This War of Mine: The Little Ones
This War of Mine is a 2014 war survival video game developed by 11 bit studios. This War of Mine was released for the Microsoft Windows, OS X, and Linux operating systems in November 2014. Android and iOS versions were released in July 14, 2015. A PlayStation 4 and Xbox One release titled This War of Mine: The Little Ones has been announced for a January 29, 2016 release. This version features new missions and characters.
“In modern war… you will die like a dog for no good reason.”
We were raided again last night.
Pavle was resting; recovering from a sickness they did not have the medication to treat. Marko had stayed up to protect him despite a sleepless night before. They left him the crowbar so that he might defend himself since Katia traded their only pistol for a few tins of food. In the end it did not matter.
Katia had ventured further out than usual, across town and to the door of a house she knew was occupied – an elderly couple had remained behind despite the onset of violence that had besieged the city.
Pavle told her she must head to the Quiet House if they were ever to get desperate and now he fell sick and things had never seemed so hopeless.
He had spoken to her the night before, an audible emptiness in his words. He told her what he had done, how he had robbed those people. She could not tell if he was crying or whether it was the sticky perspiration of his sickness slowly bleeding him of his health.
The door was unlocked and Katia made her way inside. She held her breath and listened but the frantic pounding of her heart throbbed in her ears. She thought of the ocean. The house creaked and for a moment she thought she heard voices.
Katia crept through the house but the couple had gone – or worse. She grabbed what little food she could; a few carrots and piece of meat. There had to be more. She needed medicine but feared Pavle had taken it all before. Finally she had reached the last bedroom and made her way inside. She choked.
Motionless on the bed, their stiff ringed fingers laced together and their faces touching she saw them, the elderly couple. The woman looked thin and vomit had dried on her nightdress. Katia sobbed. Pavle did this. He took from them what little they had and now they lay there like dogs. But what Pavle did saved their lives, kept them fighting another day. Alone Katia stood and weighed up the cost of living.
She returned that night with medicine, food and wedding bands.
Marko was wounded badly. The intruders had stabbed him repeatedly and left him bleeding in one corner of the room. The crowbar was gone as well as some supplies and all the food scavenged from the night before. Pavle slept heavily in the only bed and the sheets were soaked through. Katia fell to her knees broken and clutched the two wedding bands. She squeezed them tightly and thought of the ocean.
By the time Pavle had recovered, Katia was dead. She had hung herself in the night sometime after Marko succumbed to his wounds. Pavle was alone.
The intruders came again the next night and took what little Pavle had left. It all became so meaningless and he started to contemplate a way out, a path so many had walked before him. But then came three small knocks at the door. He had nothing to trade and was in no position to help his neighbours.
What fight was left in Pavle forced him to the door and when he opened it he saw a glimmer of hope. An elderly man, Anton, and his grandson stood waiting. Pavle did not have to be alone, not any more. There were more mouths to feed and no food to go round but now someone could stay at home while he scavenged for everything they needed. He would play with the child, keep his spirits up and Anton would be there to talk to when he was depressed. Pavle smiled.
Six days later and Anton is motionless in the only bed. Pavle hung himself in the night and the child fled in tears, never to be seen again.
Welcome to This War of Mine: The Little Ones.
War Is Hell
I will admit that I was not entirely ready for the emotionally crushing and harrowing experience that This War of Mine turned out to be. Looks like the Sims if the Sims was drawn by a heroin addict, I thought.
I loved the Sims back in the day and every sadistic opportunity it presented me with. Pools aren’t for swimming, they’re for drowning. Why have fireworks outside when I can shoot them off in the kitchen, delete all the doors and burn a fucking house to the ground while I watch everyone trapped inside slipping around in pools of their own piss. Ha! Or climb the career ladder and start a family or whatever.
The power granted to the player in these simulations is often too much (clearly) and despite these games trying their hardest to keep you on the straight and narrow regarding your sim’s meaningless virtual life, on a path to lofty success and swelling aspirations I can’t help but feel utterly disconnected from my family of bumbling plebs and the emotional garbage they want to spew into each-others faces. I mean come on, it means so little to me that Leslie Buttersnatch happens to be offended by another one of Ian Beale’s racist jokes. However the Sims this game is not.
Yes, you are tasked with the day to day management of simulated lives and yes you can build an array of objects to further improve them but the difference here is the heart-wrenching plight of these poor and tortured souls your are granted control of.
Pavle, Marko and Katia; they are not empty husks for you to manipulate but instead are the names of those that bookend global tragedy. They are the three left seriously wounded. They are the three confirmed dead. They are the three the curtain of war often conceals, beyond the soldiers, the city and the acts of unimaginable cruelty. Pavle, Marko and Katia are those who were left behind.
