To start, let’s get this straight. I’ve never been one for war games.
I didn’t like Call of Duty nor Battlefield, but that’s just my personal preference. Growing up I played games like Tomb Raider and Tenchu, so I’ve still killed my fair share of bad guys and did I feel guilty about it? Nah. They were bad guys. You shoot them in the head or stab them or break their necks and you move on in the game, end of story.
But what happens when you find out the “bad guys” have a family and people they’re trying to protect; a partner they’ll never hold again; children they’ll never watch grow up? That’s where This War of Mine comes in.
Initially released on Steam in November 2014, and now on Android and iOS in July 2015, the Polish company drew inspiration from the Bosnian War. Award-winning 11 Bit Studios paid homage to the civilian experience without sullying it and has had a monumental success with This War of Mine, taking only two days after release to break even. It is one of the most positively reviewed survival games of all time. The aim of the game isn’t to reach a specific goal, which makes the game harder than if we had to: the aim is just to survive for as long as possible until a cease-fire is declared – a ceasefire which is randomised, might I add.
The first thing I noticed when firing up the game was its hauntingly beautiful sketch-over art style. To me the imperfect shading was a perfect representative of the chaos of the city around them. Once civilised, now fallen into war, these citizens are not soldiers and we’re given the resources to make that decision independently. My three starters are just men who got caught in the crossfire. Marko (a fireman) is an excellent scavenger but finds it hard to deal with blood on his hands. Bruno (a chef) is an excellent cook but general bastard who isn’t overly fussed about moral dilemmas as long as he can eat and smoke. Then we have Pavle (a footballer), my dark horse. He runs fast and currently guards my shelter…but apart from that I haven’t actually found a use for him.
Where game play is concerned, it’s very much like The Sims; essentially it is The Sims rated ‘R’. I’ve played This War of Mine on both PC and iOS and have noticed some clear differences. One of the main ones that had me rooting for iOS was in navigating. To move around the area on PC you have to either drag your mouse to the corner of the screen or use the more common drag and drop method. On tablet this is less of an issue and more of a fitting sequence considering this is how most Android/iOS games are played, making combat a lot easier. This considered however, I would still keep to PC for the full experience. I’m currently on day 14 on the iOS version and have yet to see people come to my door for trade/assistance and this was one of my favourite parts of the game. Whether this is due to a bug or a much needed patch, I don’t know, but as it was one of the few mercies the game granted I hope it will be fixed soon.
This War of Mine turned out better than I’d expected. In the past, “survival” to me meant scavenging and crafting and killing but I didn’t expect it to be wrapped in a guilt-laced ribbon. It takes the recurrent and sometimes way-overused genre and crosses the line a lot of developers have been afraid to cross, giving it a new level of severity as it rubs salt in your freshly raw heart. The added pressure of disappointing your friends who often tend to be starving makes deciding whether to kill or steal much more intense. If you spare someone from losing their resources because you feel bad it’s very likely you’ll be on your path to starvation/sickness. Then when you do kill, whether physically or through stealing precious items such as food, it actually sticks with you long after the deed’s been done, sometimes even long after you’ve shut down the computer. I still feel bad about the old couple I inadvertently killed at the “quiet house”. By taking their food to feed my friends, I found them dead in their bed a few days later. Harsh.
Only a couple of things comes to mind about improvement, and they’re not necessarily important points. When the seasons change it’d be amazing to be able to craft different items that aren’t available other times of the year, i.e. blankets or barricades to keep the heat in for a longer period of time. It would have also been interesting if it gave us the choice of which part of the city we could set up our camp, or give us the ability to relocate if we’re running low on resources – though this choice could come with another moral dilemma so it isn’t an easy choice to make. This addition may make playing the game again and again a bit more refreshing than just exploring the same couple of house models.
This game has carved a path for the next generation of survival games to venture down. As consumers, we hate making hard moral decisions but we love the freedom it gives us – to screw up because we screwed up, not because that was the way the game goes. When one of my protagonists dies it’s utterly devastating, sometimes to the point of which I’ll restart the game before it has a chance to save… but don’t tell anyone that. We’re bored of predictable, two-dimensial experiences and we’re bored of cheats that make “serious” games too easy. Every now and again we like losing because then when we win it’s the sweetest victory, though with This War of Mine it probably wouldn’t feel like a victory at all.