Tomorrow’s children, yesterday’s news!
Developer: Q-Games, SIE Japan Studio
Released: September 8, 2016
Free-to-play, publisher provided Founder’s Pack + 2,000 Freeman Dollars
The market is flooded by games in which you gather resources and craft things, developers having jumped on the Minecraft bandwagon so many years after Minecraft actually started it.
As games become saturated with such offerings, developers are going to have to start learning that simply collecting and building crap for no other reason than to collect and build more crap isn’t enough to stand out.
This is sadly not a lesson learned by The Tomorrow Children, a potentially endearing but ultimately vapid free-to-play game that, despite the cleverness of its core premise, manages to be one of the most pointless gathering games out there – barring the thousands of similar games currently drenching Steam’s Early Access service.
Essentially No Man’s Sky on a micro scale, The Tomorrow Children is about visiting isolated pockets of procedurally generated land in a vast empty nothingness. On these little islands, players use pickaxes, shovels, and chainsaws to carve into the landmasses and gather various materials such as wood or metal.
As with similar games, inventory space is pathetically limited, designed to force frequent backtracking and generally wring as much playtime from a repetitive process as possible. And of course, there’s no real endgame for all this – you gather resources so that you earn upgrades to be better at gathering resources.
The Tomorrow Children strives to differentiate itself by imposing a community aspect on the otherwise trite structure. Players are sent to various “towns” that inhabit an empty white space known as The Void, and are expected to work for the good of the people as opposed to simply oneself.
Unsubtly parodying communist stereotypes, towns are littered with propaganda compelling players to work hard and contribute to society. As one of many identical, doll-like girls, the player’s main job is to farm for materials and deposit them in their town’s various stores. The more players contribute, the more the town grows.
Resources can be used to build shops, apartments, power stations, and defenses, with any player free to create and place objects wherever they want.
A cute idea in theory, the natural and expected result is a mess – I’ve not once seen a town that feels cohesive or makes sense, with buildings placed randomly and important areas difficult to find.
Considering the entire game world is an empty white space – like an unfurnished LittleBigPlanet level – it’s not as if these towns could ever feel like more than random collections of arbitrary bollocks, but that problem is compounded by every town suffering from “design by committee” effect.
Straying too far from town is deadly, as the Void becomes lethal when there’s no land nearby. In order to visit the islands – which manifest and disappear after set periods of time – players will need to take the bus.
The bus constantly travels between town and any spawned islands, also taking resources that have been left at the bus stop’s loading bay. The bus is slow moving, however, which leads to a lot of waiting around – too long a wait to not be annoying, but too short a wait to do anything meaningful without missing the ride.
If the island’s close enough and players have the right tools, they can build their own bridges to avoid waiting for the bus, but such solutions are often temporary and require the use of finite supplies.
Another important job is the finding and rescuing of dolls. Islands have lifeless dolls hidden within their randomized lands, which must be brought back to town and turned into an NPC. Dolls are fragile, however – dying while carrying one will shatter it, and players can only carry one at a time (two if they don’t use their hands for anything else).
A town’s overall objective is to get enough dolls rescued to max out its population. Once this is done, there’s a celebration, the town is considered finished, and players move on to another town to repeat the process until they die in real life or, more realistically, get bored.
Wandering the void are oversized monsters resembling kaiju and giant spiders. Should these creatures get to a town, they’ll wreak havoc and start destroying structures. Fortifications, gun turrets, and traps can be constructed to hold them off, and it’s not uncommon to see a slew of turrets manned by other players hurling volleys at passing monsters.
Any monster killed will effectively become an island in its own right, its body crystallizing and becoming ripe for mining.
Whether depositing resources or using weapons such as shotguns to blast the occasional small monster, every in-game action carried a Toil value. Toil is used to represent one’s progress and acts as XP. Leveling up increases such stats as speed, health, and combat effectiveness.
In addition, each town has a ministry of labor which awards coupons in exchange for work done. The more you work, the more coupons you get at the ministry – coupons serve as the game’s basic currency, used to purchase a variety of tool replacements and other gear.
Despite the online aspects and interesting themes, The Tomorrow Children is unbearably dull unless you really love gathering shit for no other reason than to gather shit.
Numbingly repetitive, the endless back-and-forth of gathering and depositing is an absolute drain on one’s patience, a problem only compacted by the needless waiting around. The Tomorrow Children is an unapologetic timewaster, intent on making an already boring game all the more excruciating.
Bus travel isn’t the only example of things taking far too long. The simple act of crafting something requires the solving of utterly banal panel-moving puzzles, while killing giant monsters requires minutes of pressing a button over and over again to watch projectiles slowly arc toward their targets and do miniscule amounts of damage.
Tools require constant replacement, the limited inventory means tons of return trips, and darkness kills you so light sources need constant switching in and out. Every little thing is a chore, every action is a hassle. In this regard, The Tomorrow Children has done an impeccable job of representing its increasingly stale genre.
Being a free-to-play game, there are naturally ways to create shortcuts.
Better, longer lasting tools, bribes to solve puzzles, extra inventory slots, and more can be purchased using Freeman Dollars. The premium currency is purchased directly via microtransactions, though it can randomly spawn in the world, and allows for the instant delivery of quality items without needing to return to a shop.
With the amount of times I had to call out for replacements without bussing it home, or used some bribes to avoid wasting my time with revivals or horrible puzzles, I can say I’m very glad for the premium currency I was given to review the thing. Without it, the game would have grown even more tiresome at double the speed.
Needless to say, I’ve no intention of actually buying anymore once my supply runs out. Then again, for it to run out I’d have to play it some more, and my intention to do that isn’t particularly strong either.
Even the game’s strongest selling point, its political parody, is undermined by the visual dullness of the world it’s set itself in. Sparse white environments broken up by random colored shapes are in no way appealing, and the chaotic, messy town “design” turns me off completely.
Player characters and NPCs look terrific as creepy wooden people, but their surroundings are so sterile and bereft of inspiration that the effort’s totally wasted.
The anarchic placement of buildings impacts things on a technical level, too. Buses inevitably end up having to pass through solid objects to a farcical degree, since entire buildings always end up in its path. I’ve seen the thing spin 360 degrees as its pathfinding is utterly confused by the objects in its way.
At first I figured this would be a more likable game than the aforementioned No Man’s Sky – you can at least see other players in this one. The more I write about it, however, the more disappointed I am by it. It being free-to-play (eventually – right now you can only access it buy purchasing a Founder’s Pack) doesn’t mitigate what a dreary waste of time it is.
The Tomorrow Children is bland, clumsy, and monotonous. A fantastic core idea wasted on yet another cumbersome burden of a game.