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Dylan Cuthbert’s Q-Games really doesn’t make ordinary games. You might have come across their PixelJunk series; titles that take existing genres like the retro shooter or tower defence, but then disrupt them with oddball mechanics and a distinctive, arty visual style. All the same, nothing really prepares you for The Tomorrow Children.
It’s a little bit like Psychonauts, a little bit like Minecraft, with a little bit of city building and a shared world. Yet it’s also unlike all these things, and it looks like no other game you’ve ever seen.
Q-Games has somehow married some advanced rendering techniques with a blast of sixties soviet style and the look of some weird Czech animation from 1978. At a time when every indie developer thinks they’ve created something cool and unique, Cuthbert’s team have made something really strange and beautiful.
Visually, it’s quite amazing. Apparently, the engine uses a technique called (deep breath) Cascaded Voxel Cone Ray-Tracing to simulate the effects of multiple beams of light on surfaces in real-time, giving The Tomorrow Children the look of a CG rendered animation.
It might look pre-rendered, but it’s all being drawn to the screen as you play. And while the technology makes you think ‘Pixar’ the style is actually closer to an old and probably Eastern European stop-motion animation. The locations and characters look artificial, but as if they’ve been physically made.
But what’s it all about? Well, it takes place in a kind of alternate future, where some of humanity’s best minds have tried to unite all minds, but inadvertently destroyed nearly all life on Earth, leaving a featureless, blank white surface called ‘the void’. The remaining survivors are doing their best to recreate civilisation, but their efforts are hampered by the ‘Izverg’; giant beasts created from our own most negative thoughts.
Mankind’s only hope is the creation of projection clones, child-like lifeforms that can explore the void, gather artefacts, DNA and resources, and hopefully bring humanity and the world back to life.
OK, but what does that actually mean? Well, The Tomorrow Children really takes place in two areas. One is your hometown, where you and somewhere between 50 and 100 players (the numbers aren’t yet final) cooperate to build structures, defensive facilities, vehicles and other useful stuff in your quest to restore and protect the last vestiges of the human race. To do so, though, you’ll need resources, and that means going out into the void and finding islands; half-buried colossal statues retaining all that’s good about humanity, which you can clamber over and mine for precious materials, and, when explored, might yield even more precious DNA.
What you do and how you do it is up to you. Find an island and you can use your tools to carve stairs up it or tunnel inside it, though your clone needs light to operate, so you’ll either need daylight or an artificial source. Materials harvested can be donated to the communal pot, and you can also use them to add your own buildings and structures to the town, or create the vehicles you need to travel safely across the void (though there is a handy communal bus).
You’re also paid for your efforts, and for any repairs or work around the town you do. That money can then be used to buy new clothes or tools – not to mention the monsters that you’ll find on the islands and in the void, or the towering Izvergs that put your beloved town at risk.
You can work together with your fellow players to tackle them with tanks or turrets, or even take a jetpack above them and assault them from the skies. Downed Izverg become crystals – themselves a precious resource – but they need to be killed quickly. It’s possible for an Izverg to demolish a whole town, putting you and your comrades back to square one.
The Tomorrow Children’s approach to multiplayer is quite unusual. Cuthbert described it to us as an asynchronous networked game that’s primarily a single-player experience, but one where other players play a part in your game. You’re effectively working with your town-mates, but you can work against them if you wish. There may be visual indicators of your anti-proletariat inclinations, not to mention intervention from the town’s AI police if things get really bad, but it’s a valid choice.
There are no quests or specific objectives, and your main forms of communication are gestures and an attention-grabbing whistle. However we’re told that bells and a megaphone creep in later, giving you the ability to reach a wider audience and make your own voice heard.
The buildings and structures you create will have pre-defined shapes, but tools will allow for a degree of transformation, so there’s a bit of Minecraft’s creativity at work. There are even plans to allow players to create their own island designs as the game goes on. Meanwhile, we’re told that a companion app will keep you in the game even when you can’t play it, though do you really want to find out that your town is being attacked when you’ve got another two hours to slog through at work?
To be perfectly honest, we’re not really sure how this is all going to work out – and we’re not even 100% confident that Q-Games knows either. Yet there’s something so odd, interesting and imaginative going on here that we’re willing The Tomorrow Children to succeed.
It looks beautiful, sounds bonkers and we’re still not quite sure how it works, yet this is one of the most exciting and imaginative games on the horizon and another potential gem for PS4. The Tomorrow Children might have us baffled, but it also has us seriously intrigued.
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