Since it was first announced at Gamescom 2014, I’ve been very interested to see more of The Tomorrow Children. The brutally beautiful art style appeared fantastical yet dystopian in equal measure, but I found it difficult to imagine what the actual gameplay would entail. After spending some time with the game during the recent public beta, although a lot of details have become clearer, just as many questions have arisen as a result.
The Tomorrow Children takes place in what is known as The Void. The Void is a blanket term for the mysteriously barren landscape that surrounds you. If you venture too far into The Void, your character will be swallowed up by the ground, preventing you from travelling too far and exploring the featureless wastes around you. Within The Void are Islands, which are effectively large areas through which you can tunnel for resources. These resources can then be transported to Towns, where, if you earn enough Toil points through resource collection and general jobs, you can put down some roots and build a house. You can travel to other towns through the Subway system, but if you want to travel to Islands and collect more resources, you’ll probably need to rely on the bus service to ferry you to and fro.
In terms of gameplay, The Tomorrow Children plays very much like any resource-gathering game. Minecraft is the obvious example, as in both games you spend a lot of time carving out tunnels through landscapes and hunting for materials. If you tunnel into a particularly dark area, you’ll need to make sure that you have some sort of light source, as travelling too far into the darkness will make your character phase out of existence for some unknown reason. You can carry a lantern, but holding it will stop you from picking up other objects, so you’ll probably want to find one of the light-emitting plants that can often be found on the Islands, and then move them into strategic positions so that your exit tunnel is clear. This is the bulk of the game, digging and chipping away at Islands until you fill your backpack with resources, and you then need to travel back to town to drop them off.
Unlike Minecraft however, The Tomorrow Children doesn’t offer anywhere near the same amount of customization and imagination. You can’t create yourself a secret, underground lair, carve giant sculptures, or craft components such as doors or windows. Instead, you’ll tunnel through a wall, find a vein of minerals, which you’ll excavate and then take back to town, plopping them in a big pile.
If you’re having difficulty parsing this information, you won’t be alone. Although it does make more sense within the context of the game’s world, The Tomorrow Children contains plenty of new concepts that you’ll need to familiarize yourself with, such as The Void, Islands, Coupons and Toil. Before the beta launched, a post on the PlayStation Blog tried to explain these aspects so that players could hit the ground running, but it’s a tough sell in written form and may seem daunting on paper. The amount of new terminology is going to be a difficult sell when upon the game’s full release. Luckily, the beta contained a fairly decent tutorial, which helped to explain some of these mechanics more thoroughly.
With the mechanics fully explained, the main question that exists is “why?” What benefit is there to toiling away and gathering resources? This is the main question that still remains unanswered. You will earn Coupons for your efforts which can be exchanged for better tools and items, but all in the service of performing the same tasks. You can build a house, but these are pre-designed houses; not the player-constructed fantasy projects that you would get in the likes of Minecraft and Terraria. The full game may have these areas fleshed out, but it wasn’t clear in the beta what the point of it all was.
If anything, the aim of the game seems to be cooperation between you and the online players who have taken residence in the same town. Your resources go into a pile in the centre of town, which everyone can use to build the town bigger. The buildings you can create are pre-designed constructions, so every town will have a town hall, bus stop, subway tunnel, a few samey-looking houses and a smattering of monuments, if they last long enough. During my time with the beta, I travelled to several different towns and, despite a few variances with building placements, they all looked the exactly the same. Building an identikit house next to another player is hardly an incentive to keep playing.
The bus service sometimes drops you off in a random location where there is no Island, though. Upon arriving in a flat, featureless landscape, I got off the bus, half-expecting to see a prompt or an Island in the distance. As I disembarked, the bus drove off, leaving me stranded until I sank into The Void. I’m not sure if this was a bug, or something that I as a player missed, but it seemed to epitomise the pointlessness of the game perfectly.
Interestingly, there are several monsters roaming the void that will sometimes attack the town. This will mean that you’ll need to repair any damaged buildings to make them functional again, should they be attacked. Monsters that I came across included giant flying bats, spiders, and Godzilla-like creatures. These monsters will just amble through town and attack buildings for no apparent reason, and you’ll usually see them edging over the horizon with plenty of time before they reach you. There are no win or lose conditions to these encounters, and no particular benefit to defeating the monsters other than defending the town. To aid in the defence, the town can construct sentry guns, but it actually seems quicker and easier to just repair the damage these monsters cause, provided you have the resources to do so. It seems that weapons will be unlockable later in the game, which might make this aspect a little easier to handle.
While the game certainly has appeal through its attractively bleak, Soviet stylings, The Tomorrow Children just doesn’t feel as if it has much purpose. Nearly everything that it does can be done elsewhere, with an infinitely larger amount of customization and player creativity. While the full game may offer much more than what was on display here, The Tomorrow Children will need to do something pretty spectacular to keep its comrades committed to the cause.