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This War of Mine: The Little Ones

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Deep Silver
Developer: 11 bit studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror

Graphics & Sound:

This War of Mine: The Little Ones is the counterpoint to annualized AAA war shooters. Where most war games are designed to be fun and exciting, this is one of those games that seeks to pull the wool out from over our eyes and force us to look at the painful reality brought about by the worst in mankind. Itís a deeply upsetting gaming experience that is not so much "fun" as it is engaging on multiple levels. Due to the randomized nature of the game, it offers a wealth of experiences, each practically guaranteed to leave you more strung-out and unhappy than the one before it. But ultimately, This War of Mine: The Little Ones is a worthwhile experience for those who have a strong enough stomach to confront its morbid multitude of gut-churning horrors and agonizing dilemmas.

Would Schindlerís List be as effective as it is if it was not shot in black and white? No doubt it would still be as breathtaking and horrifying, but would it feel as starkly bleak as the film does in its current state? This War of Mine operates on the correct assumption that black and white aesthetics, when implemented properly, lend a suffocating, oppressive feel to whatever the experience is. Technically, this isnít much to look at, but artistically, itís masterful in its minimalism. This isnít a game about seeing. Itís a game about feeling. And by removing all possible positive stimuli in the environment (including color), youíre left with the rotting prison our main characters are forced to call home.

This War of Mineís stylized minimalism encapsulates the entirety of the visual and audio design. The stark, lifeless atmosphere of the game world is matched note for note with a soundtrack that is equal parts industrial ambience and simple guitar melodies. It does absolutely everything it can to ensure that your spirits are low, just so the randomized events of the game can do their job and drive them even lower. Thereís no voice acting in the game, though the portraits and traits of each of the survivors are enough to sell them as real people Ė which, in turn, makes their plight even more horrifying and believable.


Gameplay:

Here is a game about war in which you arenít among those who are actually waging it. Instead, This War of Mine: The Little Ones casts you as a civilian caught in the midst of an unknown war between unknown forces in an unknown time. None of these unknowns matter. All you need to know is that survival is the ultimate goal, and it isnít an easy one to achieve. You take control of a group of civilians in a multi-level shelter that is initially in incredibly poor shape. It is up to your group to make the place livable and to survive the harsh conditions that have it beset from all possible angles. With civilization reduced to a smattering of survivors following their basest instincts, the necessity of morality and conscience is steadily decreasing and it wonít be long before you start asking yourself exactly how far you would go to live another day.

This War of Mine takes place over a series of "Days." During the day, youíre essentially under house arrest; snipers are everywhere, and you canít go out without essentially signing your own death warrant. So instead, you switch between your survivors and have them do all they can to improve their living conditions. You find resources and leverage them in the manner in which you see fit. Your needs are always apparent and made explicit, which makes each objective simple to understand, even if they are anything but simple to solve. You do as much as you possibly can with what youíre given. And then night fallsÖ

During night, one of your survivors must venture out of the shelter and into unknown territory in an increasingly desperate effort to keep your stock of supplies high. Thereís only so much you can take, so you have to balance your wants with your more pressing survival needs. And there are times in which you must do things you may think yourself incapable of doing in order to keep your people alive. And yes, these moments will come regardless of how you play, and youíll be forced to choose between your humanity and your life.


Difficulty:

You ultimately cannot "win" in This War of Mine: The Little Ones. Your sole objective is to survive, but taking into consideration all that that entails, itís a rather tall order. Itís almost a given that you wonít make it out completely intact. While the bodies of your characters may indeed survive until a ceasefire is declared, thereís a very good chance that their psyches will be irreversibly damaged in some way, shape, or form.

Speaking of which, each of these characters has their own personality, and none of them are adequately prepared to live with the consequences of the decisions that they will inevitably have to make at points. This adds another layer of challenge on top of simply keeping the house livable and having a steady flow of supplies. If youíre forced to do unspeakable things in order to keep living, those actions will incur a psychological toll on whoever perpetrated the crime. If you donít find a way to address their inner turmoil, they will take the matter into their own handsÖ


Game Mechanics:

I think of This War of Mine: The Little Ones as a twisted distant cousin of The Sims, though you have much more direct control over your charactersí actions. You manage their days and put forth all possible effort to ensure that their lives donít end. Survivors have specific needs, but also their own traits, both positive and negative. Ensuring that the good traits are put to efficient use and that the bad ones are mitigated or nullified are a surefire way to keep your game going as the days roll by.

Resources are essential to survival. They are also in universal short supply. Varying from basic necessities like food and clean water to emergency supplies like fresh herbs and fabric and beyond to items that simply make life more than the living hell it is at the beginning of your game, the need for resources is constant, as well as constantly growing. Circumstances can change in a heartbeat, and your most critical needs at one point can be superceded by newer, more pressing needs. Learning to prioritize while keeping other goals in mind is an important skill in This War of Mine, though it (like everything else) wonít always save you in the end.

Ensuring that every survivor has a project at each point in time is crucial to survival, and itís only when theyíre all pulling their weight that survival becomes not only vaguely viable, but a very real possibility. Keeping your facilities in working order and building new amenities as resource allocation frees up is perhaps the only part of This War of Mine that is inherently satisfying.

Of course, itís when things look good that terrible things tend to happen. After all, you are not the only person in this city who will do anything to survive, and youíre just as likely to find yourself on the receiving end of some misfortune (man-made or otherwise). One of your survivors could come down with a life-threatening illness or your house might be raided by scavengers who may or may not be willing to kill to get what they need. Itís all as unpredictable as it is heartbreaking, but such are the realities of war.

Iíve never played anything quite like This War of Mine: The Little Ones, and I consider that both a good thing and a bad thing. Itís a good thing because if I kept playing games that dealt with this kind of subject matter in this particular way, Iíd forget how to be happy. But itís also a bad thing because itís a special breed of unique and intelligent that doesnít appear nearly as often as it should. If you think you can handle the subject matter and are in the mood for something bleak and thought-provoking, this is an experience you wonít soon forget, for better and for worse.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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