This War of Mine Review

Logo_ArtworkThis War Is Mine

PC

11 Bit Studios

One of the best things about the internet nowadays is how easy it is to scream abuse at someone who doesn’t share your opinions.

Seriously.

Imagine what kind of world we’d have to struggle in if you couldn’t tell someone how wrong they are about the music they like, the sports they watch or the video games they enjoy. Oh, it would be awful. They’d never learn, would they? The dumb-dumbs. Wallowing and thrashing around in their own ignorance, foolishly keeping hold of their ill-conceived ideas. We should get them to wise up.

Who knows where it could end? Men could start wearing shirts we object to. Did we lose a war?

Talking of war, here is a video game about it. It’s called This War of Mine and it purports to teach us about the real horrors of war for the people who are caught up in the fighting, but are not necessarily combatants. This is the story of the regular folk; teachers, journalists and the elderly that suffer in war too. Oh and sports stars. And women. Men too, actually. Now I come to think about it, war is pretty awful for everyone involved.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_02TWOM is a survival game. You begin with a ‘party’ of three, made up of ‘real’ people who find themselves caught up in some dreadful war in a ravaged European city. The game tries its best to trick the mind into believing in the pseudo-reality it constructs. Your characters have a photograph in the corner, and believable reactions to the events that surround them. They get tired and hungry, they suffer depression and anxiety, they struggle with the moral consequences of their actions just as you are asked to do.

Moral choices abound in This War of Mine. Since everything you have must be scavenged from other locations, every successful trip you have comes at someone’s else’s expense. You can meet other people in your excursions around the city, some openly hostile, others tentatively friendly. Here’s a guy with a sick parent; will you trade him some medicine, even though he has little to offer? At first, when you feel flush with resources and goodwill you might be inclined to help out but how long can your generosity hold out? Should you save a guy you don’t know when one of your party is sick? Or could get sick?

The format of the game is as follows: By day, your group members conduct jobs around your derelict dwelling, trying to make it fit for habitation. You can construct beds and chairs for rest, stoves to cook, workshops to craft tools and weapons. You are even able to build a distillery to make alcohol for trade. Periodically, people might visit and then you’ll want to send your most skilled barterer to the door to try and weasel a few extra morsels of food in trade for your dwindling supplies. You can also listen to the radio but sadly there’s only news reports. No K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the 70’s for you.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_04Night time is a different affair. You can select one of your party – let’s say Pavel, since he’s the athlete, strong and brave – to go out into the city on the hunt for materials to survive. At first, your scope is small and you have few scavenging options available to you. Root about in the early locations and try not to get murdered by any soldiers you see, that’s your best bet. Eventually you gather some resources and return home and hopefully on subsequent trips you can return better equipped and explore further until a location is exhausted. Sometimes you’ll want to trade with NPCs, sometimes your mistrust of their motives will lead you to shoot them in the face and burglarise their home. Either way, it’s a choice you made and one that you’ll have to live with.

Don’t feel too bad about what you do to the NPCs however, you can’t go outside for more than 5 minutes without someone trying to break in and steal your precious belongings. Sometimes they just go away and sometimes they steal all your food and mortally injure one of your group. But hey – that’s how awful war is and if you’d built better defences maybe it wouldn’t have happened. Or maybe it would. And maybe one of your party will just decide that they’re going to commit suicide because the horror is all too much. You know, these are all things that I’m sure make valid commentary on the psychological trauma of war.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_06And now, ladies and gentlemen, for my big but…

I hated This War of Mine.

I played it for some considerable time ahead of review and rarely have I felt so downbeat and crushed after engaging in a spot of my favourite pastime. This game can be a truly miserable experience for the player, particularly when a promising run ends in sudden and ignoble doom.

I would venture that This War of Mine is objectively a good product. It has a convincing art style that functions well, its minimalism suiting the tone. The music is chilling and haunting – extremely effective in conveying the sense of bleakness that the game wants to engender. Controls are clear and – for the most part function well – although there is an argument to be made that for a game that is grounded in realism, there is a lack of options presented when it comes to solving problems. For example, you can’t talk to everyone you meet to explain why you’re there, offer comfort or threaten, which leads to some frustrating NPC interaction. The simplicity makes sense but some players might find it unpleasantly restrictive.

This War Is Mine is another example of video games working on the boundaries of what people perceive to be a game and demanding the right to be viewed as art. It can be called art since it is no doubt effective at causing an emotional response from anyone who plays the game – and whilst it might be argued that the message around war has been delivered with more subtlety and style elsewhere, little beats the power of the video game for putting the audience at the centre of things. If it makes your finger hover over the action button for even a fraction of a second as you wonder, ‘is this the right thing to do?’ it has succeeded in engaging you far beyond what could be achieved by a mere novel or film.

I will end on this note however. You have a right not to enjoy art. You have a right not to engage with it. I strongly doubt I will ever play This War of Mine again because it provoked reactions from me that I found uncomfortable. You might well decide that this isn’t what you’re looking for from a game that might take up your whole weekend – that might leave you feeling a whole lot worse than when you went in. I don’t blame you, and you are not wrong.

 

Karlos Morale

Score 9/10

This War Is Mine is out now for PC at £14.99 and it’s a much better survival horror game than The Evil Within

Frugal Gaming Preview – This War Of Mine

Logo_Artwork

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.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_05What Is It Good For?

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.

TWOM_Screen_PAX_01The 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.

twom_warchildAnd The Violence Caused Much Silence

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.

 For more information about This War Of Mine you can check out the Website HERE or the Steam page can be found HERE

This War Of Mine from 11 bit studios on Vimeo.