Video Game designers never cease to amaze me with their ability to create games that seem so far out of left field, that I would swear that their initial brain storming sessions must have been fuelled by an array of illicit substances. Suffice to say, The Tomorrow Children’s take on a post-apocalyptic Soviet Russia is both brilliantly weird and unfortunately, painfully dull all at the same time.
Due to a Soviet science experiment going badly wrong in the late 1960s, the world as we know it has been destroyed. It has been melted down into the ‘Void’, an open expanse of nothingness. Your job is to be the cog in a co-operative machine and rebuild the towns of the Soviet Union. The set-up is that you are actually a cloned projection whos soul purpose is to toil away with fellow clone comrades, to build towns and find citizens trapped inside Matryoshka Dolls. As I alluded to before, some game designer was listening to ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’, while creating this wild game premise.
The overall goal is rebuild a town and collect enough dolls that you reach the population cap, so you can move onto the next town. To rebuild each town resources have to be gathered from random, almost dream like islands that pop up nearby in the ‘Void’. The resources need to be dug up, carried a painful three bits at a time, and placed on an automated bus which transports you to and from the town. With the collected resources of wood, coal, crystal and metal, buildings can be constructed to house your population.
The ever increasing population will also need power and food, which requires more busy work. As you toil away you are given ‘Ration’ currency, which is used to buy tools and equipment to complete tasks. These tasks hint to the true rumoured intent for this title, which is- it will eventually be Free-To-Play. Busy work that is slow, or tasks that are repetitive are at every turn in The Tomorrow Children. BUT WHAT LUCK! These menial tasks they can be skipped or sped up by spending Freeman Dollars, the currency bought via micro-transaction. (You sense my sarcastic tone I hope)
The Tomorrow Children is an online co-op MMO experience, but not in the traditional sense most gamers would think. You are assigned or choose a town to rebuild. The town is persistent in the online space, so continues to change as long as someone is working there. While you play, other gamers are present, also working towards improving its prosperity. But the other player’s characters flash in and out like ghosts, only giving the faintest impression they are toiling away as with you. It’s hard to discern what each person is working towards, as there is no chat or tracking system. You have a sense of other players around you, however a sense of common purpose and true co-operation is missing. All one can do is work towards the goal on the macro level, collect and build, collect and build.
The problem is, that when sharing the online space with other players you have little control over ‘your’ chosen town. You put in a few hours toil to get your wee town underway. When you turn the game off and then come back the following day, the whole town has completely changed. Or you just receive a message saying- “Your town has been completed, please choose a new town from this list.” So, all that work and the decisions you made early on as to best place to build the town hall, or shops et, means nothing. With all that time invested there is no actual ownership. Any personal touches seem meaningless once you visit a few of the other towns and realise it’s almost impossible to tell each location apart due to the lack of variation in building types. Now, that all said, being that Marxism is clearly at the games core, perhaps that is the whole point? But I would ask, does that add up to fun?
Outside of resource gathering and building is the constant threat of monsters that wonder the void, they are called ‘Izverg’. These are destroyed with turrets or small arms, however a competent shooter this game is not. The damage with standard weapons is so slow that there is no pay-off to even tackle these beasts after the novelty of the first few encounters wears off. The only real point to defeating them is to avoid the painfully dull ‘repair mini-games’ that have to be done to fix any damaged structures. Everything in this games seems to be designed as a task that is not quite fun. If you have better gear and spend the Freeman Dollars you can just get the boring bit done quicker to move onto the next task.
Initially I found the whole premise of The Tomorrow Children absolutely fascinating. The late 1960s Soviet propaganda reels, the weird sci-fi toy box art style and the creepy Rasputin-esk leader with his velvety communist catch phrases, all hinted at a very unique experience. However purposefully or not, Q-games have served up a title that imbues no sense of ownership or achievement and even more strangely, its very own self-imposed boredom.
Let’s face it, I think I would make a rubbish Communist.