This War of Mine Review
This War of Mine Box Art
System: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Dev: 11 Bit Studios
Pub: 11 Bit Studios
Release: November 14, 2014
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p
How Long Will You Survive?
by Sean Engemann

There is a very narrow direction when designing a game based off of wars. It seems first and third person shooters are the go to options for pretty much every developer and publisher out there, saturating the backdrop with countless entries of the same tired formula. Polish developer 11 bit studios has decided to play against the grain, looking at war from a completely different perspective. In This War of Mine, you're not a one man army breaching through countless masses of enemy soldiers, but instead simple civilians struggling to survive the ravaged cityscapes caused by the destruction of two warring sides. Civilians, the real victims of war, who get stripped away from most shooters because they have no bearing on the plot or bog down the framerate with extra animations.

This War of Mine Screenshot

These civilians are exactly what separates This War of Mine from any other game in the genre. Looking through the eyes of simple residents of a besieged city, the reality of how war affects the common people struggling to survive in a crumbling urban center presents a chilling vision of the measures we would take if trapped within a conflict, as many in the world have or are coping with right now. This War of Mine is personal, tense, and more challenging than any shooter on the market.

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The game is all about choices, and none of them are easy. It begins on day 1, as you stare at the cross-sectioned view of a rubble filled building that is to be the new home for three or four strangers. The clock begins ticking, with no tutorials, no control schematics, just some clickable icons strewn about the place. You soon realize that standing around while the time ticks away only hinders your chances of survival. And so you get your characters moving, pulling away rubble and rummaging through junk piles, grabbing materials, some food scraps, and maybe a bottle of medicine or a bandage. Taking inventory of your supplies at the worktable, your first tough choice is what essentials to build first. Do you build a bed so at least one resident avoids sleeping on a cold floor? Do you build a crude stove to cook that raw meat? Perhaps your game started in the dead of winter, so building a heater is the top priority.

This War of Mine Screenshot

But it's not merely choices of what to build, but who makes use of the temporary benefits. Who eats today? Who gets to sit in the chair? Who gets the medicine? Your residents are by no means healthy and invulnerable. If you don't sleep, you become tired the next day. If you don't eat, you'll soon succumb to starvation. You'll become sick from cold weather and eating uncooked meat, wounded from being raided and shot at, and saddened by the death of a roommate. Each of these conditions affects your speed and productivity, so keeping everyone as healthy as possible is vital to surviving. I am surprised however, that thirst was not added as a condition. Water is vital to cooking, growing plants, and brewing alcohol, but your characters will never die of dehydration. Perhaps it added an extra challenge that made it near impossible for the player to survive, but considering the harsh realism of modern war the developer is striving for, it seems like a critical element of survival that has been omitted.

The evening presents a whole new set of tough choices. Who stays awake to stand guard against raiders? But more importantly, who ventures out into the city to scavenge for more supplies? There are a few locations to start, with more unlocked with each passing evening. Some locations are completely uninhabited, some are home to other survivors whom you may trade with or steal from, while others are heavily guarded by armed thugs. Each new evening requires its own strategy based on the supplies you are lacking back home and the condition of your characters. If you are bordering on starvation, then food is at the top of the list. If someone is sick, materials are dropped if a bottle of medicine is found.

This War of Mine Screenshot

Tough decisions are made each and every day. I struggled one day when another stranger knocked on our door looking for shelter. The extra help would be beneficial, but did we have enough supplies to maintain a fourth member? One evening I was forced to steal from good people simply trying to survive themselves because I desperately needed a bottle of medicine. Another night I got a bit audacious when scavenging through a guarded warehouse and found myself trapped between the crosshairs of the bandits. The tone was bleak the next day when that member never returned home.

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