Did you know there’s a limited-run comic book series that explores what would happen if Superman had crashed in Russia instead of rural Kansas? It’s called Red Son, and it’s an interesting look at a communist version of The Man of Steel.
In a similar vein, what if Minecraft and Animal Crossing had been a little more influenced by communism? And what if they had art direction influenced by Tim Burton? You’d probably have something like The Tomorrow Children.
The Tomorrow Children was first announced in 2014 and the ensuing years haven’t made it any less odd. Although it wears its gameplay influences on its sleeve, it’s one of the most visually and narratively unique games I’ve ever encountered. Before we get to that, much like my time with Nioh, playing the beta for The Tomorrow Children gave me the chance to make a video preview. I’ve embedded it below.
The Tomorrow Children takes place after a scientific experiment went wrong, wiping out the majority of mankind and causing The Void to swallow up most of the world. Nothing can survive in The Void except the Izverg, monsters that range from human-sized to towering kaiju. However, life continues, and settlements have sprung up where possible. These settlements rely on Projection Clones to venture to islands that rise from The Void to gather resources and grow settlement boundaries. Players assume the role of a Clone, grab a pick and shovel, and join their comrades to work together.
That was the extent of the storyline in the beta and it seems like most of it will be left up to interpretation. It’s entertaining to spend time wandering the islands, taking in their alien, bizarre appearances and trying to piece together what this world was like before the apocalypse. The character design is highly stylised – NPCs look threatening and sinister, the Clones look cute and earnest, and the Izverg monstrous. Except the really big one, that just looks like Songbird.
The gameplay is addictive, despite how familiar it felt. In towns, players buy tools and weapons, then ride a bus to an island to mine it. Resources are carried to the bus loading zone and transported back to town. The resources are then unloaded into communal pools which are accessible by everyone and used for crafting buildings or making repairs.
Each tool has various functions and different stats depending on the manufacturer. For example, chainsaws let you cut down trees, but they also allow you to tunnel straight down. Shovels and pickaxes can dig resources or cut stairs into walls. Parasols slow your falls and you can probably guess what shotguns are used for. Players purchase these by earning Toil, which is exchanged for Ration Coupons in towns. Every action, whether it’s mining, cheering on another player, carrying resources or picking up litter earns you Toil. Every player can find their own niche and contribute in their own way.
Even without direct verbal communication, cooperation occurs spontaneously in The Tomorrow Children. It’s interesting to watch players assume different roles, all pulling in the same direction. Granted, being an MMO, there isn’t much point in careful town design. It’s only a matter of time before some player builds in the wrong place and ruins a meticulous street design. However, it’s awe-inspiring to see scores of players scramble to man the turrets during a massive Izverg assault.
Let’s talk about the presentation. Aurally, the game sounds great. The patriotic anthems blaring from in-game speakers are catchy and will stick in your head, while the ambient sounds from The Void and islands drum in a sense of hostility and isolation. Graphically, the game has some impressive tech and lighting that renders the world with a Pixar-like appearance, albeit a more threatening one. Landmarks and monsters are blurry and indistinct at distances, creating an aura of mystery. Unfortunately, nearby objects also have that blurriness and the game uses too much motion blur, which left me feeling nauseous after a few hours.
Another issue is with longevity. I can’t foretell how long this game will keep players entertained. Similar games let players freely build and customise, but The Tomorrow Children doesn’t give as much freedom. Individual towns act like servers and you can’t get in if it’s full, meaning that you may sink hours into a town only to be barred from entry. Unless you have a large party on group chat, it’s difficult to properly coordinate construction. There’s also character progression with stats and unlocks tied to it, but these just unlock crafting options and better tools.
The Tomorrow Children won’t be a game for everyone. It doesn’t allow for unbridled creativity as in Minecraft and the visuals may leave you a little dizzy. Still, it’s one of the most unique games of this generation so far, and it’s worth looking into based on its aesthetics and sheer weirdness. It was great fun exploring the islands, soaking in the sights and working with other players. If weirdness and co-op are your thing, then The Tomorrow Children is certainly one to watch.