Making war personal
This War of Mine is not the bombastic affair of most war games. You are not a gun-toting super human. You’re not even in the military. You are a civilian, caught in a war you have no stake in.
There is no glory, with survival being the only achievement in the dilapidated world you are trapped in.
Every game starts by placing you in control of a random group of survivors. My team is made up of three good men – Marco, Pavle, and Bruno – who are taking refuge in a bombed out house, that is filled with rubble and has been emptied of all comforts by looters. This is to be their home, their only refuge from the war. During the day, it provides protection from the conflict raging outside, while at night it serves as an operations base for foraging runs into the world.\n
As my first day begins, a short description explains that Pavle is injured, Bruno is sick, and all three men are tired of the war. I must ignore their exhaustion and set them to work, performing various tasks to make their shelter habitable. It is slow and methodical, emulating how time drags when you have to perform a hateful task. It gives you time to think and reflect on the horror of the world around you.
The hand-drawn art style adds to this. It looks like hurried scribblings in a diary, a lost record of the war, providing a disconcertingly haunting view of the world.
Clicking around the various task icons in the 2D environment, I set the trio to work making beds, constructing tools to speed up their work, and patching holes in the decimated building – all the while keeping a close eye on my resources. Think of it as The Sims: Apocalypse, were such an expansion not so tasteless.
Night time is a wholly different experience. The slow pace remains, but the mundane trudge of the day-to-day is replaced by thrillingly tense stealth as I set my team to scavenge different locations for supplies.
I chose to send Marco to scavenge, while the injured Pavle stands guard and the sick Bruno is allowed to sleep. Before even setting out, the stakes are high because, with the supplies already exhausted, it is imperative that food and first aid be found.
Each time night arrives, new districts open for you to visit and raid for supplies. Areas contain different rewards and hazards, so you must carefully weight up the trade off between what is needed and the danger involved – especially as you can only visit one area a night.
I select to raid the supermarket in the hope of improving Marco's chances of finding the vital supplies – but the game has other plans. Arriving in the darkened world, it becomes instantly clear that Marco is not the only person raiding the complex. An armed-gang patrols the isles, forcing me to carefully limit Marco’s search to the quieter areas.
Initially, Marco finds only scraps around the periphery of the structure. Then, having found a way into the undisturbed basement, he stumbles across a small medical room with bandages and medication. Abandoning a few planks of wood to make space in the inventory, I gleefully (or as gleefully as is possible in This War of Mine) grab the desperately needed supplies.
I want to just dash to the exit, but I suddenly notice the pulsing red dots outside the room that indicate Marco can hear something.
It is at times like this that the 2D viewpoint comes into its own, offering a complete overview of the space but hiding the unknowns – such as people intent on murdering Marco. Icons above the door offer two options; open it or peer through the lock. With my own breath held, I kneeling Marco down to peer into the corridor. It's a rat. Exhaling, I set Marco sprinting to the exit to carry the supplies home.
While day two went well, things quickly started to go downhill after that.
A few poor scavenges don't help, but it is the killing of Marco that really devastates the group. Caught one night searching a house for food, two other raiders found him and mercilessly beat him to the ground.
Days pass with Bruno complaining that they had "killed him like a dog". His mood grows increasingly dark, and, even though I send Pavle out day after day to meet his needs (to the point where Pavle’s fatigue becomes obvious through his slow, stumbling movement), nothing helps. Indeed, on one occasion Pavle's return to the house with essential supplies was met by complaints that he had stolen from other survivors – there is no pleasing some people.
Even the arrival of a new survivor to the group did little to help – especially when he too is gunned down in sniper alley (honestly, it may have been a bad choice to send him there).
Depression sinks through the pair, and their apathy leads to their eventual demise. Pavle's lethargy leaves him exposed to attack while scavenging, and Bruno effectively commits suicide by cop as he mistakenly walks into a military barracks with his gun drawn (in retrospect that one may have been my fault too).
Oppressive, tense, and depressing, there is every reason not to enjoy This War of Mine, but that doesn’t stop it being an engrossing and touching experience. It does exactly what it sets out to achieve, and is a somber reminder of the truth behind what games so often glamorize.
Original, creative, and (in its own way) beautiful, there is little else like this available. If you want to see another side of modern warfare then you should make this war yours.