Cheap Game Tuesday: ‘This War of Mine’

War is hell, man. Not that you’s know it from the average output from the video game industry. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had a fairly well executed anti-war message but it kinda got over shadowed by handing the players a big machine gun and entertaining them by hitting the front lines and kicking ass. The ‘war sucks’ mentality is much better articulated in the grim survival game This War of Mine. Rather than directing units as a General in an RTS or hitting the front lines in a FPS you get handed control of a small group of civilians caught in the middle of a civil war.

Essentially the country is fucked. Large chunks of the city is in ruins and food and shelter is scarce. You little group of desperate civvies have taken refuge in the bombed house and, over the days that follow, you have to make the place liveable, produce and salvage enough food to get by, stay warm and stay happy. During the day you can instruct your characters to build furniture and work stations that can be further used to prepare food, grow herbs, distill liquor, sleep, read, build tools and whatnot. When the sun goes down you can pick one of the nearby areas to send one of your group to salvage.

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While on a salvage stint you can search areas, collect items for crafting and survival, steal and progress further through the use of crowbars, shovels and other items. Sometimes the areas will be occupied and you’ll have to decide if you want to rob them, putting your needs ahead of their own, or trade with them. Other times the people you encounter are hostile and you are best to try sneaking through the place without getting caught. Hostilities can turn violent and you’re rarely going to come out of an encounter completely intact. With only limited time each night for a salvage you have to think fast, especially if you get a situation where the nice, happy people setting up residence in the hotel turn out to have people locked in cupboards for torture and murder fun.

If things go south one or more of your characters will become emotionally affected. If they’re forced to steal from the helpless or defend themselves they could fall into depression and could need recovery time around the homestead, possibly with other characters working to support and get them on to their feet. It feels a bit odd that your intentions may not be reflected in moods of the characters. Dispatching a group of heavily armed and generally unpleasant rebels who are holding a bunch of supplies may seem like a public service but the game degreed this a bad thing and my best salvage guy wound up to depressed to move for days.

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During the day you can also have random encounters including traders coming to the door, new survivors in need of help or people who need you to head out and help them. Each of the characters have their own set of skills like trading, fast running or good cooking.

The control scheme is pretty simple, clicking on year you want to move and interact with. Clicking on an object such as a door or workbench will give you the options available to you. The only sticking point comes in the awkward switching between the combat and salvage modes that can put you in a vulnerable position at a crucial moment. 

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There are a few small annoyances but the pros do outweigh the cons. When you are forced to make a tough choice it feels like a real ethical dilemma, but when you have little control over how depressed your character ends up it distances the player. Nonetheless it’s a well thought out experience that puts the player into a unique position in the current market. The cross-hatched sketch style of the game blends well with the smooth animation for an overall good presentation, supported by a decent soundtrack. It’s worth checking out during the next Steam sale (but not the current full price).