He’s Five Foot Two, and He’s Six Feet Four
War. War never changes, much like video games if we are honest. From the classic arcade games like Operation Wolf to one of this year’s biggest hits, Wolfenstein. If a video game is set around a war then you’re pretty much guaranteed to be playing as some tooled up bad ass, which spurts clichéd one liners as you mow down your foes with a big huge gun. You’ve probably got a stupid name like BJ or Soap too.
This War Of Mine changes all of that. Playing as a group of civilians, your not so simple task is to survive in a war torn city currently under siege. A group of everyday people that have found themselves in exceptionally brutal circumstances, things like this are happening all over the world right now. From Syria and Iraq to the Ukraine and no doubt countless other countries that never make it onto the news. It’s a bold and risky undertaking from developer 11 Bit Studios, the subject matter is so real, harrowing and relevant, that it must be handled with care and without diminishing the impact of the scenarios your survivors will face. So far 11 Bit seems to be nailing it on every aspect.
The game itself is a 2.5D survival game with exploration, crafting, and resource management all thrown into the mix. These different elements work together very well, it’s certainly challenging and the dilemmas the game throws up will undoubtedly give you pause for thought. Whilst one decision might be best for your band of survivors, it might spell doom for someone else. The game is controlled completely via mouse; unobtrusive icons are used for actions that can be taken. Click the eye icon on a door and you peer through the keyhole. A hand icon lets you search for supplies. It’s really simple and effective, letting you concentrate on the task at hand, rather than going through loads of menus. Character portraits also let you switch between your survivors and lets you see their wants and needs. Having got to grips with the basics I dived into the game.
Day one of my attempt at survival found my three civilians; Bruno, Pavle and Marko holding up in an abandoned house. Unable to go scavenging during the daylight for fear of sniper fire, I set them up to start routing through the scattered belongings of the previous occupants, hoping to find anything to help them survive. Bruno, a bear of a man with a warm face was starting to feel ill, with no medicine to be found in the house it would be a priority when night fell and it was safe to venture outside.
As darkness descended, I had the option to finally go and explore some of the other buildings in the city. Bruno was ill so I left him to sleep and Pavle was on guard duty. It fell to Marko, a skilled scavenger to search for supplies. I had a few options but decided to play it safe. A nearby abandoned house was my destination. Scavenging through the detritus of war I found plenty of supplies and even some medicine. Just as I was about to leave with my haul of loot I came across another civilian, a starving old man. He asked for food, begged for food, but with my three survivors all hungry I kept what I found and left him to his fate. It was a hard decision to make I wonder what happened to the old man. Part of me doesn’t want to know but it wasn’t the only dilemma I faced whilst playing This War Of Mine.
The second day passed without incident, Bruno was starting to feel better after taking some medicine and I set around making life more comfortable for my three survivors. Using the supplies I’d gathered on the previous night I built a stove and a bed. Being able to rest during the day was a great help to the survivors and the warmth from the stove lifted the spirits of all three. Once it was dark outside, Marko set out looting again and left Pavle to sleep, with Bruno taking over guard duties this time around. It was a quiet night for Marko, however the same could not be said for Bruno and Pavle.
Another group of survivors had stormed the building, and although Bruno and Pavle did their best to fight the attackers off, all of their supplies had been stolen and Pavle had sustained a nasty injury. The group spent the third day licking their wounds, although Marko had returned with some supplies, the raid had left them critically low and Pavle needed bandages to heal his wound. As the safety of darkness descended Marko once again ventured forth, desperate to find supplies to help Pavle.
The supermarket looked like a good bet, and to start off proved quite fruitful. Food and drink were plentiful and with a backpack nearly full Marko pressed deeper into the store hoping to find some bandages. Approaching a closed door, Marko could hear people talking on the other side. It wasn’t a pleasant conversation. Spying through the keyhole, a woman was scrambling around on the floor looking for food as a man in a military uniform loomed over her. Favours were being demanded in exchange for food and it was all too clear where the situation was heading. Marko could have left the supermarket, sneaking out the same way he came in but it just didn’t seem right. Unarmed he opened the door, with a distraction created the woman ran for her life as the soldier raised his machine gun to shoot her down. He should have run as soon as he saw the gun. Instead he tried to tackle the man with fatal results, whilst he had saved the woman Marko paid the ultimate price.
The playable section of the game I’ve been hands on covers the first 12 days of the survivors attempt to eke out an existence in the war torn streets and buildings. Everything I’ve just written about happened in the first three days, I can’t wait to see what happens in just the next nine days let alone the full game. Its real edge of your seat stuff, looking after the three survivors and weighing up the risk versus rewards of scavenging in richer but more dangerous grounds is exciting and terrifying at the same time. The decisions that must be made have real weight to them, the results doing absolute justice to the grim subject matter.
The presentation and art style is completely unique. The game plays out with almost hand sketched animated visuals, think of an updated A-HA Take on Me and you wouldn’t be far off. It’s really hard to put into words how good it all looks in action, it sets a sombre tone and yet it still manages to be beautiful all at the same time. Added to that, the developers have used photographs of real people as the in game avatars for your survivors. The photos and art-style combined offer a stylised yet gritty look at the ravages this war has had on the city.
Details about release dates and platforms are thin on the ground and whilst I hope we will find out more about these things soon I’m certain that if 11 bit Studios carry on the way they have started it will without a doubt be worth the wait. On so many levels This War Of Mine excels and it’s quite possibly my most anticipated upcoming release.