How Long Will You Survive?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
These decisions weigh heavily on the morale of the other members, and you’ll find yourself dipping into a depressed state because of them. This War of Mine has no cheerful interludes, no happy endings, just a constant struggle to survive. That said, I found it incredibly hard to pull myself away from it. The constant fluctuations of strategy, the prospect of finding useful items each day and upgrading household necessities, or perhaps simply my desire to cling to the hope that I may overcome the dire odds, all kept me playing just one more day in the game, just one more night to scavenge, just one more chance that a dealer would come knocking on our door with a gun to trade so we could defend ourselves better, or some food so we wouldn’t starve to death.
This dreariness is heightened through the game’s presentation. The screen is bathed in monochromatic backgrounds and sketchy pencil effects as background animations. As a character’s condition grows dire, he or she moves more slowly with their head hung low. Quick flashes in the distance are followed by the booming sound of exploding mortar shells. The music score is somber, softened only if you build a radio and change the dial from the morbid news channels to the classical music station, which I found myself doing everyday just offer a shred a respite from the horror of war.
This War of Mine eats away at your sanguine disposition, and yet you are compelled and determined to keep trying to survive. Each fresh start provides new characters, new locations to scavenge, and new obstacles to overcome. As bleak as the world is portrayed, 11 bit studios has a well polished title that does a masterful job of never letting you feel safe in your home and secure in your belongings. No matter how many hours you invest into bettering your situation, it’s a constant struggle to survive in This War of Mine .
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.3 Graphics
There’s nothing vibrant in the war-turn cityscape, but the original pencil scratch animations and nice detailing of the environments helps present a bleak and challenging backdrop. 3.8 Control
Icons and characters can sometimes overlap, and the camera lacks boundaries at times, but the control scheme of simple clicks helps you stay focused on your crucial objectives. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sounds of conflict in the background paired with somber orchestrations solidify your struggle throughout the game. 4.5 Play Value
You’ll find yourself wanting for a smile, but the addictive gameplay to see what the next day brings will hold your gaze to the screen. 4.3 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best