It’s a common setting for video games. War breaks out between factions. The streets of some city are torn to shreds. Bombs fall, bullets are fired, soldiers are killed, and conflict rages on. So often, players are thrust into the role of the common soldier, or an elite operative behind enemy lines. Your mission is usually to stop the opposing force from winning the war, and you have all the guns and ammunition you can possibly need stacked behind convenient cover along the way from objective to objective.
This War Of Mine isn’t one of those games.
I first wrote about This War Of Mine in a piece covering games that have the potential to make the player think. However, for one reason or another, I never really got around to reviewing it. Given the state of affairs in the world however, I feel that this particular title is becoming more and more relevant, and deserves to have more light shed on it for the way it portrays a commonly forgotten part of war.
This War Of Mine’s gameplay is extremely simple. Progress is made by guiding a random group of civilians, day by day. Each person sports a unique set of aptitudes, whether it is social skills, experience with electronics, or weapons training. Players spend each day preparing for the next day by developing tools, upgrading the safehouse, resting up, or preparing meals. This makes up the first half of the game.
The second half takes place at night, where you’re given the objective of deciding who does what over the course of the night. You can choose to send folks out to scavenge for supplies, take the night off by sleeping, or by standing guard to make sure the safehouse doesn’t get raided by other survivors… And that last part will happen. Going out into the world at night is an essential part of the game. In order to keep your group fed, safe, and well stocked with materials for upgrades, you need to make sure you’re sending folks out to collect supplies.
What starts as a relatively easy task though is quickly complicated by the events that unfold around your people. You’re reminded on a fairly consistent basis that there’s a war going on, and that others are suffering just as much as the folks you’re looking after.
The sad truth of This War Of Mine is that nobody is on your side. The rebels, other civilians, and the army are all out for their own interests. Sometimes you’ll run into other civilians that are sympathetic to your needs, which means that you’ll be able to barter for goods, but that isn’t always the case. Venturing into the wrong side of town might put you on the wrong side of the gun barrel, and very well may cost someone their life.
Sure, the gameplay is rudimentary, but the execution is well done. The majority of the game can be played with only a mouse, though on PC and consoles, the option exists to use a gamepad if you so desire. The barrier for entry isn’t the controls. It’s your ability to handle tough decisions, and the knowledge that even if you do everything right, you might still lose.
The graphics, like the gameplay, are fairly simple to behold. However, just like the gameplay, the graphics are remarkably well done. The sketchbook art style makes me think of someone keeping a chronicle of their survival in a war-torn city. The world is bleak, yet in a way, it’s still more interesting looking than the barfy-brown military shooters of the late 2000s.
The city looks like a warzone, but not in the way that other games tend to make it appear. Few buildings are left intact, and your people’s senses are limited by what they can see. While exploring, you can get a general sense of the lay of the land, but areas behind obstructions are blurred out until you gain line of sight. In order to see into a room behind a door, you have to risk making noise to peek through, hoping that the sounds on the other side of the door aren’t soldiers or less-than-friendly survivors.
Accompanying the muted yet interesting visuals is an effective soundtrack consisting of an acoustic guitar and electronic string instruments. It makes for a sullen, yet calming tone for the game, which is rather fitting given the subject material.
Covering the horrors of war takes a little more than simply portraying acts of evil. Even just showing the cost of war on the civilian population isn’t enough, because games often give players enough power to survive their environment. This War Of Mine borrows many elements from the survival genre of games, while combining those elements with the subject of war.
This War Of Mine forges its own path by focusing less on the tropes of other games that cover the subject of war, and by removing much of your agency as a player. You can’t just kill everyone you come across, because they’re just as dangerous as you are. Weapons are limited in supply, and the best you can do with them is to fight back against similarly armed attackers.
Soldiers and other combatants, on the other hand, are a different story. First, they definitely aren’t your friends, though they don’t set out to kill you outright. You shouldn’t provoke them, because they won’t hesitate to kill you. The same applies to the rebels and bandits as well.
I suppose This War Of Mine‘s originality stems from the manner in which war is portrayed. The war isn’t glorified like in the majority of military shooters. It doesn’t try to shock you with heinous acts, like Spec Ops: The Line or Homefront attempted. Instead, it just puts you in the shoes of someone caught between factions. People who are just trying to get by.
Further complicating matters is the random nature of the war you’re attempting to survive. Playing in the default game mode sets a random time that the war will last, the nature of the conflict, the types of areas you have access to, and even the type of survivors you will guide through the war. Each individual playthrough will be unique in its own way, and while many of the events play out in similar ways, you’ll often be forced to try different tactics to make things work.
The story, as far as I’ve been able to gather, is just about trying to last as long as you can. The conflict lasts until a ceasefire is declared between the opposing factions, all while you try to retain a modicum of humanity. Of course, the option exists to simply take what you need from the less fortunate, under the threat of force.
Your own story relies on the manner in which you attempt to keep your group alive. Luckily, there are different options available to you at the beginning of your survival story. You can choose to play through a default version of the game, or you can create your own group of survivors and see how far you can get with them. Similarly, the intensity of the war, its length, and the severity of the weather conditions can all be adjusted to change the difficulty of the game.
The story you experience depends on how you choose to act. You can attempt to be benevolent, or malevolent, towards others. Cooperation with others can cost you dearly if you aren’t careful, but the alternative isn’t all rosy either.
WILDCARD: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
This War Of Mine‘s take on conflict is based on the 1990’s war in Bosnia, but like I stated in my post about games that may challenge your thinking, the same concepts can be applied to wars today as well. The situation in Syria comes to mind, but other conflicts involving the siege of a city have resulted in similar events playing out. This War Of Mine takes on the subject without making light of it, and that’s remarkable if you think about it.
So often in media – whether it’s movies, television, books, or videogames – sensitive subjects are portrayed in less than ideal ways. The realities of those events never quite hit home, often because media generally wants to leave the consumer with a sense of gratification. Sure, it’s possible to “beat” This War Of Mine, but the win condition is simply continuing to exist in an unforgiving environment.
This is all without taking into account The Little Ones DLC, which adds another challenge. How to handle taking care of children in the middle of a warzone. Taking on this task is not something that can be taken lightly; children take up extra resources, and require your constant protection. At the very least, some of the proceeds from the purchase of the $5.00 expansion are given to the War Child organization, which aims to help children affected by war around the world.
This War Of Mine makes no attempt to make you feel good about what you’re doing. The only sense of accomplishment is from how long you’re able to carry on with things. That isn’t to say that it isn’t entertaining; it’s actually a pretty good game after all. It’s just that the subject material makes for a pretty somber experience. If anything, in addition to being a good game, I feel it at least helps shed light on something that isn’t often considered in games, or even day to day life for that matter.
With that, I’d have to say that I recommend This War Of Mine to anyone interested in a survival experience, or anyone that feels like they would like to see a new perspective on war. Considering that last bit, and the state of recent events, I’d say that this is a great edutainment game on the subject matter as well.
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