This War of Mine is the latest game from 11 bit studios, a team that is rapidly making a name for itself in the increasingly crowded small-game marketplace. But this is no iteration on the studio's impressive Anomaly series. This War of Mine is an entirely new game and it’s quite unlike anything 11 bit - or anyone else, for that matter - has made before.
The setting is a city that - by design - isn’t specifically located anywhere. It’s in the middle of a war which, again, isn’t a facsimile of any real world conflict. Instead, the generic modern day setting could be where you live and the war that’s raging on could be happening in your backyard. Rather than distancing you from the action, this vagueness draws you in and asks questions about what you would do were war to suddenly come to your doorstep.
This War of Mine is a combination of the in-vogue survival genre and some real-time strategy elements, It's presented via a side-on camera that’s not unlike a platform game. When actually playing, however, it bears no resemblance to a platformer: life in the middle of a war, you’ll not be surprised to learn, isn’t treacly sweet.
You’ll spend your days inside your safe house, where you can rummage around for stuff to salvage, or craft items that will improve your chances of survival. At the start of the game, various locked doors and piles of rubble will provide ample daylight distraction. After a few “days” of in-game time, however, the day becomes primarily about preparing for the night.
Once the clock runs out of daytime, night begins, and it’s here that you'll be confronted with your toughest choices. As you play your three characters will begin to deteriorate in ability, based on how tired, hungry, or wounded they are. In order to get supplies to correct those ailments or improve your survivors' situation, you’ll need to send people foraging to nearby buildings.
Foraging is performed via the same side-on style that your daytime gameplay takes place in, only now there’s a chance that you’ll meet some other survivors - and you never really know how they’ll react to you. Rather than a simple “us” and “them” scenario, 11 bit has crafted a simulation in which other character’s motivations vary about as much as you’d imagine they might in real life. But when you’re hungry, you’ll probably pinch the old lady’s last tin of beans anyway… just be prepared for your fellow survivor’s reactions when you get back home with your ill-gotten gains.
And while you’re looking for additional resources, you'll need to decide whether to put someone on guard or let everyone sleep. Little decisions like this can have a huge impact: being raided at night while no one is on guard can decimate your precious resources but being tired is something you’ll want to avoid too. Decisions, decisions.
It’s in these little decisions that your fate will ultimately be decided: do you save those bandages - given that your cadre currently suffering from only minor wounds - or do you use them now, lest some bandit steals them in the night? The decisions are difficult and the balance between scraping by and dying horribly is tenuous even when everything is going your way - never mind when it isn’t.
There’s a myriad of other choices to make, too: do you craft a bed to increase the effectiveness of your sleeping, or do you spend your precious scavenged material building a new cooker? Should you answer the door when someone comes knocking? If you do, and there are kids there, do you give them some of your precious medicine, hoping their story of a sick mother is true and that you might ultimately reap the rewards of your “altruistic” action?
My first play through ended on day eleven when my last surviving housemate collapsed in a deep depression, crying on the ground - unable to continue and unwilling to respond to my urgent clicking on the various icons that needed his attention. It was a grim end to a gripping 90 minutes, punctuated only by the ever present pounding of artillery in the background and the depressing strum of a skilled - albeit very sad - guitarist.
Whether there proves to be more to the game than “war is bad” messaging, of course, remains to be seen; can you reach equilibrium? Can you survive much longer than the 11 days I could muster (and, in my defense, the limit the preview version allows). While there are a great many unknowns, the preview build - backed up by 11 bit’s reputation - should be more than enough to make you eager to find out.
This War of Mine is headed to PC and Mac later this year.