It gets me giddy with excitement when developers like Q-Games steps outside the norm to try something original. The Tomorrow Children is so far from their usual fan-fare of PixelJunk titles you would think they have a pretty damn good reason to try and bring something original to their line-up. On the concept itself, they have achieved that goal. In execution however, not so much.
The plot, which is thrown at you too quickly, is as follows: when an ambitious experiment designed to unite the minds of all humanity goes horribly wrong, almost all life on Earth disappears instantly, melting down into the planet to form “the Void”. Years later, a handful of survivors begin to rebuild civilisation, but their endeavours are hampered by “The Izverg”, giant beasts formed from the residue of negativity and nightmares that now roam the land. Fortunately, engineers discover the ability to develop “projection clones”: new life forms capable of venturing deep into the Void in search of preserved human DNA.
It is with these clones that mankind begins the long journey back to its former glory. This is all well and good but it just so happens the guy giving you the orders is some creepy bastard behind a mask that looks like he arrived off the set of a Saw film, leaving you without a doubt that he can’t be trusted. Adding to the scare-fest introduction, your character also has a wooden doll like appearance and the towns and world you inhabit is very reminiscent of a 1950’s toy box mixed with the technology of today.
If all that sounds profoundly convoluted, for the content on offer here, it is. You are a projection clone created to explore this new world named “The Void”. The gameplay consists of mining islands that appear outside your town centre, bringing resources back and building a bigger population. The game runs in a third-person perspective and to begin with, you are given a pickaxe, shown the basics of mining and how to stay out of the dark. You have what they call Phase cohesion energy which, if depleted you die, leaving all your possessions and respawning back at your home hub. Keeping a light source from whatever you can scavenge at least gives some layer of strategy into the mining for resources mechanics, however the rest of it is as basic as any simulation management game can be.
After the initial tutorial you are given a Russian passport, letting you know that you are now an official citizen of The Void. What I loved here was the feeling that I’m going to have to work towards my growth in the game. You only start with basic items and your passport only lets you have basic mining equipment at first. Soon after you receive a license to bare firearms, to buy goods and trade. This is all the tools and information you are given and then as quickly as the game started, it almost ended for me.
It seems with many of these early access games at the moment, your expected to forgive the un-polished and un-finished gameplay and lack of any further guide or tutorial system. The game is free to play but I grabbed the founders pack which would normally set you back about $50 AUD. I couldn’t find any real advantage in having it either. I guess if you enjoy the game for what it is and you want to give all your hard earned cash over to the developer, your given that option.
So, we are left in a seemingly empty space, we know how to mine and bring back resources to a spot on the floor. Other than that, I had to go online and find out what the hell I was supposed to be doing, that my main aim of Tomorrow Children, other than maintaining the town you spawn in, is to find Matryoshka dolls. Saving them and adding them into the town’s population. Even this basic mechanic is never really explained and I was left running around wondering where the hell to place them once I had found one. I eventually, quite simply ended up stumbling over trains that I could see coming in and out of the baron town and other random online projections (players) dropping resources off and leaving again to go and mine nearby lands.
There is no real interaction with other players apart from waving at them or congratulating them via an in game menu that would be more welcoming in an old-school yahoo chat room. When you finally start to feeling like you’re getting somewhere and working as some sort of team, the Izverg (monsters) try and attack the village your building and laying it to waist. At the time, I had no weapons or even a tutorial on when and where to get one. This constant grain of learning made me want to put the controller down and find another game. But I kept being pulled back in for that taste of that ‘just one more try’ mentality because it felt like I was missing something. It felt like a shame to just give in.
As it stands, The Tomorrow Children has some great ideas and an even better aesthetic. The gameplay does feel polished but it is incomplete. It will have resource management junkies falling at the feet for it. I wanted to like this and dig hours into it, but I couldn’t, even with the levelling up of your character and the knowledge your mining equipment will get better. Maybe the lack of character and story is its downfall and maybe it is because it is an early access game? But as the recent ‘We Happy Few’ showed us, some games need to be finished before we delve into them and it really is too little too late. This town, this place, these projection clones were empty, I felt like I was watering my dead neighbours plant. In the end, who is even noticing? At this stage of development, I couldn’t recommend it to anyone unless they are completely void of anything else to play.
Highlights: Awesome, creepy aesthetics, smooth controls and mechanics.
Lowlights: World feels void of character and story, no guidance.
Developer: Q-Games, SIE Japan Studios
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: September 6, 2016
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.