This War of Mine is a survival game, that puts you in the shoes of civilian survivors in the war-torn, fictional city of Pogoren. The goal is to hold on to spark of life amid constant danger and try to survive until the inevitable(?) end of the conflict. To succeed, you must control the survivors as they maintain their home. In the beginning the game is very generous with resources. This will change, however, and soon difficult decisions need to be made.
The main gameplay is divided into day and night. During the day you micromanage your survivors and when the night falls, it is time to send someone scavenging through nearby locations to gather resources. The loop is simple in its design and so are the interactions within it. The game does not hold your hand, but the UI is easy to understand. This should ease most players into the mechanics, which is good, since when it comes to games with heavy theming there is always a danger of losing the bigger picture behind badly implemented mechanics.
And heavy theming this game indeed has: War and very real, everyday horror for the people stuck in the middle of it. The game sets these themes front and centre. The hopelessness oozes out from the drab colours, noises of violence, bodies littering locales and body languages of characters as they, after a rough night of scavenging, lay down to floor to have good cry.
The clock is always ticking. You have limited amount of time to take care of the daily routines, as well as the scavenging. While the night sections are certainly where the meat of the game lies, it never lets you truly breathe even during daytime. Second guessing your actions is the name of the game and the nagging thought of “I could probably have done more” rarely leaves you be.
Night-time is where the immediate dangers (and rewards) lie. Each location throws in some surprises. Some buildings are abandoned, some not, and you are as likely to encounter a down-on-their-luck beggar willing to trade, as well as gun-toting maniac. This is also where morality comes into play, and player-made tragedies are inevitable. Since basic resources can be found almost anywhere, but more essential ones like food and medication are usually harder to come by, you´ll eventually have to move into more dangerous areas. Will you trade? Will you steal? If someone sees you, you might have no choice but to fight, leaving behind a cold body. Since your inventory space is also limited, there is the added puzzle of pondering what is it you need most. All of this is done under tight time constraints. When you finally run off into the night, the “what ifs” are there to keep you company.
Save for the themes, I would not hesitate to call This War of Mine a survival game for beginners. Its mechanics are easy to understand and are (for the most part) well communicated to the player without any handholding. Those mechanics are not that meaty and many afficionado of the survival genre would not find something within to entertain them for long. Player driven narrative is where the game shines. The experience is not for everyone and not at any given time – the game actively wants you to feel bad and there are moments in life when you are not willing to indulge in that burden. Because of the easy-to-understand mechanics this experience does not get buried under frustrations. You WILL have time to think about what you have seen and to get sad.
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, iOS, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
Released November 14, 2014
Pictures: Screenshots from the game, taken by Lauri Juuti
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