill. I’m not even exaggerating, the endless white Void that you play and build towns on is essentially people.
The Tomorrow Children boasts a unique premise for a resource gathering game, although comparisons to Minecraft are easy to make. The art style is incredibly unique and looks like each character and building is carved from wood with just a hint of Pixar animations. With most of the world appearing as a blinding white nothingness and the only spoken words being in Russian the atmosphere is quickly set. There’s no mistaking the Soviet atmosphere, or feeling that you are in a world that is not quite your own.
You play as a projection clone, a hologram in the image of a young girl created by the few humans still alive. You’re tasked with restoring humanity to its former glory by gathering resources, freeing people and building towns. The aim is to reach a certain population of whatever town you’re in while trying to stay away from harm. This requires a lot of teamwork between players, and players being willinging to divide up tasks and help each other. To that effect, you gain toil, a measurement of how hard you work, for each thing you do. Mining resources is just as valuable as generating power or carrying resources from the bus to storage locations. It’s not possible to run a town on your own. Trust me, I tried.
From the Void come different islands full of resources, which are meant to represent mankind’s dreams and hopes. Apparently mankind dreams of sushi. Along with mankind’s dreams, are mankind’s nightmares in the form of Izverg. These monsters range from towering giants who can walk right through your town to smaller creatures that look rather like mosquitos with gas masks on. The larger Izverg become mineable one they die and they produce the most precious resource of all: Matryoshka dolls.
Matryoshka dolls is the more traditional name for Russian stacking dolls and in The Tomorrow Children they are the souls of humans. Found in small numbers on different islands and inside dead Izverg you need to carefully retrieve these dolls and take them back to your town in order to revive the people within. You can’t just jump off a ledge while carrying a doll though, as they can break with fall damage. They are essential parts of town building and without rescuing the dolls you will never reach your population limit.
The aim of reaching your town’s population goal is bitter sweet. If you are in the top 100 players to contribute to the town you will be rewarded. Once a town has reached its population goal there isn’t much left to do, and if you weren’t one of those top 100 contributing players then you may end up feeling a bit jilted. Yes you managed to achieve your goal, but what do you get from it? It does fit the story of course, as a projection clone why would you hang around a town that doesn’t need you where there’s work to be done?
Despite the amazing atmosphere you find yourself in, starting The Tomorrow Children is not easy. There is a brief tutorial that teaches you how to mine, and answer radio calls, but once you are let into your first town something as simple as finding the ministry of labour can be difficult. Persevering can easily teach you the basics, but i found myself looking up some of the more fiddly aspects of the game. It’s never really explained how you upgrade the town hall or how to get different licenses needed to own and use technology like vehicles.
This isn’t made any easier by the ghost multiplayer. Well, officially they call it synchronous and asynchronous playing. That just means that while it’s always online, you can completely ignore everyone around you if you want to. That’s a big problem, but also an attractive feature. You only appear to other players (and they to you) when you are doing something. Mining, lining up, or carrying items all cause you to appear in a puff of red smoke. While it allows you to just get on with work by yourself, it defeats the purpose of working together. Also the definition of frustration has updated to include “that feeling when you try to pick up a resource only to have another player poof in and take it before you.”
This form of multiplayer does have one other downside. If you want to play with a friend and show them the ropes, good luck. You’ll have to try and guide them around using only landmarks, as most of the time they won’t be able to see you. This isn’t made any easier with the initially difficulty of getting into the game. I’ve already had one friend try it and not really like it. I on the other hand, have spent many hours being sucked into this bleak world. Once you start it’s hard to put the controller down.
It is really easy to find friends in towns however. The town select offers many different filters, including towns friends are in, previous town, newest towns and even towns that have been deserted (just in case you don’t believe me and want to try running a town on your own).
Despite the amazing feeling of stepping into the world of The Tomorrow Children, there is a significant blockade when it comes to first starting up the game. There needs to be just a little more explanation about how to play, even if that came in the form of a hints sections in the options menu. Without that The Tomorrow Children will turn away a lot of players and make the game unplayable for those not willing to sit down for a few hours and fail until they find their feet. Once you do get going, be prepared to spend a fair amount of time in an amazing looking world.