Communism is one of the most horribly doomed projects in the history of governance. I mean sure, capitalism can get pretty f'd up at times, but at least you have a reasonably even chance of not starving to death (assuming you're not a bone-idle shitwit). I'm pretty sure you could lead a pretty solid existence under fascism too, as long as you weren't the wrong colour or religion or sexual preference or Pokemon Go team. Dictatorships? Well, there's nothing in the RULES that says you have to go around being a dick about it, what with the executing people with the anti aircraft cannons and such.
Communism, on the other hand, is programmed to fail from day one. Human beings are not wired to function without incentive. Communism and collectivisation are a foregone downward spiral, a meat grinder for the human soul, a stacked game in which only the house wins. Collectivisation ruined Ayn Rand's family, and she spent the rest of her life making the lives of everyone she came into contact with as miserable as possible in revenge. (Yes, I know that technically we ended up getting Bioshock out of that deal, but at what cost, eh? At what cost.)
By the way, did I mention that we're playing a communism simulator today? Oh, boy! Come on in, everyone! Grab the Doritos! Crank up the Twitch stream! This is going to be SO FUN!
In the plot of The Tomorrow Children (which isn't explained in the game but is handily dissected by the documents handed out to the closed beta testers) it's the cold war, and Russia has acccidentally destroyed the world. Not blown it up, literally destroyed it on a molecular level. All that's left is Matrix-style whiteness stretching towards a horizon on which nightmarish giants lumber. The player takes the role of one of the clone workers of the Motherland's attempts to rebuild reality via a resource gathering game in early access.
The clone bit of the story explains why everyone's avatar is a little girl. It has nothing to do with the fact that developers seem to think that "Large headed child in surreal frightening world" is shorthand for "Next indie darling incoming, sign cheque here plz."
And so you're dropped into the world of TTC, in which work generates "Toil," and Toil generates "Borgeoise Levels" and coupons from the state. A homeless underclass of proletarians labours under a landed class of borgeoise. Social mobility takes place via coupons, but the coupons need to be spent on your work tools and day to day needs. Joining the overclass is possible, we're informed, at a price of one billion coupons. So there's that.
The core gameplay loop consists of taking the dingy public transport out to a series of "Islands" - random chunks of consciousness shaped like cogs, faces and Christmas baubles which rise up out of the void and must be stripped of food, wood, coal, stone, metal and gemstones before they sink back beneath its surface. It's an ultra-simple easter egg hunt which gives way to an even simpler crafting game which takes the form of a three by three sliding block puzzle.
The first thing you'll notice about The Tomorrow Children is that it's beautiful. Really astonishing. It heaves with atmosphere and attention to detail. It's a world that makes you wait for everything. Every shop has a Homeland Security style "QUEUE HERE" line outside the door. Loading screens are covered up by rattly bus and train journeys. State propaganda music and animations play at you CONSTANTLY. It's like the kind of bleak Eastern European political cartoon you accidentally catch on TV at four o'clock in the morning come to life. It's such an achievement that you wonder how long it's going to take to wear thin.
One hour. One hour is how long it took for it to wear thin for me. This was how long it took for me to spot a level design being reused. To start wondering if I'd now seen everything the game had to offer. To start wondering if I'd been No Man's Skyed. I KNOW, RIGHT!? TWICE IN THE SAME MONTH! WHAT ARE THE CHANCES!? All I can say is, thank God I decided to check out the multiplayer before I called it a day.
I had assumed, completely wrongly, that TTC's multiplayer would be a bolted on afterthought which ran much in a similar vein to checking out your friends' towns in Farmville or Tapped Out. (The game has plenty of freemium trappings, but more on that in a moment). What I found was a large settlement of around fifty NPCs rescued from the void and run by ten human players. Some were out resource gathering. Two were unloading piles of metal and wood from the bus. Two were manning huge artillery cannons and taking shots at the distant giants. One was running on a treadmill wired up to an electric turbine, generating electricity to run all this while more propaganda movies played in his face (subtlety is not this game's watchword).
It all felt weirdly right. In a political system in which nothing benefitted the individual, the endless grind and repetition just felt right. All the small details suddenly clicked perfectly. Those QUEUE HERE lines are actually functional in the multiplayer environment. Suddenly I realised that the point of the simple puzzle which must be completed every time one crafts an item was not to make the player feel clever and rewarded, but to make them feel profoundly uncomfortable - as if they were trying to figure out which pocket their cashcard was in, while five people in the queue behind them tutted and rolled their eyes.
Oh, and go into first person mode, target another player and pull the trigger? You denounce them to the authorities. How awesome is THAT.
Now, while The Tomorrow Children might be an utter triumph as a piece of art or political satire, the point has to be made as to whether its a good game. For all its success, what Sony and Q Games have set out to do is simulate a situation which is not fun times for anybody. Nobody buys a game so that they can think "Ooooooh, clever. I see what the intention of the developer was there," and then go to bed miserable. Well, I don't know. Maybe they do. Folks seem to like Papers, Please.
This is going to be determined by whether it can keep the community engagement going until it comes out of early access. The game has been floated around the twenty dollar mark (depending on which territory youre in), and early acccess customers get a grab bag of starter items as well as starting as a landed borgeoisie with the paperwork to own a house (though not yet a vehicle or firearm). Once the game is unleashed for realsies it will go free to play, but all these things must be earned from scratch with the new players joining as proletariat and being lorded over by the first wave.
Personally, I think it sounds appalling. Maybe it'll be great. One things for sure though - there's nothing else like it around, and it's gonna be interesting finding out.