Unique, haunting and absolutely brilliant
Summary : This War of Mine looks set to be my favourite non-AAA title of the year and it's not even finished yet.
Often, I know exactly how I’m going to feel about a game after just watching a trailer – some set my pulse racing, others make me feel like they just revealed their whole hand in a high stakes Poker match, and others make me feel such intrigue that I get extremely excited about it. The last emotion is exactly how I felt after watching the trailer for 11 bit studios‘ newest game, This War of Mine. If 11 bit studios sounds familiar, that’s because they are the studio behind the award winning Anomaly strategy game series, and This War of Mine is a foray away from that frenetic gameplay with something a little deeper, and boy, have they nailed it. I was fortunate enough to get to try a preview build of This War of Mine, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts about it below. Keep in mind though that this is just a preview and the final game may differ from what I express here.
The premise of This War of Mine is war. Except, unlike most other war time games, you aren’t actively fighting in the war. Often what is overlooked in war time are the people affected, the people in the crossfire, or – for lack of a more humane term – the collateral. These are the people that you will be playing and the outlook is bleak. This much is clear even from just the title menu – while I’m sure the final game will have more game options, the only selectable option here is “Survive”.
You start with a small group of people in a multi-storey building which you will come to call home. Each of your rag-tag group is unique – they had lives before the war, and you’ll get a small glimpse of what those lives were like through their brief Bio. Your team can be added to, or have people disappear, depending on the situation or how dire the situation gets. More on this later.
There are two phases to the game: daytime and night time. During the day, you will control your entire team, performing an assortment of tasks which are generally reliant on the resources you have on hand – it’s almost like a 2D The Sims
-like style of gameplay where you complete tasks to satiate their needs.
You can feed them, heal them, make them scrounge around your house, build various devices like stoves or radios which may satisfy their base needs like hunger or simply address more subjective needs like happiness. Other people will come knocking at the door, offering trade to get different resources or they may request to stay with you if their own situation is grim. Depending on the amount of resources you have, you may have a lot to do, or very little to do, but rest assured – your team will deteriorate with every passing day and you won’t always be able to satisfy each of their needs.
Prior to the night phase starting, you will set up what your team is individually going to do during the night. Your options will include sleeping, guarding your home base, or scavenging at a variety of nearby locations. Some locations will be safe to explore, but others will require caution due to the presence of soldiers or hostile groups that want to defend their turf. It will be your decision to determine whether the risk is worth it as your team’s situation may make high-risk scavenging a necessity. Scavenging takes on a similar gameplay style as the day/home phase, allowing you to control your person/people as they scavenge the location you chose at the start of the night.
You’ll often be exploring room by room, peering through the keyhole into the next room to see if there is any danger. You’ll often see indicators that will denote movement nearby so you will be forewarned if you are in an adjacent room – sometimes though, it is only a rat. Sometimes it isn’t. There was one time I peered through a keyhole only to see a horrid scenario play before my eyes – a girl was being kidnapped by a soldier, presumably to fulfil their own baser needs. I wanted to stop it, but I didn’t have a weapon, and revealing myself may have ended my own life. The girl was taken, and I returned home, dejected.
In fact, when the story was shared with the rest of my team, a shroud of gloom descended over my home base. I expect that there will be many more instances like this in other locations around the city, but I’m not entirely sure how many more I will see before my team expires, one by one.
At the end of the night, a summary will be shown for the activities that have occurred. This will include a list of the things you were able to scavenge as well as any raids by hostile that occurred during the night, and as a result, the list may also include any injuries your team endured during the night. As you can see, a lot can happen in a day, and even if you had a good haul on one day, your team can deteriorate extremely quickly the next. While it is extremely bleak, This War of Mine really puts survival into perspective, quite different to the “survival” that is portrayed in most post-apocalyptic games – the situation you are in is extremely dire and if you aren’t careful, you will find your team in an even worse place.
One of the things that first struck me about This War of Mine, particularly in the brief trailer, were the visuals, and I was awed by the graphics in the preview build. You wouldn’t say that they are bleeding-edge graphics, but they are unique, and the shaded filter definitely adds to the whole gravity of the setting and feeling of the game.
Character models are unique, and perhaps most hauntingly, each character has their own ID card with a photo of a real human being. If you watch them long enough, they will blink, and because it seems like they are living, breathing people it gives you, almost indirectly, a natural affinity with the people you are controlling and trying to keep alive.
The menus are very well created and navigating them is extremely intuitive. If there is but one criticism of the menus and text boxes is that the information text isn’t always clear or big enough for easy reading. That said, it’s a very minor mark on a very impressive effort by 11 bit studios.
I am in love with This War of Mine. I know it isn’t finished yet, but the gameplay and presentiation already feel very polished, and I can see how little tweaks to everything else will give the game just that much more credibility and wholeness. The War of Mine is not a happy game, but it conveys the war time dilemmas and scenarios so convincingly that you can’t help but be intrigued and absolutely absorbed in the survival of your little rag-tag group. I can’t wait to see the finished product.
This War of Mine is due for release sometime in the remainder of 2014 for PC and mobile devices.