Title: This War of Mine
Platform: Steam, Windows

Reviewed on: Windows
Genre: strategy, simulation, survival, action, stealth
Players: Single player  


Written by Whistler 14th November 2014






















“War, war never changes.”

For many of us games like Fallout were the first time survival and first person shooters came in the post apocalypse setting (granted the survival elements were thin even for the times). Due to the majority of war shooters taking warfare and sexing it up with Michael Bay explosions, flashy gunplay and stoic men of action; whereas survival titles usually put us in the shoes of the disgruntled, the broken and the frail characters who must overcome all odds in a much grimmer setting.

This is fine of course as they’re both ways to make you feel very different emotions.

Then came along titles like Metro 2033 gave us a more human aspect to the setting and Spec Ops The Line flipped the war genre on its head, so when one dev team by the name of 11 bit studios (makers of the reverse tower defence Anomaly series) read over an interview that told of a man who survived the siege of a city in Bosnia early 1990 the sparks were ignited and therein born the initial concept for This War of Mine.


This War of Mine is an interesting take on the survival genre where you, from a point and click, side on perspective that feels like The Sims meets Deadlight, take control of a random handful of survivors who have taken refuge one of the many destroyed buildings during a fictional war between the government military and a rebel faction. From here you will spend the days fortifying your defences, building whatever remnants of civilized living you can, managing your survivors’ physical and mental health and occasionally aiding your fellow neighbours. During the night the military snipers are off duty so you can choose one able body from your company to scavenge one of the various locations scattered across the city like crippled hospitals, thug infested hotels, military encampments and ruined schools in order to collect or trade whatever necessities are needed.





























It’s within these night sections that feels most familiar or even remotely comparable to other titles, when scavenging under the night stars you are limited to controlling one of your crew and play the game in a fairly stealth focused if not encourage fashion. You’ll notice quickly that actions like sprinting or crowbarring doors open creates noise and while you can’t see beyond your characters peripheral vision (represented by masking outside this vision in a grey blur) you can see sounds your character can hear. Similar to the rings that emit from your survivor, red rings will emit whenever your character can hear something, whether it’s something simple like rats, or actual footsteps of both friend and foe is something you need to make a judgement call on. Due to the grey morale line throughout the game you can never really be sure who will let you go about your scavenging, and who will gladly put a bullet through your head with the best or worst intentions in mind.

These moments can range from exhilarating, to dreading and even occasionally depressing like when you decide to rob an old harmless couple in order to make for some easy looting (shame on you, though you’ll realize it’s one of the best things to do early on until you can arm yourself against thugs).

My only issue with these sections is that often there is plenty to grab but even with the survivors who can carry extra gear, your item storage on scavenges are exceedingly small meaning you’re going to be constantly getting nowhere near as much as you wanted and having to waste another night just to collect the rest.


You see within this survival of the fittest there are no experience points, no statistics and no standard economy; every item that can be found or made can be used to barter with as well as further your own survival, while there are some more common than others, every scrap be it wood, raw meat, tobacco, cigarette rolls and even water are all precious commodities where you’ll be playing the balancing game as you try to get that which you need without sacrificing that which you’ll need later.

In fact I would recommend you get a grasp on the trading in This War of Mine as it is crucial to surviving.

The main commodities you’ll be gathering will be mostly materials like wood or components for building and upgrading your war torn abode or rations like raw meat, vegetables, bandages, medicine and even cigarettes or coffee depending on your survivors habits.


For actual items you need I’ve barely scratched the surface and it leads me to one of the title’s flaws, while after 18 hours of playing I understand each resource’s purpose and how to more likely acquire each of them but the game lacks any kind of tutorial nor on-hand guide/glossary to refer to. Because of this your first few runs are likely to go horrible just because you’ll have no clue how to micromanage to maximise potential item finds each day.

Along with this is that each character has a small title to give you a hint at their special abilities, while some are obvious like Pavle’s fast sprinter skill, or Marko’s skilled scavenger perk; but one’s like handyman just didn’t really present themselves, did it mean I used less materials, didn’t seem like it, did it mean they built faster, didn’t notice any difference there either.




























