The Tomorrow Children – Review
The latest effort from Japan based developer Q Games, The Tomorrow Children is a bewildering mixture of repetitive gameplay loops and early-access micro-transaction shenanigans wrapped in a striking Soviet inspired aesthetic. It also wins the distinction of being the poorest title I have played in 2016.
Allow me to preface the rest of this review with some backstory. Slowly over the past few months, I’ve begun to reflect on and comprehend more deeply some of my personal preferences when gaming. Throughout my 20+ years gaming, as my tastes have continued to refine it seems that I’ve generally gravitated towards titles that offer a middle-ground between mechanics and narrative, often forsaking the former if a game is able to offer a particularly compelling story. However, even the strongest of gameplay loops won’t keep me around if I don’t feel invested in the story, or if it becomes apparent that there is no end in sight. This is what burnt me out on World of Warcraft prior to the launch of the Cataclysm expansion and has more recently burned me out on Destiny – the constant grind for gear, necessary so that I was sufficiently equipped to grind for more gear. It begins to feel like a second job, with weekly raiding and daily quests turning to chores rather than rewarding experiences. The Tomorrow Children, in its current early access state, epitomises that same feeling of a pointless grind.
Set in an alternate future wherein the Soviet Union caused the destruction of the Earth and simultaneous amalgamation of all human consciousness, The Tomorrow Children takes place in The Void, a blisteringly white landscape containing small pockets of resources, large kaiju-like beings called Izbergs and ‘clones’, the player-controlled worker bee characters. Towns in The Tomorrow Children appear to be instanced areas of the world as they don’t connect in any way and are selected from a menu system in the same way a server might be selected for an online FPS. Once inside, players work collaboratively to mine for resources, resurrect matryoshka dolls found in the Void into townspeople and ensure that the town is sufficiently equipped with residences, amenities and defences to handle frequent attacks from Izbergs and support the ever-increasing population. Once the population hits 500, players are summarily booted from the town and must select another town to help rebuild, beginning the cycle once again.
With little to no variation, these steps made up the whole of my experience with The Tomorrow Children and by my third town, boredom began to set in. I suspect the most frustrating element is the pointlessness of it all, a Sisyphean loop whereby the joy of repopulating a town only to instantly restart the process is akin to the mythological kings’ boulder almost resting atop the hill before making its inevitable descent back to the bottom. The lack of individual achievement also removes a sense of personal accomplishment which, while thematically appropriate, doesn’t make for a compelling experience. Whether I worked hard to gather resources and matroyshkas, dutifully crafted buildings and defended them against attack from Izbergs or simply goofed around, the end result would always be the same. To make matters worse, unless players plan to spend significantly long stretches of time in a town, it will most likely be completed by others while you aren’t there. There were a few occasions that after logging in, I was congratulated on the completion of a town I had been in the evening prior and then shuffled back to the main menu to begin again. Further straining the supposed collaborative nature of the game is the use of asynchronous multiplayer, meaning that other players phase in and out of the world rather than being a constant fixture. To make matters worse, the only form of in-game communication is a selection of emotes, many of which must be purchased using real-world currency through micro-transactions.
The function of micro-transactions in The Tomorrow Children is ostensibly to increase the level of convenience for a player. By purchasing ‘Freeman Dollars’, players can shop the in-game black market filled with ‘foreign goods’ like tools that will last longer and operate many times faster than those bought with ‘Toil’, the regular in-game currency. Want to expand slots in the absurdly limited inventory? That’s going to cost some Freeman Dollars. Sick of playing the tile matching mini-game when crafting? Just front 20 Freeman Dollars and you can skip right to the fun part. This is an economic mindset more familiar on mobile rather than console and the implementation here feels rather cynical, as if Q Games knows perfectly well how banal much of what they’ve created is by offering players the chance to bypass it.
While I have been overwhelmingly down on the title, I do have to give kudos to Q-Games for their marvellous visual work on the title, both technically and aesthetically. The handcrafted look of the character models and appropriation of Soviet colouring and imagery are easily some of the strongest aspects on offer. However, while the creativity in the art direction and implementation is apparent, the Soviet and socialist themes which bleed into the gameplay feel like a crutch, something that the developers can point to as a source of depth when the spotlight is placed upon their very shallow and unrewarding mechanics which involve simple, repetitive tasks and systems which have no tangible effect on moment-to-moment play. It makes sense that eventually The Tomorrow Children will go Free-to-play after its current period of early access as it has the distinction of being a title so repetitive and pointless in its offerings that I have to scoff at the idea of people actually paying money to play it.