This War of Mine
In gaming we’ve seen every type of war from historical to modern and fictional, but always through the eyes of a soldier that is actively participating in it. This War of Mine turns the tables on this formula by placing you in charge of civilians that are caught in the crossfire of a war that they never asked for. Trapped in a city where the military and rebels clash on a daily basis, the sole purpose of the people left in your care is to survive.
As your characters are not part of the skirmishes between the rebels and military it might sound like an easy task to keep them alive until the end of the war. You are given a ramshackle building that serves as a shelter and a group of three civilians that are drawn from a random pool. Each character is given a short biography which tells you more about their life before the war and what skills they have to offer. One might be a fast runner or an excellent scavenger while others are good cooks or good barterers. Each has their own role to play in the group and to ensure their survival everyone has to work together.
This War of Mine presents the action from a side view where what you see is based on the line of sight of your characters. Areas that are not visible to your characters are represented by dark, charcoal style smudges which adds to the bleak, foreboding atmosphere of the game. The visuals pack plenty of detail, but all the color has been drained out of the gameworld. Apart from an occasional flickering sign or the burning husk of a busted tank you won’t see any splashes of color in the uninviting, war-torn environments. The charcoal stylized aesthetics of the game looks great, but this is not a title where you will be wowed by the visuals. However, they do fit the mood of the game perfectly and the animations in particular are very good.
The game features a day and night cycle, but thanks to snipers you are stuck in your refuge during the day. Sometimes a trader will brave the danger to come knocking on your door while other times someone might come asking for help. Whether you want to risk the lives of one of your people to offer any assistance is up to you. Mostly your characters will spend the daytime relaxing, smoking or reading away their boredom and depression, if these luxuries are available, or crafting new items using the materials you scavenged. Once night falls however you get to select one character to go out searching for items and supplies. If your characters have nothing pressing to accomplish during the day you can skip forward to the night, but in doing so you might miss out on a trader showing up.
You can only send one character out to scavenge and they are limited to whatever they can fit in their backpack. The game presents you with a map indicating locations as well as some basic information about what to expect at each. A house with an old couple might be easy pickings, but will your conscience allow you to steal from the defenseless. A supermarket on the other hand might have plenty of goods, but you run the risk of encountering soldiers or bandits there. The people left behind at the refuge can either sleep, sleep on beds if you made any, or stand guard. The latter is definitely preferred as other looters might attack your shelter at night and make off with your valuables. You have no control over these encounters beyond a text box greeting you with the bad news when your scavenging character returns from their nightly excursion. Boarding up the shelter and guarding it with weapons reduces the risk of losses, but in a war zone there will always be people desperate enough to try to steal in order to survive.
As the days drag on you might find that it is your characters that will have to abandon their morals in order to make it through the day. Tough choices need to be made and when your life hangs in the balance the line between right and wrong quickly becomes blurred. Initially it is simple to stock up on items from easy to loot locations, but as the weather changes and temperatures plummet it becomes a different story. The weather and military operations in the area can also cause certain locations to become inaccessible, forcing you to either steal or risk entering dangerous areas to get what you need. Some items might even become scarcer and you’ll soon find that there is never enough of anything to go around.
During my first playthrough it was complacency that got me in the end. By day 20 Pavle had yet to fail at finding armfuls of useful stuff each night. I had enough materials to craft a gun and got cocky. It was time to take on those locations marked as “dangerous” on the map and bring back even better items. Forsaking the usual sneaking I burst through the front door of an apartment building and Pavle promptly got shot in the chest by a man wielding a shotgun. Panicking I tried to make a run for the exit, but it was too late and Pavle was gunned down like a dog.
The death of Pavle took a huge toll on the people back at the refuge as I had been relying on him to bring back the food and items that the group needed. When Cveta became ill I sent Bruno out to find medicine. During his excursion he got wounded by a sniper and came limping back to the hideout empty handed. With Bruno hurt and Cveta becoming more ill thanks to the cold weather the task of saving everyone fell to Katia. A quiet house with old people was the easiest target for the food and medicine I needed, but during the raid Katia was forced to kill. She returned with the items needed, but the murder of innocents took its toll on her and she spiraled form sadness into depression until she ended up broken. The medicine helped Cveta a bit, but Bruno still needed bandages, so I had no choice but to send her out to scavenge. When I returned Bruno had frozen to death because the temperature in the hideout had plummeted. A day or two later Katia took her own life leaving a sick Cveta to cope on her own. I soldiered on for as long as I could with her, but she never fully recovered from her illness and eventually succumbed to it after the hideout was raided by bandits.
If this sounds grim and depression that’s because it is. Despite what the first person genre would have you believe, war is not pretty and it is not cheerful. In This War of Mine your characters don’t “level up” or gain experience that provide them with any perks. They get sad, hungry, tired, sick and wounded as the constant stress and danger takes its toll on them. Characters can become so broken down by events that you need to use other characters to bring them food or medication as they are unable to do so themselves. When this happens it is also the only time in the game that characters can directly interact with each other and have conversations. The rest of the time they will utter their thoughts randomly or jot down what they think in their diaries which you can then view. Being able to read what characters think of the actions of their friends is neat, but I would have liked to perhaps see a bit more interaction between the characters considering how cooped up they are together.
Although the game doesn’t have any voice acting it does have a great audio soundscape. However, with “great” I mean in the sense that the subtle audio and ambient sounds are depressingly somber and entirely fitting with the bleak war theme. Being stuck in the shelter while listening to the gunshots and explosions in the distance makes for an immersive, but thoroughly gloomy experience. Crafting a radio allows you to play some classical music in between listening to weather reports or news flashes about what’s happening in the city. The entire game is mouse controlled and you perform actions simply by clicking on the relevant hotspots. A single click causes your character to walk or sneak to the indicated spot while a double click prompts them to run. Areas with which you can interact are indicated, along with whatever tool that is needed to do so effectively, be it shovel, crowbar, lock pick or saw. Despite the simple controls the game never feels restrictive and hiding in a dark doorway with a knife before leaping out to perform a stealth kill might only take two clicks, but it feels just as tense as in games where you are given full control.
While it would be hard to call This War of Mine a “fun” title, as there were scenes and events that actually made my stomach turn, it is something that I couldn’t stop playing. The game never resorts to blood and gore to get its point across, but the somber visuals and dark tone of the game will stay with you long after your characters have succumbed, or hopefully, weathered out the war. The randomized world and characters mean that the replay value is quite high although after you have seen all the locations it can feel like a bit of a grind to build up your shelter again during subsequent playthroughs. This War of Mine is a game about pure survival, but it is done in the most thought provoking and grim way that I have ever encountered in a game. What 11 Bit Studios was able to achieve with this game is quite amazing and it is something that should be played by everyone that want to experience what is possible when you tackle a familiar topic from a completely different angle.
- OS: Windows XP SP3 (32 bit) / Vista
- Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo 2.4, AMD Athlon(TM) X2 2.8 Ghz
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: Geforce 9600 GS, Radeon HD4000, Shader Model 3.0, 512 MB
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Sound Card: DirectX compatible
- OS: Windows 7
- Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Quad 2.7 Ghz, AMD Phenom(TM)II X4 3 Ghz
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: GeForce GTX 260, Radeon HD 5770, 1024 MB, Shader Model 3.0
- DirectX: Version 9.0c
- Sound Card: DirectX compatible