This War of Mine is a powerful and evocative insight into the lives of causalities of war. It is a concept that dares to emulate the uncompromising grit of human survival and presents you with a plethora of gut-wrenching choices that can have a real lasting and emotional effect. It is a game that will challenge you, both in terms of achieving completion as well as your own moral and ethical boundaries. As you can imagine, it makes for a very interesting play-through.
Inspired by the siege of Sarajevo, you are tasked with maintaining the lives of a group of survivors left to fend for themselves within the fictional war-torn city of Pogoren, Graznavia. You must manage your group effectively and have them survive long enough for a ceasefire to occur. Then you win. In the most minor way possible.
The game can be a little jarring at first since as soon as you load up a new scenario, you are plonked right in the middle of your shelter and the game just sort of shrugs its shoulders indifferently. ‘Off you go then’ it says coldly, perhaps in preparation for your unaided journey through a genuine living nightmare. However, the basics of the game are fairly easy to pick up since the mechanics rely heavily on you hovering your cursor over something and clicking it to make things happen. Magic.
The first thing you will notice is the abundance of rubble that litters your shelter and without a second thought I clicked it all. It was a good thing too since scavenging through rubble and debris grants you access to wood and supplies. These components are incredibly important since the game splits the experience into two parts; fortify your shelter and sustain your group in the day, then scavenge various locations for more supplies by night. All the components you gather must be used wisely however since the game runs in cycles of full days and nights meaning you have twelves hours to perhaps build a new bed so two of your three survivors can sleep comfortably, or maybe a radio so you can be up to date with the crumbling economy and what is currently highly valued for trading. All of these things, including weather and encounters are all randomly generated which gives you a rich and varied experience each time though as you reach later playthroughs, be aware that your time invested compared to what has been achieved can leave you a little fatigued.
Encounters can range from a stranger at the door asking for help down the street, to a trader you have prayed for since wolfing down the last of your food and everyone in your group is too tired to scavenge. It works so well and at points I found myself giddy with joy as someone new knocked on the shelter door with another opportunity for me to tackle.
Time in the shelter is also time to maintain your groups well-being. Your survivors are individually designed with unique backstories, motivations and traits. Some are good at cooking for example while another might have one more slot in their inventory to scavenge with. Their basic needs however can vary and you must be aware of their hunger, mood, illness and if they are wounded. All of these things have their counter measures, like food, talking, medicine and bandages respectively. Each level of their basic needs requires more intense treatment as it progresses like one of you group can fall ill but perhaps a day and night resting in bed will have them right as rain by the next day but if they are extremely ill, then only medicine can bring them back from the brink. That is if you have any. This creates such an interesting dynamic to play with since it all becomes about prioritizing and managing your expectations.
The systems in place here are surprising deep and well thought out. Each character tackles their dismay in their own personal manner and will take to complaining about what is currently effecting them. It makes their plight difficult to ignore and the pressure truly begins to build as multiple characters start racking up a mixed bag of troubling confectionery. My suggestion is that you cast off any idea of actually ‘winning’ here and continue to trudge through the misery of losing a character or being raided in the night and just chalk up each day as another day closer to finality.
Gameplay is not limited to base building and babysitting however since when night comes, one your survivors can brave the ruins of the city. Each location is dotted across the map and as your progress, more become available. What I find helpful is that each location is marked with availability of supplies; be it food, medicine, weapons or parts. I had to keep a small journal of things that I absolutely needed and their exact numbers so not to waste any opportunities here. However, only one of your group can head off for the night and those that remain must be managed in their absence. Your options are limited to sleep, guard or sleep in bed. This is just another path the game forces you down in terms of getting the most out of your survivors. They sleep better in beds but perhaps you have only the one. You need someone on guard but maybe the only person in your group that’s not in dire need of sleep is wounded and would succumb to a raid in moments. The randomized encounters makes it so you will never know until you try.
At first you are given a small selection of empty properties or public buildings that you can scavenge but as the days roll by and your situation becomes more desperate, there will come a time where you must face up to the idea of stealing. This is handled incredible well with a combination of intuitive AI and compelling characters. One encounter I had early on is a great example of risk versus reward where the game panders to your moral obligations and forces you to witness a soldier goading a female survivor into having sex with him for supplies. This was a difficult position to be in since the right thing to do would be to step in, balls swinging and save the day but I am no soldier and facing off against someone who was heavily armed ultimately led to my death. This had a knock on effect to my remaining survivors and sent one of them spiraling into depression.
