A Gem in the Rubble: This War of Mine Review

Luis Badillo, Writer

Over the holiday season, the video game market is saturated by explosive blockbuster titles centered on war. These big budget games tend to run with a familiar formula, sure to appeal to the widest audience possible. Think of franchises like “Call of Duty” or “Halo” where the player gets to live out a power fantasy of being a single man army.

“This War of Mine”, developed by 11 bit studios, takes the concept of war and does something different with it. Instead of focusing on a soldier’s narrative, the game’s point of view is from the civilian’s side. This perspective paints a much more grim painting, and “This War of Mine” manages to build an immersive, stressful and thoughtful game around the hell that war is.

Set in an unknown war-torn European city, the game is heavily inspired by the four year-long Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in modern history. Players are simply tasked by managing a group of survivors to survive the war. This requires resource and time management in the shelter the player’s survivors are living in.

This management is what makes up most of the time spent in the game. The siege has cut off all resources from the outside world, so survivors have to acquire resources through much more difficult means. Expect to click around a whole bunch in order to tell survivors to chop up furniture for firewood, melt snow for drinking water, or catching rodents for fresh meat.

“This War of Mine” manages to imbue the survivors with personality. Not only does each one have a photographic portrait at the corner of the screen, but each one will have their own back story, set of useful skills and drawbacks that need to be addressed. This mix of characters brings a sense of variety to the game. In one instance of the game my shelter had a former celebrity cook, a defected soldier, a cat burglar and a mathematician working together to survive the war. And with so many potential ways to lose a life, they would be working overtime.

That’s what makes the nights in “This War of Mine” so scary. When the sun goes down, the game gives you the opportunity to visit other locations to scavenge for supplies. There players can encounter bandits, soldiers, rebels or even other groups of survivors who are trying to survive the siege. Interpreting their intentions is key to survival. Some will want to trade or offer help, while others simply want to be left alone or even shoot you on sight, ending the already fragile life of your scavenging survivor.

The mix of all these systems creates a constant loop of needing to make tough decisions on the fly. Do you trade your last can of food to acquire a gun for self-defense? Do you help fellow survivors dig their friends out of rubble at the risk of being undermanned for a day? Do you kill an innocent civilian to get to medicine that could save a fellow survivor? All these choices simulate weighing the value of human life, which (even in a video game) can be a taxing process.

Though not a large game,” This War of Mine” is complex on a mechanical and emotional level. The decisions players make, combined with the pencil sketch art and somber music show a different side of war that games often overlook. And the systems in place allow for players to construct their own narrative, as everyone who plays the game form their own stories of success and failure to see the end of the war. It’s the opposite of glamorous, but “This War of Mine”’s grisly narrative of war is one that is hard to come by, and won’t be replicated soon by any medium.