This War of Mine. A game set in a war zone. Nothing really different right? But what if you’re not part of the forces involved, and instead are just a civilian, a casualty of war, caught in the crossfire and just trying to survive to the next day. The game is created by 11 Bit Studios, a Polish developer who has made a game which is a simplified Sim’s meets an environment heavily inspired by Sarajevo in the Bosnian War between 1992-1996. Another immediate comparison is to Spec Ops: The Line, a game not known for good gameplay, but renowned for it’s raw, gritty depiction of war, it’s consequences and how it effects the soldiers on the ground.
Survive. That’s the game. You begin with three random characters in your bombed out ruin of a hostel, and like every other character who can appear, each is unique. One character was the cook, originally a TV chef who travelled the world before everything went to ruin. The second character was a good scavenger, which we’ll get to later, and the third was an ex footballer, so he’s a quick runner.
The gameplay is split into two hard cut sections, day and night. By day, you do whatever you can to keep everybody happy. This can be something like letting a person sleep in a bed, which was made from wood found around the hostel, or letting the chef cook food, from supplies scavenged from the night before. Or even as simple as making some chairs or a ragged sofa, letting people sit down and have a smoke. You can make a heater to keep the temperature up, stopped the cold getting in and having people fall ill, a metalwork bench to create lockpicks and other tools to help with scavenging, or upgrade current things around to allow you build more useful objects to keep everybody healthy, happy, and most importantly, alive or at least one more day.
Once the night falls, the game changes. When it hits, you have options. Characters can rest in a bed, provided you’ve made enough for everybody. They can be set to stay up all night and watch guard, hopefully warding off any potential raiders from storming in and stealing your precious supplies while you’re asleep. You can reduce this chance by making things from the metalwork bench like knives, or even guns if you’ve got enough equipment. And then you have the option to send one character off to scavenge for some badly needed supplies.
If you’re scavenging, you have choices again and it call comes down to risk versus reward. Do you scavenge the abandoned house, which has been left derelict after a fire, but still has inside an ample amount of equipment and food letting you survive just a little longer? Or do you go to the housing estate a little further out, which hasn’t been swallowed up by the war just yet, but is ripe for the scavenging?
Going into the burned house, it’s pretty empty save for movement you can see upstairs, indicated by red circles, which look like footsteps. Turns out upon seeing, it’s just a mouse, but it gives you the idea that the game can have a little bit of tension here and there. Another area you can visit, a church, has some piles of rubble you can sift through and a priest, who is willing to trade with you, using things like coffee beans and a rare piece of jewellery to barter for food or maybe some rolling papers, to help the smoker you have back at the hostel stave off his cravings for a little bit longer.
The game is gritty and does a good job of what I think a realistic depiction of a war zone would be for the civilians caught up in it. Even as far as being sponsored by War Child, a charity about protecting and caring for children who have been affected by war. You can be fine one day, then all of a sudden you lose a ton of supplies from a raid on your hostel, or a stray bullet from a fight nearby wounds someone, or you run out of wood, and people start to get ill cause of the cold. There’s a variety of ways it can play out, and all you can do is try to stop as much of it as you possibly can.
Going back to the choices, what if you decided to go to that untouched part of town and enter the house there. Upon entering and starting to scavenge, you find a scared old couple cowering in fear from you as you take all their medication and food from them. Now who is the bad guy? Who needs it more? The game’s choices are not just black and white. The game’s colour palette is grey for a reason. The game overall looks very nice, a 2d style of drawings made to look sketchy and uneven. It can be tense it certain situations, where you don’t know what to do or how to react in a scenario. And most importantly, the game raises awareness of situations that real people in this real world either have done or live in currently.
It does have a few downfalls though. The combat is not the greatest, swinging a knife or shooting a gun is kinda clunky and this falls down to another problem: The Controls. While simple controls do allow for anyone to experience the game, just using a mouse to control everything results in some movement being a bit unresponsive, or in one situation, accidentally running and causing a ton of noise by double clicking.
Another potential negative to some people is the game’s gritty overtone, thus making it not exactly a fun experience. But that’s what it sets out to do, so I guess it’s just not for everybody. Finally, another product of the game’s intentions and its design in general, is that it’s more or less just an educational tool. This means that it isn’t really much of a game, having limited controls with not much replayability and variety in gameplay.
So, This War of Mine is a watered down Sim’s with the grim reality of a war as a setting, making for an interesting juxtaposition. Making decisions about what to do, and every character who comes in being unique and having their own tale makes things interesting. The controls are simple, so the control barrier for entry is very low allowing most people to be able to play it. But on the flipside, in pressure situations it can be a little slow to respond, and the combat is janky as best. And the experience as whole isn’t much of a game outright. What the game sets out to do, it does well. It’s a powerful and harrowing showing of life for the civilians caught in the crossfire. But that is about all it does.
+ Unique characters with their own tales to learn
+ Simple gameplay; anyone can play it
+ Gritty and powerful depiction of war
– Simple control scheme can be a burden in pressure scenarios
– It tells a tale, doesn’t play much as a game