"War does not determine who is right - only who is left" - Bertrand Russell
Details of Review:
- Game was purchased with own money.
- Spent about 16 hours in the game before finishing the review.
- Completed one full playthrough of the game, while starting and not completing a few other ones.
- No contact with the publication was made with the reviewer and vice versa.
The aesthetic that the creators of This War of Mine, 11 bit studios, have captured the themes that they wanted to present perfectly in the art style and UI elements that they've chosen to go with in this game. The dark and dreary nature matches the tones that the game is going for: the world and its inhabitants look ravaged and look like they've been through hell and back, and that there's not much hope on the horizon. You'll run through abandoned schools, a trashed supermarket, and even a run down church throughout your adventures, hoping to find whatever you can, while avoiding danger wherever possible. But beyond the overarching style that the game presents, the game does a fantastic job in capturing the small details that give humanity to the characters in question, and help explain what they are going through and what their mental state is. Characters will start limping along if they are sick or wounded, and having elements like having the character profile faces blink once in a while help add to the fact that these characters are "real". You'll want these characters to succeed, to live through the nightmare they are going through, but you'll soon realize that that is a tall order to achieve. For an example runthrough of the game, you can find it in the video here:
Let's not mince words: This War of Mine is a brutal game. If you're looking for happiness, sunshine, and kittens, this is not the game you are looking for. The game is broken in to two basic cycles: the day phase, and the night phase. The basic concept of the day phase gameplay is that you are a set of survivors hiding out from the soldiers and the horrors that the constant war has brought. during the day, you do your best to tend to the needs of your survivors. Feeding them, taking care of sickness and wounds, and building up your home with appliances and items that will help you out on a daily basis. You'll use what you found during the previous night phase however you can, maybe building a shovel to dig through junk faster, or creating a stove to more efficiently cook the food you have gathered. You have a limited time to do this every morning phase, however, towards the middle/end of the game, I found myself hitting the "skip to end of day" button a lot more then I wanted to, because there was nothing left for me to do. I do wish there was a speed up option instead, I do wonder if I missed out on some events like people coming to my door that I would have gotten if I waited. However, at certain points, the best option was to heal up and sleep off wounds and regain energy, and thus your time was better spent just watching the characters do nothing on screen.
The second phase of the game is the night phase, where there are two major elements. First if your selection of what your people will do during the night. You can sleep, you can guard your house, or you can go scavenge. In most situations, you'll need someone to go to scavenge due to the fact that it's really one of the only ways you'll get consistent resources, although you'll run into a situation or two where it's better to stay back as you're too hurt or tired to go out while still protecting what you have from looters. If you do go have someone scavenge, you'll have to select a location on where to go. Each location has its own risks and rewards involved with it: some have a lot more resources but more danger associated with them, or some of them may be there to trade and barter with local townspeople. On these missions, you'll sneak around attempting to find whatever you can, clearing out iron bars or locks with appropriate tools to hopefully find a hidden treasure trove of items. You can fight people you find on these missions, but be aware that there are dangerous people in the world, and are more then happy to put you down at a moments notice.
What the game does is make it so that each resource feels important, so that the hard decisions you'll have to make will make a huge difference on how you'll set yourself up to survive for the next few days. Do you make a moonshine still, hoping that you can get the resources to make alcohol to trade at the local market, for food and other supplies you need? Or do you use it to board up my home to make it harder for people to rob from me, protecting the resources you already have? Each decision is a struggle, and the last thing you want to do is waste your resources when you don't have to. Losing resources is always a nasty surprise: having looters come take the last of the meat that you just grabbed for your hungry survivors is agonizing, while chasing them off will feel like a victory, but only for a short period of time. The game never lets you get comfortable, as between depression, hunger, and sickness, there will be always something that you'll have to deal with that may cut your survivors life rather short.
And that's where the game shines: the hard decisions that it makes you make on a regular basis. One of the first things that I ran into was a drunk soldier attacking a girl within the supermarket, as I hid in the other room while gathering supplies. It was clear she needed help, but with him having a gun to my fists, I didn't think I could take him on. And so the girl was left to her own devices, and coming back to the supermarket, I found that she had been killed by the man. It affected my survivors: they wished they could have helped the girl, and some of them started to feel the effects of the decision that was made. You'll start to feel paranoia with every decision, if you missed something that you should have seen, or if anyone is as trustworthy as they seemed. Later on, a women and her daughter came to my door, asking to help defend their home against thugs. I was considering it, until I read her story again and wondered where her husband was that apparently owned the shotgun in question. Why wasn't he defending them, they didn't mention that he had left or wasn't around. And so I turned them away, and several survivors felt guilty for not helping them out (but not all). That can be a bit frustrating, it's hard to get a decision making process translated into the game world, as some of the decisions aren't so binary as the game makes them appear to be.
You'll question what kind of person you are while playing this game, and that's hard for games to do in ways that don't beat you over the head with its message. The game only beats its message at you with one particular event in the game (as an NPC follows you and analyzes your decision making skills), but you'll sit there and wonder about your decisions regardless. For example, one of the characters was terminally ill during my playthrough, and at several points, I wondered if it was easier to just let her die. Would I make that decision in real life? She kept on fighting off death, and was it my lack of faith that she'd pull through the ultimate reason for her eventual demise, even a lot later then I thought it'd be?
There aren't a lot of gameplay mechanics here, and it's a matter of debate on whether that hurts or helps the game in the long run. The simple gameplay lets you focus on the emotions of the characters and the story that's being told, however, you'll find yourself looking for something more by the end of the experience. Once you go down a certain path, it's hard to get off that path in a reasonable form. You'll always have to sacrifice some aspect of your characters because you won't have the resources to be able to make the needed elements on your own. And gambling to find the elements in the locations during the night is always a gamble unless you've already found it: the elements may be behind locked rooms, or you may not have the right tool to get to it. That plays well into the overall narrative that the game goes for, however, for someone who doesn't like randomness in their game experience, it could be hard to swallow. Replayability is questionable thanks to the limited gameplay mechanics.
But in the end though, This War of Mine is a fantastic experience that shouldn't be missed if you have the opportunity to play it. It's the type of game that can make people look at the video game genre and see it's story telling potential, even if the story is unfolding right before your eyes. Even though the gameplay mechanics may get boring for some, it does enough to influence your characters livelihood while not giving you enough control to make them suicide at everything they do. That's life for you: it's not fair, and this game will remind you of that.