This War of Mine review: Collateral damage

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This month, the Technology Tell Apple Channel will once again be heading to Los Angeles for dedicated iOS and Mac game coverage. Leading up to E3 2015 on June 16th, we’re going to publish a new Mac game review every day to highlight some of the best of what’s available now. Not all of the best games, after all, can be found on an expo show floor.

This War of Mine is unsettling. It’s so unsettling that it’s taken me nearly seven months to review it. I played this game slowly and deliberately, making sure it never felt like an obligation. I didn’t want to play it to write about it, I wanted to play it to pay attention. To take in its lesson. To understand the message its developers wanted to impart.

This War of Mine

This is not a pleasant game to play, after all. It’s dark, and it’s difficult, but not in the ways to which you’re accustomed. The Batman games are dark, but in a way that celebrates the darkness, as most video games and action movies do these days. Everyone has a dark past and demons to wrestle, maybe to make us feel like our lives aren’t so bad after all.

That’s not the goal of This War of Mine, which places you in a war torn environment, takes away all the comforts of living, and just says, “Here. Survive.” No instructions, no real tutorial. And unlike zombie games or any such survival horror title, there’s no physical bad guy on which you can focus your attacks. I suppose you could say that the bad guy is the war going on around you, but it’s not. It’s simply a situation. If there’s going to be a bad guy in This War of Mine, it’s going to be you, because you’re the one who’s going to have to do bad things in order to survive.

This War of Mine

This War of Mine is split into two cycles: day and night. By day, you’re trapped inside your hollowed out shelter. Snipers keep you pinned down, so you do what you can to fortify your situation. Cook, build items that can help you, attempt to keep everyone in your party healthy. Each time you start you get different people with different abilities, and learning to use them properly can help you keep things running…for a while.

At night, you’re able to send out one of your civilians to scavenge for items. You can find weapons for protection, alcohol to raise morale, food and medicines for health. But you can also find people who need your help…by request or by force. Do you take the old couple you meet back to your shelter when you know they’ll just thin out your already low food supply, or do you steal what little they have…or worse?

This War of Mine

You can switch between your civilians at will to give them different tasks, and each time you do you can see that person’s skills and level of health. How sad to see someone’s health drop throughout the game, knowing there’s little you can do about it. And if one of your civilians dies, you move on. You have no choice, as there are no save-games to which you can return. It’s ever onward, so you have to live with each choice you make until you’re done, and you start it again.

This War of Mine

Adding to the heavy atmosphere of the game are the dark, gritty graphics. There’s nothing glamorous here. Nothing is celebrated. No one is a hero. The game occasionally rewards you when someone you were kind to returns the favor, but those moments are fleeting, and more often than not you come to realize the negative consequences of an act of kindness you showed earlier.

And to me, that’s the lesson of This War of Mine. I’ve read some forums were people seem almost proud of the tough decisions they made. That seems wrong. Because, good or bad, your decisions can’t affect the outcome of this game, and they can’t make you a good person. War doesn’t give you the opportunity to win. Someone somewhere may win something. A new flag may fly. Oil prices may drop. But those victories are so far removed from This War of Mine that they may as well be buried under the rubble of a collapsed building. And guess what…you chose to feed the dog instead of scavenge for a shovel.

Apple Channel Rating A

Buy This War of Mine

Genre: Survival sim
Developer: 11 bit studios
Minimum Requirements: OS X v10.6, 2.4 GHz Intel core 2 duo, 2 GB RAM, 512 MB graphics card
Price: $19.99
Availability: Now

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