In a time when conflicts are on the news every day, games often act as an escape from the real world. Sometimes, though, they serve as a way of teaching us about what it would be like to be involved in one of these conflicts. This War of Mine: The Little Ones
throws you right into the middle of a country that is fraught with war; it challenges you to take on the role of a number of people and try and survive. Will you steal from the homeless and the helpless to get what you need, or will you be able to find a way to scavenge and stay alive?
It's not pretty, but it's the place you and your survivors will be calling home
The game starts by throwing you right in at the deep end when you choose to "survive" instead of "play". You start the game in a run down house, full of rubble piles and with holes in the roof and the walls. The game is set in a time where war and conflict is wreaking havoc. Phones are not working, there's a shortage of basic amenities and houses are shelled every night. You first experience the story of Bruno, Marko and Pavle, who teamed up to survive whilst looking for supplies, and it is your job to try and keep them alive.
The opening scenario seems a little challenging for a beginner who hasn't played this kind of survival based game before, but the more that you play about with the game, the easier it is to understand. On first appearances, there is a lot happening on screen, especially in your shelter. You start off with your three survivors to track, but then in the various rooms in your shelter and in every location to which you go out scavenging, everything with which you can interact has its own circle icon. Everything has an item, from rubbish that you can search, a wardrobe that opens or a raidable fridge, and sometimes these can fill up your screen and overlap, leaving you overwhelmed and unable to pick which icon you want, although this is something that is helped somewhat by the use of the d-pad buttons.
Will you turn to violence in order to survive?
The game is split into two main parts: the daytime and the night. There are certain things that must be accomplished in the time that you are given, and a countdown clock in the corner of the screen tells you how many hours there is left to do what you need to do. When first entering the house in the daytime, you'll want to explore each and every room to find some starting supplies. After this first day, you will be spending most of your daylight hours tending to your suvivors, as well as creating items for your shelter. Each of these items costs supplies and the game forces you to make decisions as there will never be enough to build everything. Will you build beds but have no heater for when the winter comes? Will you have weapons to guard yourself but no radio to keep spirits up? Whilst the days can get a bit repetitive and boring if you have little to do, there is the freedom to finish early during both day and night, either by ending the day or by leaving the location. This means that you can spend as long or as little time as you need during this period, with the normal time for each being more than enough.
Night is a different challenge -- you must go out and scavenge at night, yet still manage to keep your shelter and other survivors in one piece. Before you venture out, you can choose who you want to take, where you want to go, and what you want the other survivors to do while you are gone. Each scavenger has their own skills and each location has certain items, both of which are made clear before you leave. On top of that, each person has their own backpack that determines how much weight that they can carry. Unfortunately backpacks are not upgradable, something from which the game may have benefitted, and instead it keeps to slightly more realistic carryable weights. Each location could be packed full of supplies or traders but you might also be warned of danger. This means the people already at the location may be hostile, and you might have to fight your way to the supplies. On the other hand, you could go and steal medication from an old couple who have done no harm to anyone -- the choice is completely yours.
The problems your survivors face might not always be physical
The game gives you the freedom and the choice to decide what is important, but making the wrong decision can have serious in game consequences. If you take something from someone who really needs it, though, don't be surprised if they're dead when you next go back. There are also a lot of problems your survivors can face, both mental and physical. Physical problems can be cured with a good stock of food, medicine and bandages, although managing to balance this with building materials is very difficult. Your survivors can also become sad and depressed if you don't keep other items in the house or if you go stealing from old couples and the homeless. Depression is not so easily cured, but your survivors can comfort one another or items can be bought to cheer them up as well. During the night your own shelter can be raided and your supplies stolen if your other survivors can't fight back, an annoyance for both your survivors and you, especially if you have worked hard to scavenge and steal those supplies.
If you are struggling with the starting story, one of the best things about this game is that it gives you the choice to pick your own scenario for the story, and there are a lot of choices to pick through. You can choose a number of different survivors to have in your house with any combination of children, adults, abilities and personalities. The level of conflict affects the likelihood that you will be raided and meet enemies along the way. After picking whether you want a cold winter to make an appearance and for how long, you can choose the locations available for you to scavenge and who will be present at them. If you want an easy ride, you can stock the locations with the homeless and the vulnerable, but for more of a challenge you can pick the gangs and the raiders, who will definitely put up more of a fight. The freedom is completely yours, though, and the ability to make it as hard or easy as you need makes the game more playable and open to a wider audience.
The game takes its subject matter seriously, and the muted black, white and grey setting reflects that. The sidescrolling action sometimes feels a little clunky and it can be hard to get your character to move and stop in the right place, but their movement also reflects their mood (they move slower and heavier when ill or sad). The music is eerie and almost unnoticable, but just does enough to take you to the war torn shelter and feel as if you were right there in the action. Whilst overall the game has a fairly simple look, with basic backgrounds and settings that lack over the top colour or design, this only serves to further enhance the bleak setting in which these people have found themselves.
Unfortunately, at this moment in time, the achievements are not synced to Xbox LIVE and, consequently, aren't on the site yet. Some have still unlocked, even though they're not being displayed, and a lot of these will come from a natural playthrough. Building enough beds for the people staying in the shelter but not the one who is out scavenging, putting two people on guard overnight and managing to feed everyone in the house with a proper meal are just a few of the accomplishments that you'll need to complete. You'll also want to make the house a little more homely, as well as survive a number of days and the cold, harsh winter from start to finish. Hopefully, the achievements will link soon and we will have a proper idea of the full list.
SummaryThis War of Mine: The Little Ones
forces you to make tough decisions throughout and the real consequences from these actions are seen in the game. Whether you choose to steal from the hospital, an old couple on medication, or a homeless man's squat, you are made to feel guilty. Consequently, you feel good for helping out a stranger. Keeping track of all your supplies and having enough of everything to keep your people alive is not an easy feat, and it feels like the first story that you are given is a little too hard. The ability to create your own scenario is a great addition and it allows you to tweak the game to your own survival ability. Whilst the days can get a little repetitive and boring if you have to catch up on sleep and not much else, the game challenges you, your morals and your survival instincts against the backdrop of the serious subject of war.
- Forced to make tough choices that have real in-game consequences
- Ability to make own scenarios adds a lot of replayability to the game
- Atmospheric appearance and soundtrack
- Gameplay can get repetitive after a while
- Opening scenario seems too hard for a beginner
The review spent a number of hours making tough choices, trying to survive and building a snowman, unlocking a number of the game's achievements. An Xbox One version of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.