11 Bit Studios offers a perspective unlike any other in This War of Mine, a game where your actions will truly come back to haunt you.
Marko is crying. As Bruno and Pavle woke up they found him on the floor next to the door. He manages to utter a few words about last night, but hasn't been able to move since then. Bruno rips up some books and uses the paper to fire up the primitive oven. It's the first meal in several days the friends are sharing, but Marko refuses to eat.
This War Of Mine deals with a civil war from the perspective of civilians, and you must try and survive in a town torn apart by the army and the rebels.
Bruno and Marko have been friends for a long time and as the civil war broke out they decided to stick together. The town is under siege and is fired upon nearly every night, while the separatist snipers hide in the ruins making it hazardous to venture outside during the daytime. Aid in the form of food and medicine is blocked by the army from reaching the citizens, or it's stolen by the rebels - leaving the civilians to fight over the scraps found in stores and in homes. The friends met with Pavle as they were looking for supplies and recognised him as a star football player. Now he's simply one of the many homeless victims of the war.
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In order to create a realistic experience the developers read up on thousands of pages of first hand stories from people who had lived through wars during the last 100 years. 11 Bit Studios have talked to survivors of the 1,425 day long siege of Sarajevo (the longest siege in modern history), that took more than 11,500 lives. It is obvious that they have given the matter serious thought.
When we settled in the wartorn house a few days ago there was debris all over the place. The building wears wounds from fighting in the streets. A hole in the wall stretches from the first to the second floor with the remains of the wall in heaps on the floor. Parts of the roof on the second floor have collapsed, but thankfully it's not freezing outside and we have been able to clear out most of the rubble.
Among bits of wallpaper, broken boards and rocks, we found some useful materials - mechanical parts, wooden boards, some jewellery we can use to trade with other survivors. After the place had been cleaned up we started setting our new home up for the longterm. We could build a workshop and later on weapons, so that we can fend off soldiers, rebels and other survivors, who will break into our place to rob us if they can. There is a lot of work that remains, but if we manage to survive long enough to secure the materials, we can build a rain catcher, an oven and beds. We can also gain access to a radio and news bulletins can give us a heads up when trouble is coming, or a TV to help ease the mood. But in order to build anything we need materials - components, electrical and mechanical parts. And we can be forced out at any time. We live hand to mouth and risk our lives every time we leave the house in search of supplies. The owner of the house left some things behind - some raw food, two bottles of relatively clean water - but already by the third night some other survivors break in and steal the food. Bruno is injured after the break-in and Pavle, who has hardly eaten in the last three days, has been taken ill.
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Former firefighter Marko knows the dangers of leaving the relative safety of the house, but he needs to head out to get food and bandages to keep his friends alive. He has already broken into an abandoned house where he could take what little supplies there was lying around, but tonight he cannot risk coming home empty-handed. Marko needs to break into a house where a family lives. They have food and bandages. Marko brings along some jewelry just in case the people living in the house are willing to trade, and he brings a knife he found in a drawer in an abandoned house that he ransacked that first evening.
Your progress is saved after each day you survive, but there is no way to save manually. This obviously means you can't cheat your way out of challenging situations, but it can also be a cause of frustration. If you leave the game during the middle of a day cycle, the clock will reset and you'll have to start from the same morning the next time you boot up. Each day only lasts seven minutes, so there's minimal damage, but we wished that the developers had come up with a better solution. It's possible to see the end of the civil war if you survive long enough, but it is impossible to know how long you have to survive as the amount of time you need to stay alive changes with every pass.
Marko sneaks over to the door on the second floor and peeks in through the keyhole. Empty. It takes a few seconds to pick the lock and sneak inside. He stops at the kitchen door. There is a sound from the floor above. They have woken up, but if he turns back now they'll go hungry in the morning. Pavle has already gone several days without food and if we can't find bandages Bruno's wound may get infected. Marko finds some food in the refrigerator, some raw meet, water and vegetables - enough to survive for a few days. No bandages. Down in the cellar he spots a dresser behind some rubble. Perhaps there are some clothes that could be used for bandages? He searches through the rubble next to the dresser.
The man coming down the ladder to the cellar catches Marko by surprise. He holds a shotgun that he points at Marko. We draw Marko's knife and wave it in his direction, but he comes closer. Marko stabs him. One time. One more time to make sure. He falls to the floor. Marko spins to face the ladder, but stops as he hears someone come running on the floor above. There is no way out. Two people climb down the ladder. The old parents of the man scream at Marko, calling him a killer. The mother kneels by her dead son. The father turns towards him. Marko is on his own and we're feel low, upset, but we had to get the food and the bandages in order to help our friends. We're left with a bitter taste in the mouth, and didn't even think about the fact that this was their home that we broke into. Without their son they won't survive for long. We don't really want to harm them, but we're already doing it. The father falls to the floor and before we know what we're doing we've finished off the mother too. They're all dead, but there is no sense of victory. We regret everything. Perhaps we could have made it out by running? Did they really show any intent to harm me? The violence all of a sudden feels unnecessary and barbaric. We were neighbours and we ought to have been able to cooperate, but it's too late for that. The war has changed me. The only comfort is that the food in the house will keep me and my friends going for a few more days.
This War Of Mine is a captivating experience where lives are precious. Finding the bottle of medicine to keep your friends alive, or that gun that can keep the house safe while you're looking for supplies, is a euphoric feeling that will stick with you until the next emergency hits. You can go from being a group of starving civilians who simply try to stay alive fighting with their bare fists to a heavily armed group of survivors with bulletproof vests who cultivate their own food and brew spirits they use to barter with other survivors. However, that road requires you to take lives, and it certainly takes a toll on the survivors and they will have to live with the consequences and their memories. This really helps with immersion and over time you will feel completely invested in their lives, and find yourself hoping that this civil war will come to an end.
9 / 10
Stylish visuals and background music that lifts the atmosphere, The survivors are coloured by their experiences and their biographies update as you progress, You're never safe.