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This War of Mine

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By Bobfish24-11-2014
Gronnings (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
This War of Mine

The Defence

Developer:
11 bit Studios
Publisher:
11 bit Studios
Genre:
Adventure, Indie, Simulator
Release Date:
14-11-2014

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core 2 Quad 2.7 GHz
AMD Phenom II X4 3.0 GHz
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
AMD Radeon HD 5770
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
1.5 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

War is far from being an uncommon theme in the video game world. Hell, it’s far from being an uncommon theme in ... life I guess. An omnipresent aspect of the human condition, both figuratively and literally. Though the world is demonstrably a calmer, more peaceful place now than ever before (we only see bad shit more easily these days) it is sobering to realise there are still wars being waged at this very moment. One of the most devastating incidences of this, in recent memory, if not all of history, was the siege of Sarajevo, which is the inspiration for the setting of This War of Mine. But why, you may ask, should this game be any different than the multitude of other war sims? Good question. Allow me to elucidate.

The Trial

Well, despite what you may be thinking, it’s not the fact it’s based on, or at least inspired by, real events that sets it apart. That is something else that is extremely common after all. Just look at the mountain of literature, film and other art about the first and second World Wars. Or the historical RTS games that cover everything from the Ottoman Empire, to Rome, to the Tokugawa, and so on. That alone is hardly enough to merit any kind of claim of individuality; one could wager quite the opposite. But This War of Mine most certainly does stand as a truly unique foray into this most human of ideas.

You see, where most, if not all, games about war are built around you being the hero, the integral part of the war effort that kills the bad guys, stops the terruhrists! and saves the day, this time you’re the civilians. Just three random, lost souls thrust together by circumstance with no greater desire than to stay alive. That’s it. Just survive. Endure the hardships, hold out until the fighting ends and, maybe, go back to having some semblance of a life after that. But you can worry about the last part ... if you make it that far.

I'm sure it's fine. What could possibly go wrong?

I'm sure it's fine. What could possibly go wrong?

11 Bit achieved this sense of hopelessness by stripping away almost everything that makes a game, as we now understand them. Functionally, the game is as bare bones as it could possibly be. It’s a point-and-click ‘adventure’ with some broad but very simple crafting and resource management built into it. This ultimately proves to be its greatest strength, allowing the real message behind the experience to shine through by what it is, rather than what it is trying to say.

There is no grand narrative here, driven by slick, superbly stylised action set pieces, or beautifully choreographed cinematic story segments with big name actors giving their Oscar bait performance of a lifetime. In fact, there is barely any audio at all: a haunting, often out of place musical track that shifts with the tone of events and locations, some sporadic, floating dialogue bubbles and a bit of flavour text. Everything is presented through gameplay. Even the visual presentation is strictly minimalist, adopting a grainy, pencil sketch 2D dollhouse aesthetic which underpins the desolation of the world you have come to inhabit. Where other games have tried to engage you to hear their message with fancy gameplay to keep you engaged, This War of Mine’s gameplay is the message.

The story, such as it is, is simple. You want to survive. It may seem redundant saying that again, but it is something that must be impressed upon the player for it all to make sense. Think of it like the world of an open, sandbox RPG that has all of that sprawling wilderness to go exploring, where you can pick up those little anecdotes about the time you stumbled across a group of bandits and one of them fell off a ledge, or saw a thief trying to break into a house and watched him be trampled by a cow. Those kinds of things. Then imagine the whole game is nothing but that.

Sleep is for the weak!

Sleep is for the weak!

The tales of heroism, cowardice, victory, defeat and … everything, will be the stories you create yourself. You will lead your three randomly selected characters (and any others who may or may not join you as the days progress) to their series of randomly generated buildings to scavenge food and supplies. And then you will decide if they break into the house of the harmless elderly couple and steal their food, or turn away and regret going there in the first place, or kill them to put them out of their misery, or simply because you don’t care and you want all of their stuff for yourself. It’s all up to you.

To aid you in this journey, each of the characters you control will have their individual character traits. All of them are useful in their own, those some are more overt and obvious than others. Slow but Strong and Handyman, for example, are far more immediately understandable than Good With Children and Good Lawyer. But none of them is without purpose and all of them will provide something that may just be enough to tip the balance in your favour. Which is, remember, the ultimate goal here. Stay alive until the fighting ends. Which could be weeks, or months.

Pretty much everything is randomised each time you start the game. One time you may start in the middle of winter; other times it could be amidst a rash of violent raids, meaning you will need to constantly have people awake overnight to guard your ‘home’; sometimes it might even be relatively calm and people will come knocking on your door every day offering you vegetables from their garden just because they want to be good people; other times you’ll have kids constantly begging for food and medicine for their sick mother. My only advice: never turn these people away. It will always come back to benefit you if you work together, hard as that may seem.

At least there is some peace to be had ... right?

At least there is some peace to be had ... right?

