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This War of Mine Review – The Heart of War

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A lone soldier battles through countless enemies, murdering his foes through headshot after headshot; it’s the standard formula for games in a war setting, but it’s a far cry from This War of Mine. 11 Bit StudiosThis War of Mine is not about an elite soldier, but rather a group of untrained civilians trying to survive a war-torn landscape.

The game paints a beautiful, dark canvas on which the player learns to survive one day at a time. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride that creates a deep connection with the survivors and makes you question your own morality in times of crisis.

What a cruel thing war is…to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors” - Rober E. Lee, general of the Confederate armies.

Day one to three – Learning the ropes

Three survivors find themselves in a broken-down, three story house. Bruno is a well known cook who used to have his own cooking show before the war. Katia is a news report who interviewed the football player and final survivor, Pavle, before the war broke out. Each character has a strength based on their pre-war occupation; Bruno is a good cook, while Katia has bargaining skills and Pavle is a “fast runner”.

Every play-through is different; for mine, the game starts with Bruno slighting injured, while all the characters are hungry and tired. The survivors’ feelings and health status are shown through red text at the bottom of their profiles, giving a strong hint to the needs of a specific character.

There is no tutorial, just a basic need for survival and food. You learn to survive through trial and error, with the latter resulting in the permanent death (until you start a new game) of one or more of your survivors. The game uses a day / night cycle. During the daytime, the survivors are confined to their three story refuge due to sniper fire. At night, you can send out a survivor to scavenge for supplies in the surrounding area.

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I decided to scavenge the survivors’ refuge during day one, creating a shovel to help them quickly and easily clear debris. Bruno cooked some food with the meager supplies the survivors had left. During the night, Pavle went out looking for supplies; Bruno was set on guard duty while Katia, tired after cleaning out debris, slept.

You can choose which nearby area you want to explore first. For me it was an abandoned house from which I looted as much as Pavle could carry. Although I found almost no food, I did find materials to create a heater and wood to burn during day two. At least the survivors could now stay warm. Furthermore, I managed to create two beds, placing them in the same room as the heater. As the survivors got increasingly hungry and the last of their food was consumed on day two, the night I knew I had to find some food.

After a good day’s rest, Pavle headed back to the abandoned house and found a few cans of food. However, when he came back, a message popped up showing that raiders looted the survivor’s house and Katia sustained some injuries. The raiders took the last of the medical supplies, leaving the survivors scared. Day three was spent making food, getting some much needed rest and creating a radio which warned of raiders in the nearby area. If only we knew sooner.

Day four to nine – Between a rock and a hard place

Desperate for medical supplies and running low on food, I sent Pavle out again in search of supplies. As the days go by, new areas to explore open up. Pavle went to an old home occupied by an elderly couple. In an attempt to save my own group of survivors back at the refuge, I tried to loot the home, yet the old man put up resistance.

The choice was quick and brutal, using Pavle’s fists to beat and kill the couple, thereby looting as much as he could carry. If he came back empty handed, Katia and Bruno would start to starve, so what choice did I have? This War of Mine puts the player in impossible situations, where survival sometimes requires unspeakable acts and reverting back to a primal nature.

"It is my conviction that killing, under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder" – Albert Einstein

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Pavle’s reaction to what he did sent him into a depression. You can feel the angst of Bruna and Katia, contemplating the decision to send Pavle out again. Through days five and six, I spent my time going back to the scene of the crime and looting every part of the deceased elderly couple’s house. I used Bruno to explore the surrounding areas further, giving Pavle a much needed break.

On day seven, two children knocked on the survivors’ door, asking for some medical supplies for their sick mother. Katia answered the door and told them to come back later when we have some extra supplies. The children came back the next day and after finding medical supplies, Katia handed it over to the brave child duo. The kind action made Katia feel content, yet all was not well in the shelter.

