This War of Mine is a computer game about a familiar topic: War in the modern age. Mechanically it’s very cool, combining elements of resource management and base building with careful, stealthy gameplay. Basically, during the day you keep your base running and during the night you go and collect resources without drawing too much attention. While none of that is new or groundbreaking gameplay it’s solid in concept and well executed. That said, the game would be pretty bland if that was all there was to it. In fact, there are a number of zombie survival games that probably do the base building half of the game better and there’s certainly at least two ninja/commando style games that do the stealth parts in a more interesting way.
Or, at least they do if approached from the direction of most game stories.
See, the typical video game is an examination of what the player would do with unusual powers. Could you manage to rescue a princess? No? What if you could jump really high, throw fireballs and utilize plumbing in surprising ways? Well play a Mario game and find out!
Strategy games give players the chance to command armies, first person shooters give players unlimited stamina and military gear they’ll probably never see, RPGs let players develop powers that could never exist in real life and Minecraft lets you make just about anything you could ever want. It’s no surprise these games are popular since they let you do things that, for the most part, you could never hope to actually do. This War of Mine, on the other hand, does the exact opposite. It challenges you to do something that you would never want to do in real life and gives you no special powers to accomplish it with. While that doesn’t sound interesting at first it is still an engaging experience.
You see, in This War of Mine your base is a small house in the middle of a civil war somewhere in Eastern Europe. The stealth portions of the game are you going out to look for supplies in the night, so soldiers won’t see and shoot you. And you play a civilian with no special training just trying to stay alive while bullets and shells fly by outside.
This War of Mine is a nerve-wracking game. I don’t recommend playing it in large chunks, the decisions you have to make are sometimes unpleasant and emotionally draining. You will probably wind up turning away other refugees looking for shelter because the house just cannot hold anyone else. You will run like a coward when the soldiers outside spot you on a foraging run. You’ll have to decide whether running a risk to help someone you meet outside is worth your possibly not getting back to the house and the hungry people there. Especially if helping means standing up to a soldier with nothing but a crowbar in your hands.
As a game, from the angle of gameplay mechanics and execution, This War of Mine is not groundbreaking even if it is solid. But it manages to convey an experience that people must live through every day in a way that is gripping and rightly draining. For that alone, the game qualifies as an unmitigated success.