This War Of Mine

iOS, PC

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper 11 Bit Stu­dios For­mat iOS, PC (ver­sion tested) Re­lease Out now

We can hear the cries of a woman be­ing raped by a sol­dier be­hind the bombed-out su­per­mar­ket we’re search­ing. We thought about in­ter­ven­ing when we saw him take her, at gun­point, to the now-locked stor­age con­tainer out back, but we’re un­armed and there are three oth­ers back at our shel­ter wait­ing for our re­turn, two of whom haven’t eaten in days. The su­per­mar­ket is empty now, so we can gather as much food as will fit in our bag and scarper.

On a dif­fer­ent night, we en­ter the home of an el­derly cou­ple in our search for med­i­cal sup­plies. The hus­band sends his wife up­stairs to hide and then fol­lows us, plead­ing to be left alone as we ri­fle through their cup­boards with­out a word, tak­ing ev­ery­thing that looks use­ful. Many games prom­ise tough moral choices, but very few de­liver as fe­ro­ciously as This War Of Mine.

The game’s un­flinch­ing de­pic­tion of wartime suf­fer­ing is par­tic­u­larly un­set­tling in a medium that com­monly fo­cuses on py­rotech­nics and head­shots. That’s not to say com­bat is ab­sent from 11 Bit Stu­dios’ game, but it’s very much a last, des­per­ate re­sort and one that can have far-reach­ing con­se­quences. While the sup­ply runs you un­der­take each night might tar­get aban­doned or poorly de­fended lo­ca­tions, they could equally take you to mili­tia-oc­cu­pied ware­houses, gang-run broth­els or even a mil­i­tary base. Get into a scuf­fle with some­one wield­ing a knife or a gun and you’re likely to come off worse. And even if you sur­vive the en­counter it­self, a deep wound will kill in a mat­ter of days if you can’t find any ban­dages.

Min­imis­ing your chances of ac­quir­ing a punc­ture wound means sneak­ing around dan­ger­ous lo­cales and man­ag­ing the amount of noise you make. Click­ing on a lo­ca­tion once will make your party mem­ber tread softly, but slowly, to­wards it, while dou­ble-click­ing will make them break into a nois­ier run. The amount of noise you’re mak­ing is de­picted by a shock­wave that ra­di­ates from your character as you move around, one that grows to nerve-rack­ing proportions if you need to shift rub­ble to clear a path or bust into a cup­board with a crow­bar.

You’re not the only thing mak­ing noise, of course, and move­ment else­where is re­vealed by smaller red cir­cles. It might be just a rat, but it could be somebody else. You’ll need to pay close at­ten­tion to such warn­ing signs, since build­ing in­te­ri­ors are ob­scured by a fuzzy shroud only cut through by your line of sight. Peek­ing through key­holes will pro­vide a limited view of the next room be­fore you en­ter it, but doors left open will alert oth­ers to your pres­ence. Cubby-holes pro­vide a place to hide if you need to, but if you’re dis­cov­ered you can also take cover be­hind door frames as you try to es­cape (es­pe­cially use­ful if you’ve found or made a gun).

But while some peo­ple will at­tack on sight, many po­ten­tial ag­gres­sors will is­sue sev­eral warn­ings to leave,

Many games prom­ise tough moral choices, but very few de­liver as fe­ro­ciously as This War Of Mine

or stop steal­ing, be­fore they at­tack you. You won’t know how short some­one’s fuse is un­til you ap­proach them – a risky propo­si­tion in a city achingly in need of food and sup­plies, but a demon­stra­tion of the un­com­mon nu­ance built into this game. That at­ten­tion to de­tail is also re­flected in the char­ac­ters you con­trol – a party of sur­vivors, up to a max­i­mum of five strong, se­lected ran­domly at the start of each game – who all have their own mo­ti­va­tions and moral codes. Ig­nore the pleas of a starv­ing home­less man in an aban­doned ten­e­ment while con­trol­ling char­i­ta­ble for­mer mu­si­cian Zlata, for in­stance, and her mood will worsen in the days after the en­counter, mak­ing her sig­nif­i­cantly less pro­duc­tive if you can’t find a way to cheer her up.

Man­ag­ing ev­ery­one’s well­be­ing is just as cru­cial as scav­eng­ing for sup­plies, then, and be­tween night­time sor­ties you’ll spend the day­light hours up­grad­ing your shel­ter (a large, but mor­tar-dam­aged, build­ing) and keep­ing ev­ery­one in good spir­its and good health. Build­ing a stove to cook food is es­sen­tial, and you’ll need to think about heaters as the win­ter months ap­proach, but equally im­por­tant is en­sur­ing that the group has enough chairs to sit on, a ra­dio so they can lis­ten out for news of an im­pend­ing cease­fire, and books to help es­cape their or­deal un­til then – or, de­press­ingly, burn when there’s no other fuel to hand.

Almost ev­ery fur­nish­ing you build can be fur­ther up­graded – stoves, for ex­am­ple, be­come more fuel ef­fi­cient – and you can also man­u­fac­ture traps to try to catch rats for food or cre­ate weapons and other tools, all as­sum­ing you’ve come by the nec­es­sary parts. If somebody’s par­tic­u­larly for­lorn, you can get another sur­vivor to give them a pep talk; if they’ve fallen ill, you must en­sure they get plenty of rest and eat well. Medicine will also help speed along re­cov­ery if you can find any and haven’t been raided or traded it for food dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly des­per­ate patch. In among the ag­o­nis­ing drama, there are echoes of The Sims.

But for all the hard de­ci­sions and har­row­ing con­se­quences it makes you face, This War Of Mine is lifted by the con­trast­ing acts of hu­man­ity and warmth that pop up across the du­ra­tion of its name­less war. For ex­am­ple, the sim­ple plea­sure of­fered by a good book or the moral sat­is­fac­tion of de­cid­ing to give med­i­cal sup­plies to the ail­ing hos­pi­tal with­out ask­ing for any­thing in ex­change are all re­flected in the di­ary en­tries of each character and, more im­por­tantly, in you as a player. Each small flicker of hope in a seem­ingly hope­less sit­u­a­tion feels dis­pro­por­tion­ately re­ward­ing, and the sense of ela­tion at dis­cov­er­ing a stash of food that will make the dif­fer­ence be­tween sur­viv­ing another night or another three is pal­pa­ble. Pre­sent­ing such af­fect­ing light and shade with­out moral­is­ing is no small feat, but your jour­ney through This War Of Mine’s con­flict will be all the more per­sonal for it.

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