This War of Mine – Preview

Title   This War of Mine
Developer  11 bit studios
Publisher  11 bit studios
Platform  Windows PC, Mobile TBC
Genre  Survival Sim
Release Date  TBA 2014
Official Site

As a lifelong fan of emotional immersion in gaming, from genuinely fearing for the lives of my units in UFO: Enemy Unknown to being utterly disgusted when a glitched quest in Fallout: New Vegas meant that Veronica Santangelo didn’t get the ending that I’d hoped for her, I have always secretly sought out that one game which would knock me off my feet and leave me speechless.  I wanted something which would create situations where there was more than a simple moral decision to be made; where choosing one thing over the other wouldn’t just affect the immediate storyline but which would have a knock-on effect whereby somewhere down the line you would discover something which was a consequence of your prior actions and would stop you dead in your tracks. Because you caused this, and you’d never forget that.

This War of Mine is that game.

Created by Polish development team, 11 Bit Studios, This War of Mine bucks the trend of placing the player into the steel-reinforced shoes of the gun-toting military unit and instead looks at war from the viewpoint where most devastation is felt – those living in occupied territory.  Where Call of Duty is driven forcibly by the highly trained tactician whose honed training becomes an extension of their natural instinct, This War of Mine acknowledges – and embraces – the fact that those whose homes are torn apart by mortar attacks and heavy fire are usually regular people. When a mechanic, a baker, a postman or a teacher is thrown into that situation, their first instinct is not to stealth through enemy territory and attack from behind… their only instinct is to survive. But at what cost?

The random nature of This War of Mine is such that no two playthroughs will be the same.  Your dark journey begins on the morning of ‘Day One’, where you are introduced to your home – a run-down building with no heating, plumbing, furniture, or any of the home comforts that most would take for granted. Your housemates are strangers who have come together to seek refuge from the desecration, all of whom are randomly generated from their gender, age, and emotional state, through to their skill set. For the foreseeable future, these people are your family and the ‘every man for himself’ mentality must be set aside in order to protect those around you.

During daylight hours, the number of which varies depending on the time of year, it’s imperative that you remain indoors otherwise the last thing you’ll hear is the distant crack of a sniper’s rifle sending a single round through your skull. It is these hours where you will attend to life within the house itself but, as previously mentioned, it is nothing but an empty shell and so your priority would be to make it a more hospitable dwelling and, especially in the early stages, that requires a great deal of team work.

Your newly discovered housemates’ physical and emotional states are not immediately obvious simply by looking at them, but the bottom right of the screen carries a stack of cards which show the characters’ photo, skill set, physical damage, and emotional stability. Their usefulness and performance are directly dictated by these statistics, and a sick or emotionally unstable character may end up being unable to perform even the simplest of tasks. In order to sustain life in the home, it is necessary to provide the basic essentials such as fresh food and water, but with no plumbing or utilities, even these have to be MacGyvered. Within the home, resources are gathered by sending characters to search piles of rubble, some of which may turn up valuable items such as wood and nails which can then be used to build a makeshift bed to provide one of the housemates with a more restful sleep.

Drinking water is non-existent, and even cooking can’t be achieved without water, whether you’ve already used resources to build a stove or not.  In order to provide your refuge with any sort of water, a collector must be built using the pre-requisite materials and, even then, it is impure and must pass through a filtration system – which must also be built – before it is usable.  This sort of micro-management is the driving force behind This War of Mine and, as you’d expect, each action – from examining rubble to building any necessary utilities – take up valuable daylight hours and so you must assign your tasks wisely as a sick housemate will take considerably longer than a healthy one and when darkness falls, it is essentially the end of a turn.

Once darkness descends, the streets are once again safe enough for travel and a map of the area is presented to you which displays all available buildings and locations within the immediate area.  Hovering over each of these displays what resources you can expect to find there, and a decision has to be made on which are more important.  The greatest decision, however, is which of your team should be deployed, which should remain at the base on guard duty, and which should be allowed to rest safely to build up strength.  While it’s possible to send all characters out to scavenge, it’s clearly unadvisable as bases can be attacked if not guarded, and those with a weaker disposition would ultimately serve little or no purpose if they’re not afforded the opportunity to rest.

