Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
In a world where resource gathering and town building games aren’t exactly a novelty, I think it’s worth pointing out that The Tomorrow Children still feels remarkably unique. I don’t quite love it, but I’ve enjoyed my time spent with it, and look forward to playing more. It manages to nail its Communist Russia aesthetic quite well, doesn’t hold the player’s hand too much, and provides a unique mix of online cooperative play that isn’t like most games. I don’t know that it offers enough to keep players entertained for weeks or months on end, but I’m curious enough to see where The Tomorrow Children plans to go in the future.
Currently, the game has a buy-in price of around $20, which nets you your Bourgeois papers and a few other items. This affects your overall standing as a citizen in this strange little world, essentially giving you a jump on the rest of the populace that comes in when the game goes free-to-play in the coming weeks.
The concept is that you take on the role of a construct developed to explore and support a post-apocalyptic world made up entirely of The Void, a mostly empty setting that’s the result of an experiment gone awry. You’ll be working with other players to build up individual towns and increase the population of NPC’s. To successfully do so, you’ll go out on mini-expeditions to gather resources, and then use those resources to build houses, work benches, stores and other structures. In addition to this, you’ll find Matryoshka dolls, which will add to your overall town population over time.
To “win”, you need to build your population up to a set amount. Once accomplished, you’ll move on to the next town and start the process over. In order to keep players engaged and interested in the process, you’ll gain experience and level up with various actions, allowing you to spend stat points, which in turn will make your character faster, give you more health, allow you to mine for resources quicker, and provide other benefits.
You also earn currency while completing tasks, which in turn allows you to purchase more tools, weapons, and outfits. You can also earn “Freeman Dollars”, a sort of black market currency, which gives access to better tools and items than you’d typically be able to purchase via vendors. Freeman Dollars are also available for real money, but thankfully you can find a handful of dollars here and there if you’re not willing to spend additional money on the game.
So here’s what does and doesn’t work when it comes to The Tomorrow Children. On the plus side, the game has an identity and utilizes it well. The world is sparse, other players sort of just exist with limited interaction, and everyone clearly has a job to do. Everything you do is communal, every structure you build benefits the group, every resource you gather will be used, and anything you drop (willingly or because your bags are full) can be used by someone else. In that regard, the whole communist angle is well-realized.
Also, The Tomorrow Children just looks cool. The game is presented in a way that takes on the appearance of a dimly lit, nearly mono-chromatic TV broadcast. There’s some bright spots of color, generally used to highlight weak-spots on the colossal monsters that roam just outside of town. But outside of that, the world of The Tomorrow Children is a pretty drab-looking place, but that’s entirely on purpose and works to great effect here. Also, the limited music, non-player character interaction, dialogue, and flavor text all combines to again sell the setting of The Tomorrow Children quite well.
The question, however, is whether or not the game is actually fun. And that’s what I struggle with. It didn’t take long for me to get a little bored with the overall game. You’ve got a number of limitations in place starting out, including inventory space, so a good chunk of your first few hours will be spent taking an automated bus/trolley to a mining area, gathering resources, dropping them off, breaking your tools, and then heading back to town to re-supply. Freeman Dollars does make this a little less of an issue, since you can spend money on better tools that last longer (and work faster), and you can access the black market without heading back to town. But for most players that’s also going to mean spending real world money, which isn’t unusual in free-to-play games, but still leaves some folks feeling a little uneasy about the whole deal.
But even spending real-world money to buy in-game currency to make the game play faster doesn’t exactly alleviate the monotony of everything. There’s only so many walls I can break down, chunks of ore I can lug around, and giant monsters I can shoot at with turrets, before I get bored. And once you manage to successfully complete a town, the idea that you get to start the process all-over again isn’t necessarily exciting. The leveling-up mechanic that allows you to improve your character and ideally make the process a little less difficult is slow-moving, enough so that it took hours to grind out a handful of levels, and the stat additions those levels granted didn’t seem to make a noticeable difference.
I definitely think The Tomorrow Children is interesting, if for no other reason than the fact that I can’t quite remember ever having played a communist simulator to this degree, but I don’t think that the actual gameplay mechanics are particularly engaging so far. I still want to spend more time with the game, and see how things turn out once I advance my character a little further and the world populates a bit more with the addition of the free-to-play players entering the game. But is it worth diving in before that happens? I don’t think so.