Review: This War of Mine: The Little Ones (PlayStation 4)
- Publisher: Deep SIlver
- Developer: 11 Bit Studios
- Genres: strategy, survival
- ESRB Rating: Mature
- PEGI Rating: Eighteen years and older
- Also For: Xbox One
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Survival games as a genre have risen in popularity over the last few years to the point that it could be argued that the genre has become saturated and predictable. One look at Steam's green light section will reveal a plethora of half finished survival games with similar mechanics and themes. Voxel graphics, zombies, tree punching, procedurally generated open worlds and so on are what comes to mind when you think of a modern survival game. That is until This War of Mine came along, a survival game which is firmly grounded in reality and executes its gameplay mechanics in a logical and realistic way. Set during the 1992 to 1996 siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, This War of Mine is a thought provoking experience that can at times genuinely engage you emotionally. You play from the perspective of normal civilians who are caught up in the war and are trying to survive together day by day, in their bombed out building of a home base while they scavenge the city which is now a dangerous war zone.
The game plays from a simple side on 2D perspective but what really sets the tone of the game immediately is the art and sound direction. With a charcoal, pencil line, hand drawn aesthetic everything looks very bleak and run down. I often found myself almost forgetting about and not noticing the hand drawn style at times, it almost feels like you are looking at a black and white photograph when you are focused on the tasks at hand. Everything is grubby and grey, with splashes of colour spared only for things like fire and so on. There is very little music to speak of, sometimes you may have some faint music in background from your shelter's radio, the game relies on sound to set its tone. The sounds of gunfire and war can be heard faintly in the background, footsteps, coughing, moans and so on are the staple. Combined, the simple use of these assets gives the game an oppressive and tense tone and even at the best of times you never feel 100% comfortable even when your survivors are doing well and thriving.
You start the game off with a random group of survivors, the number can be anywhere from two up to four and can increase or decrease with time. The number of survivors can impact the game in various ways, no amount can make the game easier per-se, having more survivors at your disposal allows you to cycle them better and lets you recuperate them more without exhausting them. However it also gives you more mouths to feed and requires more resources for basic day by day maintenance. Your survivors have unique abilities and attributes and all are represented by a real photo of the person which allows you to connect and empathize with them on a more intimate level. Attributes vary from such things as being a fast runner, trained soldier, good cook, being good at bargaining, being strong and so on. This means that some survivors may be more suited for certain tasks than others, a good cook can be more efficient with his use of resources when making food, a trained soldier can fend off raids better and so on. But their quirks do not just amount to slight buffs for certain skills, they may move and control differently, may be able to handle the psychological traumas they are subjected to better or worse. The differences in each character's traits can be very subtle and not obvious at all at first and may only be revealed in certain circumstances. Each one of your survivors feels unique and different from one another which helps you grow an attachment to each of them as individuals.
The console version of this War of Mine also introduces a new element to your group not present in the PC version and that is the mechanic of having children in your party. Occasionally one may become part of your group and like most of the group dynamics in the game they have both positive and negative impacts on your group. You need to care for the children you may encounter and feed them, those are obvious drains on your resources. A guardian must be assigned to a child but not anyone will do, sometimes a child may have a preference and dislike certain members of your group. But they can also increase morale in your group and keep spirits high when otherwise they might be sad or depressed.
Gameplay-wise the game is divided into a day and night cycle with crafting and base building elements during the day, while at night you go out to scavenge resources and explore the war torn city. Everything is logical and makes sense unlike some survival type games. During the day your survivors stay inside their building and do not go out, the reason being that during the day snipers are rife outside. Something that was a very sad reality during the Siege of Sarajevo. You use the day cycle to improve your shelter and build furnishings, workstations and other improvements to it. You also use the daytime to micro manage your survivors making sure they are fed, rested, that they have taken medication if they are sick and so on. At night you send out one of your party to scavenge while the rest stay in the shelter and either guard it or sleep. The reason you post someone as a guard during the night is because just as you go out and scavenge other buildings, people may raid yours. The result of a raid against your settlement can be devastating not only because you may lose precious resources but members of your party may get injured or even killed during an attack. You can minimize the chances of suffering losses during the night by gathering and creating weapons and posting people with fighting skills on guard duty, but even then one bad night can completely derail your progress and set you back massively.
There are a limited amount of scavenge locations for you to visit at night and these vary from civilian locations such as bombed buildings and apartments, to schools, hospitals, military locations and so on. The things you scavenge range from building materials, to foodstuffs, weapons, tools, medical supplies and consumables like alcohol, tobacco and coffee. You use the resources you gather to improve your shelter with furnishings and crafting workstations and so on. You can reach a level of self sufficiency the longer you survive but you will almost always need to go out nightly to scavenge items to sustain your group. Missing one night of scavenging can have a slow negative snowball effect against you, so even if members of your group are sick or injured you are often forced to push them on and send them out. Scavenging can be a tense affair even if you get some warning of possibly dangerous locations. You never know how hostile those you encounter may be, if at all, so there is always a level of tension and danger when you are out scavenging and you feel very vulnerable. You could possibly be warned off by someone verbally or have someone open fire on you on sight. If you unexpectedly encounter someone who is hostile and you are not prepared, your character can die very quickly and even getting injured can result in a slow recovery or a prolonged death. Alternatively you may encounter other passive survivors just minding their own business or even people open to trade with you. You may also encounter situations where you are forced to make moral choices; do you steal from people even if they are not vulnerable or innocent? Do you intervene in certain situations? Do you kill? The moral choices you make can have a knock on effect on you and your group that you may not be able to immediately foresee. You can decide to simply avoid all encounters with stealth or you can kill stealthily. And of course you can go in with literally all guns blazing, the choice is yours.