Pavle took to drinking on day nine, drowning his guilt in some moonshine that Bruno found at an abandoned warehouse. It was time for him to get out of the house again, so when night fell on day nine, I sent him out to a supermarket to scavenge for supplies.

Day ten to fifteen – Coping with loss

Pavle never returned from his trip to the supermarket. A group of bandits that occupy the premise shot him down after he tried to find some food for his hungry friends. On that same night, Bruna was injured during a raid on the survivors’ refuge and every last bit of food was stolen. Katia fell into a deep depression due to Pavle’s death.

The game portrays the depression via the character’s slow movement and cries of anguish. With no food, minimal fuel for the heater and one man down, it was time to do something radical. Hungry and tired, Bruno set out to another area on the night of day 11 in an attempt to find something, anything to help lighten their burden. Unfortunately, he was met with resistance and only brought home some wood to use for fuel. At day 12, Bruno and Katia where extremely hungry, tired and ready to give up.

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I sent Katia out in a last ditch effort to an old church, hoping that there would be someone to help. I found a priest that helped Katia bring a small bit of food back. Although the food was not enough to satisfy the growing hunger, it meant the remaining two survivors could live for another day. Katia told Bruno that she couldn’t take it anymore, which alarmed Bruno into action. Katia stood guard on night 13, while Bruno went to a military outpost.

The soldiers were willing to trade canned food for a rare commodity I managed to acquire, Coffee beans. Making his way back with some much needed food supplies, Bruno found Katia had committed suicide. A shock ran through me. I knew she was depressed but I never realized that the character could even commit suicide. If Bruno went out one day earlier and I chose to send him to the military outpost, maybe Katia would not have given up.

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Bruno, now alone and tired, slept throughout the day and stood as the lone guard during night 14. Unfortunately, another raid took place and Bruno was again injured. The raiders stole every meager supply Bruno had left. Without anything to trade, Bruno stole some supplies from a garage on day 15, yet there was no food to speak of. I chose to end day 15 early, with the hopes that the next scavenging run would give a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, starving and not coping with the loss of his friends, Bruno committed suicide during the night.

The game left me with a sense of guilt. Maybe if I just left the elderly couple alone, none of this would have happened. Every choice you make has an impact on the characters’ mood and subsequent fate. There are no easy choices in This War of Mine, it’s a brutal world.

Technical shrapnel  

The game’s atmosphere is almost overbearing. The dark visuals companied by explosions and gunfire in the distance that light up the environment create a sense of dread. Heavy pencil lines complete the effect, akin to that of a survivor scrapbook telling the tale and eventual end of your civilian group.

The music compliments the graphical canvas perfectly, while background sounds such as sniper fire and bombs dropping in the distance reminds you that you are never safe, waiting for inevitable death or injury.

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Throughout my time testing the game, I found no technical errors. The game runs smoothly, never crashing in roughly 10 hours of play. I played on a 10.1 inch tablet. Although a smaller device can work, I noticed that on a small screen size phone the text is almost impossible to read. While still playable, I would recommend a tablet to enjoy the game fully.

Closing Thoughts

This War of Mine is a must play, plain and simple. In my years of mobile gaming, I have never experienced a sense of dread quiet like what the game offers. It’s a unique look at war and the effects it has on civilians that opened my eyes to the suffering people can and must endure.

The play-through I described in this review was my third. I felt compelled to play the game again and again, trying to “do right” by the survivors and helping others, but every time I was met with impossible choices and eventual death. For some reason unbeknownst to me, the game keeps calling me back, asking me to do better and survive just a few days longer.

This War of Mine is available on Android and iOS devices. The game will set you back R139,99. You can find it on the Playstore here and iTunes here. The size of the game is around 500mb and requires Android version 4.0 and up to. I played the game using my Nexa Orion 10.1, a powerful yet affordable Quad Core 10 inch tablet, which helped survive in the game’s war-torn setting.    

Sillicur Twitter / MWEB GameZone Twitter | Facebook  


"There are no easy choices in This War of Mine"

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