With the proliferation of technologies such as computers, smartphones and the internet, it is easier to see, and more apparent than ever that the world around us is constantly changing. And not always for the better. With militants ravaging the Middle East, rebels vying for control of Eastern Ukraine, and the conflict between Israel and Palestine still raging on, its difficult not to feel like things are sliding towards a tipping point, a new global conflict even. Games depict wars, real and fantasy, all the time, and, if the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield are anything to go by, those kinds of experiences are very popular. But we don’t often find ourselves connecting or giving a second thought for the civilians caught in the crossfire, trying desperately to survive. This War of Mine turns things on its head, you aren’t a soldier, kitted out in the latest combat gear, you are average citizens trapped amongst the fighting, doing whatever is necessary to survive. It’s brutal, thought-provoking, and yet another sign that games have matured as an art medium.
This War of Mine doesn’t simply tell the tale of a lone survivor, caught in a war zone, instead you’ll have dominion over three randomly selected characters (initially) and guide them through each day, trying your best to keep them fed, healthy and as happy as they possibly can be. Luckily, they’ll have the relative safety of a small dilapidated house to take shelter in. It’s not much but it’s a good starting point. By scavenging inside, or at other locations, you can collect materials to fix up the house to make life more comfortable for the inhabitants, and you can build beds, stoves, radios and workshops. These little extras help to keep morale up and depression at bay. Materials don’t come cheap in the middle of a war zone, though, and somebody is going to have to pay a price for them – be it in coin, or in blood.
Running low on food and medicine is not an option if everyone is going to make it to the other side of the war intact. The brutal lengths that you may have to go to are uncensored and unglorified, and while murdering an elderly couple for their food and jewellery may initially shock, it becomes second nature after a while. And that’s the grizzly reality of war: sometimes, you must be absolutely ruthless to survive.
These realisations can deeply affect your survivors, and they may become deeply troubled by the events going on around them. Each has their own mood indicators highlighting whether they are hungry, tired or depressed, and their effects are almost immediately apparent. Characters who have fallen into depression will drag their almost lifeless bodies around the squat ruminating over the events that have happened, asking themselves ‘why?’. Other characters may take note of this and try to help by talking with them. Each character also keeps a diary with details of the events from days gone by; depending on the situation you may see your characters attitudes change before your eyes. Characters whom have murdered others may initially regret their decision, only to accept it later as an inevitability, required in order to stay alive. This War of Mine may sound emotionally draining to play, and it is; 11 Bit Studios have struck a delicate balance and created a title that is as entertaining to play as it is emotionally compelling
Each day is split into two sections which see your survivors fixing up the house to make it more comfortable during the day, and going out scavenging at night. Some aspects of the game have a “The Sims” feel to them, with you having to tend to everyone’s needs such as feeding them, keeping them comfortable and dispensing medication if they are sick. Scavenging at night can be very dangerous, especially if you intend to come home with anything useful, so it is wise to stay armed. A nifty crafting interface allows you to create all manner of different items such as lockpicks, axes, shovels and hack saws, which can be used to reach particularly valuable loot. Each scavenging location requires careful consideration before you set off though, and you’ll pay the price if you go out without the proper equipment. It is very easy to lose characters to militants or, other, better-armed survivors.
Sometimes, while out scavenging, you’ll encounter other violent and non-violent NPCs, and whether you engage them or no is up to you. Combat isn’t particularly in-depth but it doesn’t need to be. You can switch from scavenging mode to armed at the click of the mouse, but your adversary may become aware and attack you. Simply clicking on an enemy is enough to send you stabbing/punching/shooting in their direction. The impact doesn’t come from the combat itself, rather the effect it can have on your character – and you. As aforementioned, whilst out scavenging at an old cottage we found a friendly old couple, relaxing in their armchairs. Sadly, their number was up before we even caught sight of them; our fridge was empty, we had no valuables or medicine. Luring the old man down to the basement, we began beating him mercilessly with a shovel. “Don’t leave me!” cried his wife, as we set about her. We couldn’t help but pause for thought – would we do the same in a similar situation?
This War of Mine isn’t a delight to look at, but its aesthetic is expertly crafted. The city is awash in dark blacks and greys which inspire a feeling of desolation and despair. unfortunately we were subject to a number of graphical glitches and stuttering issues, which should be patched out post-launch.
As a game, This War of Mine is sensational, as a story it is gripping, but it is as a statement that it makes its biggest impact. Whilst most of us (hopefully) will never know what it is like to live in a war zone, it’s important to know that there are people, like us, out there surviving in horrific situations. It is an unforgettable survival horror game, but not as you know it. 11 Bit’s presentation of war is candid, undiluted and bound to leave a lasting impression.
This War of Mine is available on Steam.