Print Edition: November 26, 2014
There have been numerous zombie survival games released in the last year, each with its own unique take on survival gameplay. But sometimes, instead of surviving zombies, a game can push the player to survive the elements of human depravity. That’s the ever-constant challenge of This War of Mine.
This War of Mine is a side-scroller survival game developed by 11 Bit Studios. It is based on the Siege of Sarajevo, the longest recorded siege of the Bosnian War. You control a group of civilians trying to survive in a besieged Eastern European city. But unlike most zombie survival games, these people are not soldiers. They have little to no combat experience, and the few weapons to be found are unreliable. The supplies never add up to the amount you need, and you are often raided in the night and robbed of the few possessions you have.
This War of Mine, oddly enough, captures the core teamwork aspect and the constant-risk factor of Faster Than Light (FTL). Almost everyone is untrustworthy and you are constantly forced into searching risky areas in order to survive the next day. But while FTL was admittedly a simple game, This War of Mine has many layers of complexity. While the characters were merely tools in FTL, the characters in This War of Mine slowly reveal more about themselves through the actions and events they engage in. Giving a face to these characters creates a deeper connection with them, enveloping you in their struggle to survive.
The game has two main aspects: maintaining a living situation and searching for food and supplies. The player can send out one group member each night to a single location to search for necessary items. But that member can only bring back a certain number of items.
The choice of either not going hungry for the night or having enough components to build a water distiller or a makeshift weapon is a constant question you must ask yourself as a player. When you return, you must tend to your sick, try to make tools or food with whatever you could scavenge, and listen to the local radio to hear about how dire the situation truly is.
Questions of what you truly need also pertains to the people you meet. Sometimes you will come across violent looters and feel warranted for defending yourself. But then there will be times where you will steal from those who only wish to be left alone. 11 Bit Studios’ goal for this game was to capture the horror and moral depravity of those who were trapped in Sarajevo. The game is constantly questioning the player about how much are they are willing to do and sacrifice to survive.
This War of Mine has fantastic survival gameplay mechanics and creates a realistic and heart-wrenching atmosphere. Rather than using the Siege of Sarajevo as a simple set piece, 11 Bit Studios creates a compelling world and captures the grit and the horror of such a situation. The game is very difficult to “win,” and it is quite emotionally distressing, but it leaves the player with an experience that won’t be forgotten. This War of Mine is certainly one of this year’s biggest surprises.