This War of Mine’s release had been loud enough even for me to hear about it in my little corner of the Internet. The early reviews had nothing but praises for the innovative idea, mature approach to an uneasy topic, and emotional impact it has on players.
I eyed the game once or twice, but I had other things to play and I didn’t get the game until most of the hype already died out. (There was a sale… Don’t blame me!)
The first thing that struck me after running the game was beautiful, very climatic semi-photographic design: the graphics were interesting and detailed, but in their black-and-white style they managed to capture the grim mood of the war. The music also strikes the right chord, somewhat minimalistic, but fitting the overall feel of the game.
And then, the game play. In This War of Mine we won’t manage brave soldiers defending against the evil enemy or desperate rebels fighting for freedom. We’re get our hands on several civilians hiding in a half-ruined building. They hardly have any supplies, food is running low, and any wound or sickness might be the end of them.
The game is divided into two stages: day and night. During the day the player manages the hideout, with its inhabitants performing various tasks (cleaning the rubble, crafting, cooking, etc.), making it a typical resource and time management game, while during the night one person will set out to other places to scavenge for resources. Most of the times it’s just exploring ruined buildings and making choices which items to bring home (with limited backpack space it’s not always an easy decision), but sometimes it requires a bit of sneaking, hiding from snipers, or even running away. Fighting is not something easy and most of the times it’s better avoided.
Each character has a skill, more or less useful in the times of war: you’d welcome a handyman who’s good with tools, but a mathematician might be more of a burden… unless put on the nighttime guard duty. A task quite important, seeing as during our scavenge excursions the hideout might be raided by other scavengers, so having all the other characters cozied up in their beds is not really an option, even with full reinforcements of the building done.
But sadly, aside of individual skills and sometimes having an addiction (smoking, coffee), the characters have only a short bio and background story revealed throughout the game… or not revealed if the character happens to die. It’s not enough to make the characters likable, to make me care about them, and they quickly become just another resource to manage. Maybe if their moving stories, lost relatives or dramatic events, were woven into the story, maybe if in the rubble of the scavenged buildings we would found clues related to the characters, a bond could form, but the game lacks in the narrative.
Same goes for the emotional part, so praised in the reviews. I felt pretty cold and unemotional, but then most of the times the so-called difficult decisions weren’t that difficult at all. With good resource management and several trials it wasn’t necessary to even consider robbing those elderly people leaving nearby or refusing medicines to the small boys who came asking for them because their mother was sick.
Of course, my characters died sometimes, mostly from snipers or armed bandits (one froze to death in his bed, but that was before I figured out efficient heating), but without the game offering some deeper attachment to them, their death was a loss of a resource, not the promised emotional impact. Or maybe I’m just a heartless gamer?
Even though from my perspective This War of Mine has certain shortfalls, it is still an interesting game with a brave approach to the subject of war. It offers enough to the player to play at least several times and definitely has a unique feel about it. And even though there’s not much story inspiration for a writer, it’s worth the time especially to get the feel of the fear and hopelessness of war.
- Story: Low
- Immersion: Low
- Inspiration: Low
- Relaxation factor: Medium
- Procrastination risk: High
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.