A post E3 sale has hit PSN, and with it comes a gem of a game in This War of Mine – The Little Ones. At the moment you can snatch it up for the price of a Large Big Mac meal. Is it worth skipping lunch for though? Yes it is boys and girls. And get used to skipping lunch. Breakfast too. Actually forget food all together. In this captivating masterpiece everything from sleep to happiness is in very short supply, and you are gonna have to fight for all of it.
Originally released by 11 Bit Studios in 2014, This War of Mine was ported to mobile first, then PS4 and Xbox One in 2016. It is a uniquely visualised survival strategy game, and boy oh boy you are going to need to have your survival game on point (I know, I’m sorry for saying on point. I promise I’ll never do it again). Set in the fictional city of Pogoren, Graznavia, and inspired by real world events from the mid 90’s Bosnian war, This War of Mine is a look at the knock on effects of war from the civilian’s perspective. It’s a cold, dark and depressing walk through what could potentially be anyone’s struggle for survival during times of conflict.
As the player you are introduced to a few out of a list of survivors, and tasked with keeping them alive until the ceasefire. This can range from anywhere between 20 and 80 days. You are given a run down, half collapsed, abandoned house to shelter in. This will be your new home until the war is over. Lucky you! Did I mention that you have no food? And your “house” is probably going to be raided by thugs every other night? And winter is coming? WINTER IS COMING. And Graznavian winter is very cold…
You cannot leave the house during the day due to pesky and downright evil snipers that will bip anyone (even kids) that step into their line of sight. In order to get supplies for trading, building or even just eating you must venture out each night on scavenging missions. Only one of your survivors may do this each night, choosing the one that is most suited to the task also plays into it. Every time you venture out you run the risk of meeting unsavoury types who will happily put a bullet or two in you. And once you are dead, you are dead. There’s no magic wand, and the game only saves at the start of each in game day, overwriting the previous save. Brutal af. Sticking to the shadows and sneaking around the bombed out areas you can explore is as essential to survival as deciding which supplies you can fit into your backpack, and which to leave behind. You’ll come across locked doors that you can jimmy open, but that might wake up a sleeping inhabitant. Is it worth it? What if there is some food you could grab? Is a strangers life worth more than your friends back in the house?
During the day you are going to want to spend your time sleeping, eating and upgrading your shelter. Be it by patching holes in the walls, building a stove to cook your food or even just a swing set for the kid who just rocked up at your doorstep and now for some reason won’t leave (Like we don’t have enough problems?). The better equipped your base is, the easier you are going to find it to survive. And surviving is hard in This War of Mine. So much so that you are not only going to have to look after your friends physical well-being (I say friends because you’d have to have a heart of stone to not get attached to each of your survivors) but also their mental health. If someone gets depressed enough about the situation they will give up. They won’t feed themselves, or help out around the house, and if you don’t cheer them up then you will find them swinging from the end of a rope. As I said, this game is dark.
On my first play through my survivor named Bruno, who is an excellent cook, was so saddened by the fact that one of my other survivors killed a bunch of people at a hospital and robbed them (I was learning, go easy on me) that he killed himself. He couldn’t live with the guilt. Then the rest of my survivors got upset that he wasn’t cooking them food anymore (well that’s what I’m going to assume) so they started killing themselves like lemmings. It was heart breaking. But fun!
There is such a sense of achievement when you are making progress in this game, whether it be through self-sustainability or just making it through the winter with no one freezing to death. The art style is shades and minimal colour to project a depressing aura into your feels. Right deep into them feels. It’s gorgeous, and the pencil-like shaded backgrounds are very unique.
Gameplay-wise the controls are easy and quite simple to master, so you don’t have to spend too much time worrying about accidentally attacking a poor old lady or messing up a trade deal by shooting someone. The in game days are fairly quick, really putting pressure on the player to get things done.
Each character has their own narrative, they will make comments about how they feel or what they think, they also have a back story and potential epilogue if they survive. Each one of your survivors is humanised, which makes the tears flow all the more freely if misfortune should strike them. A Beautiful young woman named Katia sought refuge at my house after day 20, heavily wounded and on the brink of death. She was attacked trying to find a place to stay. I can’t imagine what those brutes did to her. After nursing her back to health, caring for her, feeding her, even… loving her? – I sent her out to scavenge. You know, get some fresh air etcetera. Then Dead. Dead, dead, dead. Still a bit choked up about it all to be honest.
This game will immerse you in the lower end of the emotional spectrum. If you are ready for something in this world to make you feel again then you should definitely pick this one up.