If there was any complaint to be made (which there always is, to be fair) it is that the game is a little too easy once you get to grips with the mechanics of the system. Certain items, such as traps for small animals, all but guarantee you will be successful once you learn the correct amount to have and how to get them. To the point that, no matter how dire your starting situation, it takes only a few days to turn things around and be, relatively speaking, living in comfort by the end of the first week.

However, this is not such a terrible thing in the end. Because whilst the game needs to be gruelling enough to demonstrate its points, that surviving a war is hellish. It does not do to be so impossible that it becomes, well, impossible. And 11 Bit have placed themselves, a little clumsily, on the line between challenge and engagement with deliberate care and attention. Leaving it for the individual to decide whether they achieved the correct balance between the two.

The Verdict

Ultimately, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, the end product is imprecise. It is trying to be something powerful and deep, trying very, very hard and earnestly. And it genuinely hits far too close to home for comfort in that regard. But, and there is always a but, it still has a few rough edges that reduce, but do not mar, the overall experience. If ever there was a game that I would tell you to try and decide for yourself, this must be it. The few, very few, imperfections in the final product leave us with a game that is far greater than itself, a true work of artistic expression that will mark the turning point of our nascent medium into a force for real, demonstrable impact on the world.

Case Review

  • Choice: You choose your actions, and you choose their ramifications. There is morality here only where you choose to apply it.
  • Narrative: You are given a framework of events and left to assign meaning to them however you decide.
  • Setting: Drawing on the backdrop of the all too real Siege of Sarajevo adds a great deal of authenticity to what is, otherwise, a work of fiction.
  • Message: There is a poignant lesson to be had here, but it is subtle to the point of almost seeming non-existent.
  • Visual Aesthetic: Simple and almost indistinct, it’s probably a little kitschy to some people.
  • Challenge: Initially seeming quite punishing, it rapidly becomes less so as you familiarise yourself with the mechanics.
4.5
Score: 4.5/5
Sometimes, the message is the message itself. This time, you are the message.

Appeal

Bruno, Pavle, and Katia are living in a house together. Pavle and Katia have gone without eating for the last two days and have started to starve to death while Bruno is becoming sick; something has to be done. They need food so, that night, Bruno sneaks into a small home nearby equipped with a knife and pistol just in case things go south with some bandits. Bruno was expecting bandits, what he got was a defenseless elderly couple. "Are you with the bandits?" asks the old man as Bruno walks in through the front door ready to shoot, "Don't take our food, we have so little left!" The old man never threatened Bruno, all he did was ask him to not take the little that they had left, but it was either the elderly couple or Katia and Pavle, and a choice had to be made.

These are the situations that This War of Mine puts you in. Situations where you break into a house to find the food you need to survive, expecting armed bandits, but find defenseless civilians. Do you kill them and take what they have? Do you take the righteous path and leave them be? What if they have a child that they're caring for? These situations have been in other games before, like in Telltale's The Walking Dead games, but This War of Mine isn't scripted, and isn't afraid to kill characters off when you make bad decisions. Innocent people die for no reason all the time in civil wars around the world, and This War of Mine shows that perfectly not through cutscenes or scripted events, but through gameplay decisions that you, the player, are responsible for.

This War of Mine isn't the next Call of Duty or shooter franchise, but it is the best strategy survival game to come out this year alongside Don't Starve. This War of Mine takes the old, beaten-to-death idea of war in video games, and doesn't put you behind the gun but in front of one, and tells you to survive day to day by making the toughest choices you've ever made in a game. This War of Mine is the best game to come out this half of 2014, and is a game any fan of narrative or survival gameplay should have in their collection.

5
Score: 5/5

Appeal

This War of Mine is a moving game, in many ways. The most noteworthy is the atmosphere – thick, dark, and deprived of hope.  I have played scary games, psychological games, and survivor games, and none of them have managed to reach me so deeply. The graphics and music do their job, with the pencil-like style making the experience rather unusual. Other strong points include an interesting crafting system, intuitive sneaking, and scavenging mechanics. The game turns out to be both fun to play and worth to experience.

All this said, it is not at all perfect. The lack of basic concepts like customisation or in-depth planning makes the replay value rather low. Everything here is fascinating to experience, but very repetitive. Also, the mentioned graphical style will not appeal to everyone, mainly because of its uniqueness and indirectness, so to say.

However, there is something in This War of Mine, something not really describable with words. It makes one ponder the fundamental truths like friendship, the will to live, and the sense of existence in an unfriendly world.  This is why I strongly recommend giving the game a go, even once. It is an experience worth your time, if only to remind why the civilised world does and should do all it can to avoid wars.

4
Score: 4/5
Comments (7)
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Posts: 32

Really want to dive into this one some kind of soon.

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Posts: 3290

This Field of Mine?

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Posts: 1548

Uuuu, create-a-mixed-name game. I love those :P
Not Call of Duty or Battlefield of Mine?

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Posts: 3290

Yesh

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Posts: 29

I'll go with Serious Starve.

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Posts: 3290

So...This Starve of Mine? Don't Serious? Serious Starve? This Stave of Serious?

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Posts: 29

Don't Starve, but totally serious.