This War of Mine
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Release Date: 11/14/2014
There are plenty of games out there that like to talk about war. Almost all of them are loud, violent, and aggressive about it. Most of the time, you get to see what war is like through the eyes of a soldier. You’re in the front row of the fighting. This War of Mine does the opposite. It puts you in control of a group of displaced citizens. They’re not fighting a war. They’re trying to survive it. Between scavenging for supplies, fighting off sickness, and praying they don’t get raided, it’s not going to be easy. It’s a different kind of war game for sure.
So the basic gist of things is that war has torn an Eastern European town apart. The buildings are in shambles, scuffles break out constantly, and the survivors have to hole up in hopes of living to see the end. When the game starts, you can select one of several different starting parties. Each combination of survivors has different skill sets. For example, Katia’s group is good when it comes to bargaining and making the most of what’s available. Marko’s group is great at getting the most out of scavenging runs. Some survivors are good cooks, some are fighters, and others know a thing or two about horticulture.
While the game doesn’t have a true overall narrative, it does still have a story to tell. Each of your characters keeps a journal detailing their thoughts about the game. They’ll remember or comment on pretty much everything. For example, Bruno is the kind of guy who doesn’t mind living off of the troubles of others, while Pavle takes things like theft and murder to heart. If you had to rob a couple of elderly people of their precious medicine, you’re going to hear about it.
Of course, this brings up one of the problems with the game. You can only take one person out on a scavenging trip. No matter what happens on said trip, the rest of your group is going to know about it the next day. If a guy brutally murders a couple of people to get supplies when he didn’t have to, why would he tell all of his friends about it?
Visually, the game uses a sketchbook style to great affect. The art of the game is intentionally dreary to bring home the point that this is not a happy place. Everything is dirty or broken. Simple touches like changing the animations depending on whether a character is depressed or injured is also a great touch. The 2D look has its limitations though. The game often appears flat an uninteresting. There’s also a sameness between certain locations that starts to make each location bleed into the next. It’s a good overall look, but it’s not without it’s setbacks.
For the sound, it’s all about the effects and the music. Things are pretty minimal here. While you’ll get appropriate sounds for appropriate actions, nothing really pops. The music is usually minimal too. It goes with the bleak atmosphere, but at times it can feel like there isn’t any real sound at all. You can listen to the radio though, and this breaks up the monotony a bit. The focus is on the atmosphere, almost to a fault.
This War of Mine is about time management more than anything else. The clock is always ticking. You’re free to have your crew do whatever you want. However, there are certain conditions that need to be watched. Characters get hungry and tired as time passes. If you don’t let them sleep or eat, death is certainly possible. Sad characters can become depresses and unwilling to do anything. A small cold, if left untreated, can lead to an early grave as well.
Of course, you can’t take care of any of these problems without resources. You’ll need food to eat, weapons to protect yourself, and materials to upgrade your equipment. You can get this stuff by scavenging at night or by trading with a merchant who may or may not stop by your place. The trick is that enemies and other obstacles will block your way. While some people can be safely ignored or intimidated, you’re not going to steal that bandit’s food without him shooting back.
Everything is handled with mouse clicks. You click on the person you want to use, click on where you want them to go, and click on what you want them to interact with. Little icons appears whenever you can interact with something. For example, you can click on a stove to cook food, and then click on the eat icon to eat it. This keeps the mechanics simple enough, but can crowd the screen with information at times. It’s also not ideal for combat. If you want to punch someone, you have to click on the punch icon when they’re moving around. That’s easier said than done.
If and when a character dies, they’re gone for good. You’ll have to carry on without them. As you might imagine, that can lead to a snowball effect where everything goes to hell rather quickly. It’s best not to let people die if you can help it. The good news is that you can acquire more allies as you go. People will come to your house looking for shelter. You’re free to let them in or turn them away however you like, but you can only have up to five people in your group at once.
While one person goes out to scavenge, the others are going to have stay behind. This is far from ideal, but it sets up something interesting. Those that stay behind can get some shut eye or they can guard. While guarding, you have a better chance of thwarting would be raids, but that extra sleep can really help you out as well.
It’s an interesting balance. The need and hunger for supplies will have you taking risks and breaking your moral code throughout the game. However, the game remembers everything you do. If you do manage to reach the end, which can happen at any point after a certain amount of time has passed, you’ll have to relive your decisions via a montage. This is a game that means to teach you what the horror of war really is. It does a decent job of it.
Short Attention Span Summary
This War of Mine is a very interesting game. While a lot of it boils down to grinding for materials or killing time until you get to scavenge, the meat of the game comes down to the decisions you’ll make. You have to decide whether you’ll be the type of survivor who steals or kills in order to get by. Either way, the lives of your characters hang in the balance. While it has some odd logic issues, the overall experience is thought provoking and satisfying. This one is worth a look.