As grim as everything up until this point was, it wasn’t until the evening that the real emotional impact of This War of Mine became abundantly clear.  Our first outing was to a location going by the name of ‘Quiet House’ which was said to carry some medicine, food, and general resources (wood, metal, and other building materials).  Entering the boundaries of the property was uneventful and a quick rummage through the rubble outside turned up a few resources but, upon entering the house itself, an old man approached and begged that we please leave as they had nothing to offer.  At this point, Marek Ziemak – Senior Producer – turned to me and asked whether we should move further into the house or leave them be. I hesitated, and said that he should do whatever would best showcase the game. He continued.

We opened a dresser, took everything from it – medicine, alcohol, and some odds and ends – and read a letter that was sitting on the desk.  It was a letter from the couple to their grandson, saying how much they were looking forward to seeing him and that they would repair the broken swing in preparation for his next visit.  It was clear that this old couple, despite everything, was trying to create the illusion of a normal life for their much-loved grandson, presumably in the hopes that if they pretended that nothing was wrong, he may also live a more carefree life.  Or perhaps my time with Fallout 3‘s various messages and the fact that I’m a father of two very young children has me overthinking these things.

As we moved into the next room, the grandmother appeared and asked us to leave but our character wanted to continue going through their possessions to look for anything that would help keep his own ‘family’ alive, and the old man quickly became the recipient of a powerful right hook.  He stumbled to the floor as his wife ran to help him up, and both of them ran to hide in the basement until we left.  It wasn’t pleasant.  Not that it was gory, explicit, or anything that other genres would typically use to show violence… but it was two old people with very little having what they had taken from them by force.  Some minutes later, after they’d been stripped of everything, including all the food from their pantry, we headed back to base before day dawned.

Our scavenger character was now showing signs of regret, where he would stop working to crouch down and console himself while others went about their business with the new-found resources. The following evening, a similar incident occurred where a young couple’s home was entered, and the woman dropped to her knees in prayer as her husband challenged their intruder but, with only the tiniest bar left on our health meter mid-struggle, our life was spared as her husband met his death. Rather than continue searching through the house, the decision was made to leave sooner rather than later in case anyone else happened to be in the house.

Throughout the day, the scavenger showed more signs of despair and eventually fell into a deep depression, rendering him entirely useless.  The only actions available to them at this point were to sleep or eat, as they needed to come to terms with what had happened and were in no state to work or scavenge.  When ‘Day 3′ came to a close and it was time to head back out into the darkness, one of our other housemates was nominated and, since we now had a crowbar at our disposal, we headed back to the ‘Quiet House’ where we’d previously encountered the old people to see what lay within the locked cupboards we’d discovered on our previous visit.

This time we had no challenge as we entered the property, headed straight for the cupboards and broke them open.  As well as bandages, we also managed to pick up some jewellery and alcohol, both of which would be useful for trading further into the game. As we hadn’t yet ventured upstairs after the last encounter, we took a chance this time around and that’s when I saw them. The old couple, this loving grandmother and grandfather, lay dead in their bed.  They hadn’t been murdered, at least not directly.  They had simply died in their sleep because our last visit had taken every scrap of food and water from them, as well as all of their medicine. They never did get to repair their grandson’s swing, and the surprise waiting for him when he next visits will undoubtedly undo everything that his grandparents had achieved by attempting to hide the consequence of war from him.

This was my doing.  I could have asked Marek to leave the couple alone, let them be and simply explain to the housemates that the scavenge was unsuccessful.  The old couple would likely have lived out their remaining years together with their grandson visiting them, a time when everyone forgot about the mortar attacks and gunfire, and may even live to see the end of the war.  Instead, they died over a few tins of food and some medicine.  This is the reality of war – the unnecessary deaths of the innocent – and This War of Mine tells the story beautifully.  So much so that I wasn’t even able to tell my partner everything that had happened as I was fighting back the tears, imagining my own children in this chilling scenario.

I urge you to play this game when it is released. It won’t be pleasant, but it may open your eyes and will certainly leave a lasting effect.  It was the most moving experience of my thirty-odd years of gaming, and 11 Bit Studios are to be commended on bringing such harsh realism to the much-maligned realm of video games.  I applaud them with a heavy heart.

Last five articles by Mark R


One Comment

  1. Seth says:

    That seems incredibly interesting. Top of my radar, without a doubt.

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