The Average Gamer

Hands on with The Tomorrow Children

The Tomorrow Children Alpha Test - Workbench
Socialism doesn’t work with leaderboards. That’s the big message I took away from The Tomorrow Children’s recent alpha test by Q-Games. It’s a PS4-exclusive game in which you build up your town through everyday toil – cutting down trees, fetching apples and digging for resources. Most importantly, you scour islands for Matryoshka dolls and bring them back to base where they’re revived as humans.

Humans are useless. Right now they’re just a score-counter for your town. According to the dev team, the way to “win” the game in the alpha was to reach a certain number of revived humans. None of my towns managed this. At one point I played for an extra three hours just to get our counter over 200. Nothing happened.

I believe that your town becomes more sophisticated as your human-counter goes up, though that’s largely based on guesswork as there were very few instructions in the alpha. I know that workbenches had a very limited range of things we could build in new towns. Over time, we gained access to streetlights, hovercraft, turrets and more. New town structures would pop up out of nowhere. I’d go for a wander and come back to find that our town had sprouted a giant automaton, towering over the tallest buildings.

As a collaborative game though, it’s a weird one. Each character class has its proficiencies – miners dig and cut down trees faster, combat experts hit harder, and so on. However, everyone can do everything so if the town needs more wood, combat experts can purchase a chainsaw and get cutting. Once you’ve done a bunch of stuff, you head back to the Ministry of Labour who evaluates your record and gives you tokens to spend on better equipment. Adding resources to the town storage earns you a bunch of points, cutting down a tree will earn a few points and so on. After each evaluation, you get an overall performance ranking, showing that you’re, e.g. the third most-productive citizen in the town.

The Tomorrow Children Alpha Test - HumansIf you see someone else mining a wall, you can pitch in and join them with the collaborate button. Work will go faster and instead of earning three labour points per section, you’ll earn four. Great! But you only see your fellow players when they’re doing an action – cutting a tree, mining an island, picking up an item and so on. As soon as you’re done mining out a segment, your buddy will vanish and you’re left staring helplessly around until you see them mining nearby. This makes it very difficult to collaborate on more than the odd bit here and there.

Even taking resources back to base is hampered. I frequently found myself trying to pick up items that other players were already grabbing, leaving my Tomorrow Child grasping helplessly at nothing, in a pile of logs. Every player has a backpack that holds a limited amount, expandable as you rank up with activities. A devoted team can dig up far more than they can carry. Setting things down at the bus stop sign will have bus will auto-load them when the next bus leaves and automatically dump them at the town stop but there’s no indicator as to what will be auto-loaded and what is simply left nearby.

As a result, you can spend ages carrying stuff to the stop only to have some jerk hop off the bus, grab all your resources and snaffle the credit for depositing it in the storage area. Sure, it’s all for the good of the town but I’m saving up for the better jetpack and that girl just took 140 points worth of stuff. You do get a point when other people pick up stuff you’ve put down but they can get five times that and more for placing it in storage. Why risk death flying up to dangerous places when you could sit at the bus stop and grab all the credit?

The Tomorrow Children Alpha Test - Tree CuttingAs well as resource-mining, your town is frequently attacked by floating manta rays, giant mechanical spiders and troops of Godzilla-like monsters. You could choose, instead to spend your days defending the town. Those who like building can place bells around the place to warn everyone when a wave of attackers is coming, as well as create turrets, ammo, saplings for extra wood, walls and more. However, creation in the alpha was limited to a single workbench with a sliding tile puzzle. Fine for me because I am, frankly, amazing at sliding tile puzzles but frustrating when you’re queueing behind someone who doesn’t have a clue and you can see Godzilla looming on the horizon opposite your existing turrets.

At one point, my town was saved from total destruction by just one person, running frantically between well-placed turrets while I watched helplessly from a nearby island that was our only source of wood needed to repair damaged buildings. Between the two of us we kept the place alive as I rushed back to repair buildings between waves of attackers but it was a tough job. Once your town is gone, it’s gone so with 160+ townspeople, it was worth the effort. When everybody knows what to do, it’s very satisfying to see the town survive and grow.

The Tomorrow Children Alpha Test - Bus StopThe Tomorrow Children is beautiful and eerie and interesting. There are frustrating limitations like a single workbench for an entire town, and not being able to see other players moving makes the whole thing feel desperately lonely. You can’t even see that someone else is headed for the same turret until they’re in it, so you’ve just wasted your precious time running in the wrong direction during an attack.

Perhaps this is intentional but in practice, the lack of communication is off-putting. There’s no way to teach new people how things work so you’re left blundering about for ages, possibly causing more harm than good. For me, the best part of Minecraft is a server community working together to build up a self-sustaining town and that only happens because we can make plans with each other and pick up menial tasks without being ranked poorly. Based on the alpha, The Tomorrow Children tries to build a town by fostering competition without communication. I’m not sure how well that will work.

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