This War of Mine ReviewKurt Horsting
This War of Mine is one of those rare games that is about the nature of war. Not that there isnâ€™t war in it, or war as a plot device, but the game wouldnâ€™t work without a clear message about war. Although it is safe to assume that we all know that war is bad, it delivers that message in a very compelling way that many other games haven't even tried yet. It doesnâ€™t shy away from the arbitrary cruelty, the unfairness and the desperation that survival brings.
A little background before going forward. The events in this game are based around the Bosnian Civil war in 1993 and is based around the accounts of several survivors of the war. Although the people and the location is fictional, the real world parallels to the conflict are all too obvious. No one can move during the daylight due to indiscriminate sniper fire and the characters in the game are all ethnically baltic peoples. The most relevant point to this conflict being chosen is mainly how recent it is, how many atrocities were committed and how unfamiliar people are to why the war even happened. The last point is somewhat academic, but not knowing why there is a war that is destroying your life and humanity, forcing you to do things just to live one more day makes the game feel that much more unfair and depressing.
How the game is played is rather intuitive, but is deliberately leaves you uninformed of what impact your choices make. Just like in real life, there is no tutorial on how to survive when everything is taken from you. Thankfully, your character and two of his/her friends have found a bombed out shelter, and you need to make it through till the end. You control your survivors sort of like a 2d sims game, making your characters build furniture and workbenches or manage their health, eat food, or go to sleep. Ignoring the fact that your survivors have the engineering skills of Macgyver, every character has a unique trait that makes them more useful and unique. The most useful traits seem to be Romanâ€™s combat training (since he is a defected soldier), Brunoâ€™s cooking and Marvinâ€™s handyman traits since they save you material when making food or building stuff respectively. Everyone has something unique and useful which makes it more compelling when they are in any sort of peril.
During the day you're stuck in your home (due to sniper fire) and have to build stuff and manage the status of your characters. During the night, you need to venture out of the comforts of your makeshift home and find resources. And this is where you find the scariest thing in the game, other people just like you. They can be looking for trade, they can be minding their own business, they can be starving and begging for help, or they might rob or kill you. Every interaction is a risk and you have to use your instincts to keep yourself safe. If you do find yourself fighting for your life, you're going to have to learn that on the fly as well. Fighting is a good reminder that you are just one civilian. Bullets will tear you apart, and fighting is quick hectic and violent. You can defend yourself, but you arenâ€™t going to take out a group of armed hostiles without major preparations and experience, two things you will lack.
Where this game shines the most is just bringing the atmosphere of being in a conflict like this.The war itself is an ever present malicious force rather than something dealing with sides or a point. The game is tactfully apolitical, were their is no attention to why either the government and the rebels are fighting in the first place. The fact that the war is causing these miserable conditions is all the information that you need. Also a lot of the flavor text and random events really sell the constant tragedies that a conflict like this brings. A highlight of this was an entry in a discarded diary of a child with contents describing a classmate being killed by a sniper. Although I know the events of the game where fictional, I knew its inspiration was real and it just hurt to know things a tragedy like that happened not so long ago.
Some problems with the game is that once you figure it out, it gets kinda easy to min/max and optimise what you're doing. Locations are not procedurally generated, so you can have strategies set up to take everything without even breaking a sweat. There are rogue like elements like always saving, and not being able to have multiple games going to prevent you just rolling the die till rng lets you win. But there is an easy exploit where you can just leave during any part of a day, and it will reset that day with no penalty, basically giving you a mulligan on anything you're doing. Also the core mechanics are closer to a point and click adventure and once your get the gist the game gets pretty repetitive.
Despite these weaknesses, this game is something that I wish more games would do. Bring us an experience alien to our lives to explore for ourselves. A movie or a book about the conflict can only teach us what already happened, and the experience to those who lived through it. Where as a game can bring those elements a more personal experience by bringing those challenges directly to the player and make them relive a part of it unique to them. Though the message isnâ€™t revolutionary and the gameplay is a little dull and repetitive; its hard to think of a game that that makes me think about the nature of war more than this. Its a game that has something to say about the nature of war by making you the pilot. Surviving this was much easier than expected (or designed), but This War of Mine has changed me.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.