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Review: This War of Mine

Games love the war. There are a bunch of games out there with a focus on the soldier’s story line. We have all been that soldier who’s the key in winning the war. We have conquered and destroyed more worlds then we remember, fought in distance lands and far away futures. But have we ever survived a war as a civilian? It is a theme that hasn’t really been used, until now.

This War of Mine is a survival game, set in a besieged city. You don’t control a super soldier who kills 10 people before his grenade explodes, nor are you a nation with the capability to spawn tanks faster then Twitter can update. In This War of Mine you take control a group of civilian, trying to survive from day to day. You start the game as a random group, that just took refuge in a ruined, multi storey house. This is your home and it will serve as your shelter throughout the following weeks.

This War of Mine maintains a day and night cycle. During the day, you have time to maintain your house, craft items and take care of your survivors. The first couple of days you start by cleaning up your house, opening locked rooms/furniture, prepare food and craft new items. Every action you make requires time, so you have to plan your day accordingly because once it’s 8:00PM, the night cycle starts. While enemy snipers prevent you for going outside when there is daylight, at night you can sneak outside. You can take a civilian out on a scavenge mission at unique locations in search for items, guard your house so other scavengers won’t loot you dry or sleep to increase your chance of survival and heal from injuries or sickness. But it comes with a cost, those who stay awake will be tired the day after, those who go to sleep can’t guard the house. Don’t think that it is safe during the night. The locations can be filled with militia or other civilians. Even during the night you have to pay close attention to your clock. You have to make sure that you are back before sunset, or you might not survive the road back. Once it’s morning again, you can begin fixing the breaches to keep other scavengers out, upgrade your equipment or talk to other survivors to keep the mood up.

Scavenging a burning house
Katia, scavenging a burned house

This War of Mine is a point-and-click game, from 11 Bit Studios (Anomaly series). 11 Bit Studio based their game on an article about someone who survived a siege on his city. They present this by using an interesting aesthetic.The game is soaked in grey and dim colours. Everything that isn’t visible to you, is presented in a blurry, sketchy style. Surviving is hard, sadness and depressions lurk around every corner and 11 Bit Studios has hit the right tone. Even the sound is just absent enough to sustain the tension. And it totally fits! This War of Mine isn’t counting on high end graphics and astonishing audio tracks, it counts on decisions and their consequences. And those can be hard.

Sketchy and blurry with dangerous looking shadows

Forget the “press E to cry” moments. This War of Mine will force you to make life-and-death decisions. During a play through, all my survivors were starving. While scavenging, I came across a house with lots of food, but occupied by an elder couple. I could have been the good guy and leave them alone, but everyone was starving… I felt sorry for them while I plundered their fridge, but at least I could feed everyone the following day. And then it hit me, if you steal from them, their chance of survival also drop. They might not survive the next night. If you did as I did, you have to live with all the consequences. You will have food for another day, but you have damned other people to dead and that can take it’s toll on your group. Have a couple of setbacks, and your civilians will get so depressed to the point that they commit suicide. When I checked on them two nights later, they were lying dead in their bedroom. To make things worse, I found a letter to their grand daughter… This was the last setback for Pavle, he committed suicide  the day after.

The letter to their grand daughter

Since you can’t quickly save before making an important decision, you have no choice but deal with the consequences. Another time, my neighbour came knocking on my door asking for help. On the radio, they announced the presence of raiders in the area. My neighbour was alone with her child, her husband went missing a year ago. She was terrified that they would come in her house and kill everyone. This time I went and helped her, trying to boost the moral of the group. The downside was that I was 1 man short for the night. While I was away scavenging, other survivors broke in my house (it was fortified) and looted all my food. They also caused some serious injuries to Marin, who was guarding the place. Marin was forced to rest a couple of days to recover from the assault. It took quite a lot of resources, but in the end he survived. Only to be killed a week later during a scavenging gone terribly wrong. Without Marin’s help, the other survivors were soon dead due to starvation and sickness.

Your home in This War of Mine

It are moments like these that form the essence of This War of Mine. You can play as the worst humanity has to offer and deal with the consequences, of you can try to be a beacon of hope in a hopeless situation, hoping you don’t break by every setback. Throughout the entire game, This War of Mine manages to keep you emotionally bounded by crafting a personal and depressing war story around innocent people. You are just a civilian, caught in events you can’t control. You will try to survive each day, either by any means necessary or bound by your own moral code.

The minimalistic HUB, the dim depressing atmosphere and the hard choices you have to make, it all helps for a full immersion into the game. It will also constantly remind you that you are a civilian, because fighting the militia is almost certain dead. When facing a stronger opponent, you might want to hide, but most of the time, you’ll just run. And that’s a nice refreshment from all those games where you kill the hundredth masked bad guy. I am totally in love with this game, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare for the night.

9/10

 

Extra: This War of Mine has a 10% discount till the 2nd of december.

Have been gaming for several decades. I love to play RPG and strategy games. My favorites are the Witcher series, Fallout series and The Elder Scrolls