Review: The Tomorrow Children (PS4)
Before we begin, a quick disclaimer. The Tomorrow Children is still in early access and might be subject to major changes in coming months. This review contains the impressions of the game as of the 6th September to 15th of September.
The Tomorrow Children is one of those games that confuddle you the first time you witness it. It’s bizarre, it looks strange and it has a veneer of mystery surrounding it because of its sheer outlandishness. You might be excused to have the same thought I had, which was: “What is this game actually about? What do I do?” I can confidently tell you that I’ve had that thought continuously even as I’ve been a few hours deep into the game.
We built this city
To put this game as simply as humanly possible, it’s a city builder and crafting game. It’s certainly not like the traditional horde of games that fall into either of those categories and that’s because of how strange its overall theme is. Essentially you are a child trapped in a Void and it’s your job to mine materials for the glory of the Motherland. The game has a distinct Communist vibe to it with traditional Soviet Union-esque propaganda, social structures and the classic old Russian aesthetic. Your character looks like a matryoshka doll and the villagers you recruit also come in the form of matryoshka dolls before they hatch into citizens.
After a brief tutorial that teaches you how to mine into rock and collect materials, you take a subway to a town and then you’re entirely left to your own devices from that point forward. It is pretty jarring at first to be plunged into this unknown world, still confused from the strange tutorial you just experienced and the game refuses to hold your hand from that point forward as well. Once you’re in a town, it is your job to collect materials for it, build structures, defend it from monsters and help keep it maintained. You aren’t alone in this task as other players are also active in the town, doing the same thing you are doing.
In order to collect materials, you need to go to places called “islands” that pop up from the Void you’re in. You get there by taking a bus that can be found within the town that will constantly go around the Void. You cannot venture too far on foot from the town or the Void will slowly take you by dragging you through what feels like quicksand. These islands are where things get interesting.
An island in the sky (Void)
Once an island pops up from the Ether and you reach it, you can go explore it to mine materials and find stuff to improve your town. These islands are just as outlandish as everything else in the game with places that look like sushi, a giant head surrounded by dropping bombs, a bunch of spheres just hanging around and so on. Each of these islands contain material caches that you can mine and harder to reach places have matryoshka dolls that you use to gain more citizens for your town. You mine using a pickaxe (big surprise) which transforms and breaks the environment. You can also use a shovel to create stairs within the landmass. You might find caves, you might find massive material deposits or some equipment. Here is where the game can be its most fun. Exploring these large strange places looking for rare materials and hidden places.
However, the pool of islands that were available was extremely limited. Throughout my long playtime, I’ve only seen maybe six different ones and each time I happen to stumble on one I explored before, there was no sense of exploration or excitement anymore because I knew where everything was already. Other players may have already ravaged the area before you arrived there so your long trip to the island was basically rendered pointless.
Upgrading the Mother Land
Possibly the principle goal of The Tomorrow Children is to expand and upgrade your town. You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to which town you want to call your own since there are thousands to choose from. The game generates towns and players populate it, crafting it however they like. You can set up a residence inside a town and then be an official “citizen” if you like the town enough.
In order to upgrade the town, you need those materials that you gather from the islands. They are placed in the town’s stockpile by players and then used to craft buildings and utility stations. The crafting process is unbelievably strange. In order to craft something, you need to solve a timed sliding number puzzle. I suck at these and every time I wanted to craft something, I just used the premium currency to surpass the whole process. It’s an incredibly strange choice to do it like this because it isn’t fun or interesting, but just infuriating and time-consuming. Once you’re done crafting a building or utility structure, you can place it in any part of your town, expanding it more and more.
Things you can craft include domiciles for citizens, power stations, turrets, pieces of propaganda that influence your citizens, various miscellaneous things to bring some beauty to your town and so on.
The Tomorrow Children is an absolute grindfest. There’s no simpler way to put it. You go out to islands to mine stuff, you bring it back to your town, you maybe craft something, you go to a government building to get ration stamps based on your performance that act as a currency to buy more tools to do even more mining and that is essentially the central gameplay loop. After just a few hours, you will feel the monotony creep in and since islands have very little variation, most of the charm and excitement of the game also disappears.
One of the more exciting features are the monsters that roam the Void and attempt to destroy your town. These monsters range from huge Godzilla-looking things to creepy-looking flying stingrays. If a monster starts attacking your town, you need to dispose of it by manning turrets and engaging in combat. But even this combat is a war of attrition. The monsters take forever to actually kill and you will just end up spamming the fire button until it finally falls.
The gameplay and longevity of The Tomorrow Children leaves much to be desired, but it can’t be denied that the game is gorgeous. The distinct Russian aesthetic is enamouring and the lighting is sometimes awe-inspiring to witness in motion. The islands have a great sense of scale and wonder to some of them and the monsters have extremely interesting designs. The character models have this creepily adorable look to them that set it well apart from traditional character designs. It’s a unique-looking title at the very least and it’s sometimes a joy to be a part of this mysterious world. It’s a shame that the pretty frame does not have the best-looking painting within it, however. Unique visuals cannot save this game from being a snoozefest for the majority of your playtime.
The Tomorrow Children is a strange game to evaluate. It is a unique experience to have with its odd sensibilities, confusing tone and mysterious world, but actually playing the game isn’t enjoyable. You will have brief moments of discovery and wonder during your first hours, but after that it devolves into a traditional crafting and survival game which is a genre that is already overpopulated to the brim. It’s worth a brief look-see when it ultimately goes free-to-play, but don’t expect to be playing for hundreds of hours. It might be a good time if you have a bunch of friends that you can share the monotony with and build your own town, but aside from that, The Tomorrow Children won’t have a lot of staying power.