I am a big fan of survival games. I have put a lot of hours into DayZ, Don’t Starve and more obviously Minecraft. I love the idea of not being able to win per-say but constantly having to be on your toes and exploring and finding new items in order to stay alive. However in most survival games, the world that the game inhabits is more often than not a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with zombies or similar monsters, the main threat is often altered therefore from simply starving to death to a zombie chase, or monster closet jump-scare. I feel a game with a more realistic interpretation of the survival experience has been missing, and the recent release ‘This War of Mine’ I feel is has a good chance of filling that void.
‘This War of Mine’ is a new addition to the survival genre developed by ’11bitstudios’, focusing on character experience and scavenging for supplies. The plot sets you in a city ravaged by savage fighting between rebel and military forces in a fictional nation suffering through a civil war. The characters you will control are not soldiers or rebel militia but instead citizens trapped in the middle of the conflict, attempting to survive until the shells stop dropping. The environments surrounding the characters are war torn and grim, the constant sound of shells pounding into the ground and smashing into buildings lingers in the atmosphere. While playing the game the mood is top notch, it has a fine soundtrack and a good level of detail to the character bios and motivations. So when starting up a new game it has a lot to immerse you into it’s world and inspire you to explore it.
Major differences with ‘This War of Mine’ begin with the inclusion of multiple characters to control and keep alive at one time, which can often lead to a deadly juggling act. A new character might well knock on the door asking for refuge and offering his or her services to the crew, but also offering another mouth to feed and simply another person to manage.
The game-play itself is split into two sections: daytime and night-time. Daytime being when the characters can eat, build tools and repair the safe house, as well as fashion upgrades such as beds, chairs and heaters to name but a few. Night-time in contrast is where the player will select a single character (if they wish) to scavenge a nearby building for supplies such as food, scrap and medical items, while also selecting who in the crew will get to sleep or guard the safe house.
Whilst scavenging, a character will sneak to avoid detection, and attempt to gather resources and make it out of the area alive. Sometimes the building will be deserted, limiting the player’s hunt for resources only by the size of their character’s inventory. However sometimes an area might be filled with other characters, some of which are friendly and might be willing to trade with you, others though will shoot on sight.
The game features most survival game tropes such as the need to bandage wounds and take medication in order to tackle sickness. Most of the time these are mild nuisances, but as can be expected they can put your characters out of action or potentially kill them if not treated soon enough. The game’s unforgiving nature is coupled with it’s random element, each play-through will differ in some way, loot being different in each building as well as the characters you start with. The amount of characters you can play as is a bit limited as far as I can tell, but this may be expanded in subsequent updates. For the most part the game’s randomness is a boon for repeated play and exploration, and one that will drive you to attempt to make it through each day, and take the risks necessary to do so. My favourite aspect of the game is the length of the conflict not being set in stone, the war can last a week or two or it can last a few months. This I feel is such a game changer as it really drives home the story element of each play-through. You might well lead your characters to kill and rob a helpless family of survivors for rations and then discover that the war has ended the following morning.
Choices that your characters make can also have an effect on their moods. Stealing from non-violent survivors might make your characters question the necessity of survival or what the war has made them become. The game also includes journals and graffiti that can show a window into other survivor’s struggles.
The issues however start from the beginning of the game for me. The game is a 2-D point and click, and although this is not necessarily a problem, the fact that movement is controlled by clicking along the ground or by clicking from object to object can get in the way of keeping your characters alive. Looting a house for food or medical supplies might result in being shot at by the residents or by bandits also attempting to loot there, and point and click controls can fight against you as much as the enemies on screen. I will reiterate that this is something that can be worked around through repeated play but I would of preferred a mixture of both point and click and standard movement controls to allow for quicker reaction times when attempting to hide or escape.
The game can feel repetitive quite often, again, not necessarily a bad thing in that replicating a survival experience will need to some extent to allow the player to feel the monotony of daily life in a war-torn city. The player will have to repeatedly scavenge for food and supplies, as well as keep your characters sane throughout their experiences in a deadly game of balance which more often than not will spell disaster for at least some of your survivors.
What the game does right however shines through I am happy to report. The decision whether or not to steal from those who have the supplies you need is often made more complicated by learning more about the people who own them. A character scavenging an apartment might find an unarmed old couple shivering in the cold, the character might take all their food and leave them for dead, or sacrifice the whole night and spare them from starvation whilst putting their own crew at risk. A character might witness a soldier forcing a young woman to sleep with him for food, and can choose to intervene or stand idly by as she is led away. The horrors of war are represented well here, and swapping out soldiers for real people in the game much for a much more personal experience. Whilst I can’t fully over look the games faults I have still gotten a lot of enjoyment from keeping my characters alive throughout their experience, and being faced with decisions that have often left me without an obvious solution.
‘This War of Mine’ for me is a fine survival game, which does much to shake up the standard model, while at the same time sticking to major tropes that have made the genre so popular in recent years. The game suffers from problems with the controls, repetition of characters as well as overly-repeated game-play features but is able to combat these for the most part through engrossing environments and randomised scenarios. A firm recommendation for fans on the genre.