Now while thankfully it’s not a singular mechanic the game touts, rogue-like elements are present within This War of Mine is where should you’re group not manage to survive or should you decide to just restart, you’ll be handed a different selection of characters (though the variety of survivors does seem a bit lacking personally), items will likely be a slightly randomized with some exceptions, locations will alter and events may turn out different besides some semi-scripted events. But the random rolls in some cases are almost unfairly handed out on a regular basis; I’m all for making a game challenging and ensure longevity in a title but I constantly felt like I was making no real progress when I would have a good run only to come back to have most of my stuff stolen. I even noticed that in most cases the chance for getting robbed doesn’t really seem to be affected by how many survivors you set on guard nor how well armed they are as I got back to find a tin of meat and some water was stolen; haven played for a few hours I decided to call it quits.


However coming back I reload my save to find the day starts again as if I had just came back from the scavenge to discover this time instead of a tin of meat and some water, I lost 3 tins of meat, 2 raw meat, 4 bullets and 10 water, this was far harsher for absolutely no reason and only served to sour my experience once I realized if I didn’t like the outcome I could just exit and load my save till I got a more favourable outcome. Now granted the rogue elements come with the territory and are both enjoyable and sometimes game ruining, I personally just feel like there needs to be a bit more balance since losing so much as one tin of meat can spell an instant bad playthrough and unlike titles like Binding of Isaac and its definitive version Rebirth, a bad run doesn’t mean simply restarting and giving it another go.
Instead This War of Mine has a very slow thought provocative process that just makes starting over again gruellingly painful to go through if you were finally starting to make some traction in a previous run.


TWOM is incredibly bleak throughout, via the I am Alive visual aesthetic, in the narrative and through the presentation, it’s heavy to take sometimes. While of course this presents a strong image and theme to drive home that real message of those who survive (or don’t) in these very real life struggles, the lack of a change in tone just drowns out any potential to once again feel like your progressing and in my case, just desensitizes you to certain elements. A major part of the game is how human everyone is, from the horrible aspects of human nature that can be seen in the stealing to survive, or the thugs that will kill on sight, to the plethora of emotions your survivors will voice whether it’s simply about their current needs or their thoughts on what the team should do next you’ll be able to connect, relate and perhaps take a look inside yourself as you project the needs to survive weighed against the need to stay ‘human’ onto your survivors.
There are regular inconsistencies though due to the grey line of what is perceived as stealing and what is scavenging, like a character stating “we must survive no matter what” to then suddenly making constant complaints and going into a depressive state since we ‘stole’ that bandage they cried out for.































I even got to the point on my last two playthroughs that I would just cast off my human self as honestly there is seemingly little reward for the ‘good’ morale choices as opposed to the ‘bad’.

With three strong and healthy survivors each making good of their strengths, one making sure things were build, one sleeping during the day to make sure they could scavenge as much as possible during the night and the other staying on guard watch; but my fourth member was kind of the odd ‘third wheel’ in all this, they got sick and no matter how much medicine, food and sleep they got their condition just got worse. At this point I just wanted to (in the nicest way possible) have them either go away or to just ‘go’ with as little noise as possible as they were only placing a heavier cost on our survival.
But nope, being human and all your team will get depressed if this continues which ends up putting you in a catch twenty two; you’re resources will forever be low due to upkeep of an extra useless member, or you’re survivors will need more resources just to get over the loss of this member.


Now I from all this it probably doesn’t sound all that appealing, the thing is, this game is great.

While I certainly had moments where I felt defeated, others I felt triumphant, many moments have that great story telling feel that you yourself experienced in a non-linear style. You are the survivor, you experience what your characters experience and for all the hardships you’ll feel those moments of respites and those seconds of dread every time. Every time I felt defeated, as I literally watched one of my runs end when the strong spirited Zlata hanging herself (not actually watching the action, but a still photo of her hanging feet still gets the power across without being too graphic) I just felt destroyed. Honestly I just feel the game needs a bit more (which the devs have stated they will do) and a bit more balancing so that the player can feel a much more prominent sense of progression, 11 bit have laid down the groundwork now all they need is to expand upon it.

So I let out a sigh, shake myself off and begin all over again, a new group of survivors and with what I learned of the first run it’s time to try my hand once again to survive This War of Mine.


Pros:    

Genuinely unique gameplay,

Immersive world and characters,

Challenging,

Emotional.

   

Cons:   

Occasionally unresponsive controls,

Poor save function,

Lacks any kind of tutorial or reference for new players,

Day sections can become very monotonous due to lack of speeding up time,

Regular unfair random events,

Heavy themes and gameplay tend to dampen the feeling of progression.


Final verdict,

This War of Mine lays the foundations of an amazing take on the survival genre and despite some of it’s short comings gets a solid 8.5/10.


Written by,

Whistler














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