30th Nov2018

‘This War of Mine’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Paul Metcalf


War is something we see on television and in films, some of us even play it in games like Call of Duty, but we do so for entertainment.  We understand that there are wars out there and people get killed, but most of us are lucky and don’t have to face that. This War of Mine is a game with a difference, it wants you to think about the people stranded in a war-torn city, it wants you to empathise with their situation and above all it wants you to help them to survive.

Taking life stories and memoirs of war survivors and using them to create the hardship and realities of being in that situation has given the developers the story of the game, and the fact that reality is the main inspiration for what we see in the game there is little to be happy about as you play your way through it.  Everything is dark, the only light coming from the meagre fires that survivors have built, or the burning houses destroyed by the war that surrounds them.  It’s bleak and depressing, but in truth is war meant to be anything but that?

This War of Mine is not an easy game, surviving in a city under siege is not meant to be easy so the game doesn’t pull any punches.  It is dark and depressing and above all very sad, you know the chances of survive are very slim.  Most war games, whether they be real-time strategy games, first person shooters or  the many others look to provide action and explosions, but if you encounter anybody with a weapon in War is Mine you are in trouble, and probably dead.

When you start the game you are given a house with a number of survivors inhabiting it.  You have to check what their needs are, which can be read in their bio and find a way to keep them alive.  If they are hungry that is simple…feed them, but what about when food runs out? Also what about when they are sick? Find medication? This is the problem with being in a city under siege, just where do you go for these supplies? Making sure you have these supplies is one of the hardest parts of the game and you have little room to make a mistake.

Looking around the house searching must begin to find anything salvageable.  This often requires equipment to be built to help you make progress.  Be it a lock pick or even just a simple shovel, it helps you with progress.  Once you have made yourself at home and have some supplies you can then build beds, perhaps a radio to gather important information and other things that will help you survive.  The key here is to last out as long as possible until hopefully the siege ends and you can find help.

When night comes it is time to move out into the neighbourhood and salvage more supplies to take back to your house.  This is where things start getting tense, you have to make your way through buildings where people are likely to be doing the very thing you are trying to do, and often they aren’t friendly.  You have to make the choice whether to try and approach them or try and remain unnoticed.

My experience in this was mixed, from trading with friendly people to overhearing what appeared to be an attack on a woman in the next room the people you are helping have different reactions.  Not being able to help somebody being attacked for example will demoralise them and lead to depression.  When things got desperate I had them steal from an old couple that had plenty of food and couldn’t defend themselves, watching my character become completely broken from these actions was horrid to watch, and did the very thing that the makers of the game were looking to do…bring the reality back to the war game.  I felt I had to make that decision though as my people were starving.

In using the interface of selecting a character and making them do an action there feels a certain level of lack of control over the characters.  If you make them do actions that will scar them emotionally you do run the risk of them refusing to do anything else, worse still it can lead to suicide.  On my first play through I ended up with one scavenger dead, another walked out of the house and never came back, another starved to death and the final one committed suicide.  It was depressing to experience and I knew all my fault, I could have done better but I took actions I thought were for the best.

This War of Mine is a game that wants you to take a look at war and realise that it is not all about who has the biggest kill streak or which team captured the flag.  War destroys lives, whether it is through fighting for something you believe in or whether it is through not being able to survive in a city under siege.  Playing this game is actually depressing, but it does have a strange re-playability to it, especially if one of your people dies.  You want to find a way to help them survive, and you want to make it through the war.  It’s gripping, but exhausting especially when you come so close to getting caught by people intent on killing you.  If you want something with a little more emotionally impact than most games then War of Mine is well worth a look.

**** 4/5

This War of Mine is available on the Nintendo eShop now.


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