There are quite a diverse variety of items and upgrades that you can build depending on how you want to approach the game, many of which are completely optional with the exception of the essential basics such as stoves, water gatherers and heaters. However the lack of basic furnishings and appliances in your home base can effect your group in a negative way, for example they can sleep on the floor but building a bed allows them to have a better nights sleep and helps them to recover from illness and injury. A comfortable chair can help them recover from being tired and building a radio can provide valuable information about the goings on in the city. Small luxuries like coffee, tobacco and books can ease sadness depending on each survivors vice of choice. Later on you can also manufacture your own weapons, moonshine, cigarettes and other high value items that you can trade with people for other supplies you may need. You can even reach a level of self sufficiency by growing and trapping your own food and crafting medicines to keep your survivors healthy. Even after multiple playthroughs you will find yourself approaching the game with different strategies depending on each the circumstances each group finds itself in so every experience feels different and not repetitive.
One of the more unique features of this War of Mine is the way your group can be affected by factors that are out of your control. Someone may be struck down with illness and slowly deteriorate over the course of days to the point where they can not function. An injury can linger and grow worse without treatment and events can even impact members of your group psychologically. Your characters recover from illnesses and injuries in a realistic way, giving them medications or bandages does not instantly heal them, in fact they may not recover at all despite your best efforts and in the meantime the entire group is effected by their affliction. One person suffering through illness or injury may make the entire group sad and depressed as they watch their suffering and deterioration. If a member of your party is forced to kill, even in self-defense, they may become sad and have trouble sleeping after as they struggle to come to terms with what they did. There is even an option for group members to comfort each other by talking to each other in an attempt to ease their depression. Even stealing from other innocent people in order to try and survive can severely affect your party, in fact even stealing from those more deserving of it can negatively effect your group for a while. Conversely helping your neighbors or people in need can boost morale and may even lead to unforeseen benefits later on down the road when you do not expect it. The beauty of the game is that in some instances, repercussions for decisions you make or are forced to make may manifest themselves quite a while after the event took place, which gives the unfolding of events a very organic feel.
My very first playthrough set the tone of what I should expect from the game and its story and is a fitting way to end this review as an example of what you can expect from this game. This War of Mine's biggest strength is that it gives you just enough story driven context to construct a loose framework of a story that you can flesh out yourself in your mind. During my first playthrough my group lasted 18 days before all three perished. At around the tenth day one of my party got sick, foolishly I had traded away my meds a few days before in order to buy food and other supplies. Despite my best efforts to keep him going, by the 16th day he had become terminally ill which depressed the other two members of my group greatly. As Boris lay in his bed dying from his illness I sent Katia out to scavenge in the hope of finding anything that could help Boris. I posted Roman on guard despite him being very tired and sad in order to protect our homebase. When she returned relatively empty handed Katia found that we had been raided that night, Boris had died of his illness and Roman had been killed by the raiders who had also stolen what meager supplies we had left. On discovering this Katia collapsed on the floor and there was nothing I could do to get her to move for the entire duration of the day. When the night came the only option I could select for Katia was for her to sleep in bed, I could do nothing else. The next day came and Katia was also dead despite the fact that she was in good health. She had committed suicide during the night due to her grief at loosing her two friends.
This War of Mine is not for the faint of heart, it is a bleak and somber experience and a game that deals with its stark subject matter in a grown up and thought provoking way. It is also a very solid game with a ton of depth and longevity to it. I would recommend this game to everyone as it is a very unique experience with no real equal out there, it is a one of a kind title and the journeys it will take you on will stay with you for a long time.
+ Original concept in a tired genre
+ Thought provoking in many ways
+ Art style is suitably bleak
+ A good challenge
+ Lots of versatility to manage your survivors
+ Deceptive amount of depth and nuance in the gameplay
- Controls can be fiddly and frustrating with a gamepad
- Random events can frustrate at times but can be excused due to the games setting
The presentation is spot on and sets the right atmosphere for a game that at times can be thought provoking and horrific in its subject matter. The pencil drawn art style is bleak and depressing and there is nothing that feels out of place. Music is at a minimum to not distract and the use of sound is simple and effective. There is almost nothing to fault in the presentation of this War of Mine, it is carefully crafted for maximum effect despite its outwardly simple looks.
The gameplay is simple and well executed but with a lot of underlying complexity in how you can approach each playthrough. There is a lot of depth to the gameplay and you have flexibility to your approach on each playthough so it never feels repetitive. The crafting system makes sense unlike some games in this genre and although there is a lot of depth and nuance here you will master the basics very quickly. At times the joypad controls let the game down but not so much to be a detriment to the enjoyment to be had or to overly frustrate. The strategic elements of the game are complimented with some genuinely tense and heart pounding moments, along with times where you have to make tough decisions. You will rarely feel bored or know what is coming next as sometimes the game throws random curve balls at you to keep you on your toes and out of your comfort zone.
This war of mine is a very compelling game. It is challenging in its difficulty and has that "just one more turn" addictiveness. There is also a nice variety of scenarios included in the game along with the ability for you to create your own so there is a lot more longevity here than you would expect. There is also a deceptive amount of depth, complexity and randomness to the gameplay which results in each playthough having its own unique feel and backstory adding to the games longevity.
out of 10
(not an average)
This War of Mine is both thought provoking and deals with its serious subject matter in a mature and responsible way. Alongside that it is a fine survival game in a genre that has become cluttered, stagnant and derivative. With solid mechanics and subtle story ques that give you a framework to conjure up your own unique narrative, it is a very compelling experience with no real equal out there. This is a game that when you experience it it will stay with you for a long time and will in some ways change your outlook on war and conflict without being preachy or overbearing. This is the kind of game that every gamer should experience at least once.