Scavenging plays out like a 2D stealth/action hybrid where you rummage through piles of rubbish and navigate abandoned buildings. You can arm yourself if you have gathered enough resources to build a decent weapon and engage in a fairly clunky and repetitive combat system. This is all blended together beautifully with the games unique and striking charcoal inspired aesthetic that really emphasizes the drudge and misery of your existence. Lines are scratchy and the detailed 3D backrounds have a distorted air that constantly shifts with every minor key struck on the piano as part of the games haunting minimalist soundtrack.
The small details here are outstanding and help build your own compelling narrative. As I mentioned before, the AI is extremely believable to the point where other characters you encounter start to feel human. An elderly woman will run to the body of her husband and mourn him, holding him in her arms as she screams at you for what you have done. Drawing a gun on your aggressors, loaded or not, might stop them in their tracks and have them begging for their lives. One time I left the front door of house I intended to rob wide open – no problem, right? Wrong. One of the young men inside noticed and began shouting to his friends about the door, asking who had left it open. Then he was drawing his weapon and searching the house as he realized there was an intruder. This makes for some especially tense gameplay as there are shadows for you to hide in and suddenly the idea of venturing further into the house for more supplies becomes an edge of your seat ride into the unknown. Sometimes in this situation it is better to just cut your losses and run but then again, you have a survivor at home in desperate need of bandages and one more night bleeding out will surely mean their death. These are the choices the game delivers brilliantly.
You do have options to trade out in the city and should you have a radio to let you know what’s popular, you can head out with backpack full of high-demand goods like moonshine and coffee and come home with a sack full of food and goodies. This moment of happiness can be fleeting however since any night you are away leaves you open to being raided by fellow desperate Dan’s like yourself.
The ‘raid’ system is a major bugbear of mine but still delivers in terms of enriching your experience. I wasted an awful lot of resources fully boarding up my house and left a guard on duty with my best weapons only to still get raided continually every other night. Reaching the end of a scavenge soon throws up feelings of sheer dread as I anticipate my return home. I know for a fact that despite returning with medicine to treat the one person who is sick, raiders would have come in the night and stolen all of our food, thus rendering everyone else starving by the time I acquire more and worst of all, leaving anyone I put on guard slightly wounded. So now I need bandages too. It is a continuous cycle of misery and disappointment, and yet I find myself utterly compelled to keep playing. It captures the monotony of survival perfectly and rewards you with so little that when you have it, it is a moment you wish would last forever.
The children are a welcome addition to the game and serve as a brand new challenge to overcome. Children, as you well know, are absolutely useless. The spend all day whinging about how much they miss their dad and idly hop scotch away any responsibility along the top of the stairs. They can’t build anything or contribute anything, not unless an adult shows them first but of course by the time a child is thrown into the mix, everyone is so utterly crushed with guilt and self loathing that they don’t want to have to show little dumb kids how to extract water from the purifier. This is how they are perceived at first, yes, I won’t lie. However as the days progress, you can’t help but find yourself attached to them and putting their well-being ahead of your star scavengers.
The child I had was brought along with his grandpa Anton and though the game did nothing but outline their relationship in one small paragraph, I still found myself forcing Anton to stay at home with him each night, promising to never leave him. I ensured that they engaged with each-other regularly and shared a bed in order for little one to feel safe. I even got Pavle to make friends with the sprogg on the off chance Anton bit the dust which of course, he inevitably did. It hurt to see the little boy mourn his grandfathers death, it really did. The relationship he lost I then tried to substitute with his friendship to Pavle and soon enough I was finding time for him to learn how to purify water, how to throw logs on the fire. It just made sense. The game had reached inside of me and yanked up all these feely guts and emotions. Thanks game.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is a game like no other and its experience is one you are unlikely to forget. It is brutal and uncompromising. It is a once in a lifetime achievement for a company willing to show you another side to war, to peel back the gloss of modern shooters and instead reveal to you the cost of these wars, virtual or not. It is a must play for everyone, if only to listen to what this game has to say. The issues that it presents are so rooted in reality that a part of you laments those select few that would create the ruins in which people like this might suffer.
The company behind the game even released a charity DLC in partnership with Warchild last year that went on to change the lives of 350 Syrian refugee children. Nice.
In all honesty, I have still yet to survive to the end of the game, to see my characters personal stories concluded. There have been no loving reunions, nor returning to a life of fame and fortune. Instead I have had to witness multiple reels of Polaroid pictures depicting every loss, every theft and murder.
I die like a dog and try again like a cat.
I like animals.
Juice Box Rating: 40oz