This War of Mine (PC) 2014

Steam does this thing that no other distribution platform, or even conventional marketing, can do. Just spring launches awesome titles into my face out of the blue.

I have never heard of this title before and it came from a recommendation from a friend. Check this out Cem, looks up your street. A survival war game, you’re not some hotshot soldier with state of the art weaponry, instead you’re a group of troubled individuals caught in the crossfire between rebel fighters and the military.

Residing in an area abandoned for many years, you are restricted in your exploration during the day, blamed on the military snipers who are indiscriminate in their targeting, instead giving us freedom of exploration during the nights.

A neat cross between the brilliant Deadlight and a 2D version of the zombie survival horror game, State of Decay, TWoM combines familiar aspects of discovery and hoarding with limited capacity, against people management and crafting. Imagine Sims (lord forgive me) in an apocalyptic setting.

Controlling your characters in real time, the visuals are certainly enough to captivate and spur you on to further discovery as it looks simply deliciously gloomy. If you remember how Limbo manipulated your line of sight, TWoM uses a similar approach by putting a fog of war in areas that aren’t immediately visible. Utilising an original ‘sketch’ type of artwork, it’s rough and ready and the environment moves with beautifully rendered three dimensional backgrounds.

You are given a rapidly progressing day to prepare your base, do any constructing and get ready for your night time mission of scavenging which then places you in a number of map locations depending on what resources you’re hunting for.

It’s all done in a dramatically engaging way, with beautiful music setting the unbearably pessimistic tone of your situation. Food is scarce, people are sick and winter is setting in. Decisions surrounding the use of wooden planks hold a more desperate consequence now as you juggle heat against cooking and general carpentry.

The interesting mechanic is that resources actually are in abundance. The difficulty is your carrying capacity and each nightly excursion is limited only by what you can bring back – and that is often desperately restricted.

Your people are also very real, with some wonderful motion captured 2D sprites giving an air of realism in movement and air, whilst photography is frequently used to provide the intimacy. As you manage a team of 2-5 inhabitants depending on situation, you can only send out one individual to do the nightly scavenging and their actions directly affect the physical and emotional mood of the other members.

It really is a deeply unsettling game, pitting you into the pressures of morality as you try desperately to make ethical decisions as you would in normal life and rarely have I felt a game actually come close to simulating the effects on your actual person.

During an episode I found my entire team suffering badly with disease and following an attempted raid in the night before, some were also carrying wounds. My medicine cabinet was running really low and after a few repeated stealth visits to an elderly couples home, this particular night the man caught me in the act and confronted me. However, in my panic I bludgeoned him and his wife with my shovel, leaving me freely to pilfer through their house, collecting all the meds I needed.

Upon my return, my character was distraught, the others were shocked and treated the murderer with disdain, despite her immediate fall into deep depression. It was mildly disturbing and had me, for a few minutes, stop playing as I contemplated my own actions.

The game does an incredible job of sucking you into these issues around social acceptance and your own moral compass. I suspect if you are a bit of a toad in real life, some of these decisions wouldn’t be so hard- but for me, it was a struggle.

After nearly 20 hours and a few repeated restarts, I eventually completed the game and watched the epilogue. Essentially, the closure of your story concerning those members who made it, and the memories of those who didn’t.

I have to champion this game for its many achievements around how it successfully made me feel guilty. I haven’t even talked about the rewarding crafting mechanic. It is relatively simple but the comprehensive people management aspect of this game made the juggling of both people and items immensely satisfying.

A solid 9/10 and at this price, you’d be a loser to not invest.

My stats on this game.