previews\ Apr 13, 2014 at 9:00 am

PAX East 2014: Surviving This War of Mine


Last month, 11 bit studios revealed This War of Mine, a different kind of military game that sees you play as a group of civilians -- the real casualties of war -- rather than a soldier. The goal is to stay alive, and how you do so is completely up to you.

Each day in This War of MIne is split into two phases: day and night. During the day, snipers stop you from leaving your refuge, so you must craft, trade, upgrade your shelter, feed and cure your fellow survivors. At night, you can scavenge nearby areas for food, medicines, weapons, supplies, and other useful items that can be used, in turn, during the day. 

I was dropped into the game's demo with little explanation other than the overall premise of the game. According to 11 bit studios, it's "not a simulator of atrocities; it's just the experience of war as seen by civilians." And it's based on real research of what civilians must do to survive during wartime.

"When war breaks out what do you do?" 11 bit asked me prior to my demo. "You need to struggle for water and food. You need to protect your family. You need to face really hard decisions, like what do you do when you're starving? Are you trying to steal food from someone? Are you killing someone to steal food? What do you do if your entire family is sick and you have just one antibiotic? Are you sacrificing someone? How do you pick the one that deserves the antibiotics?"

"This is what real people face when real war is around them," I was told. And this is what you will face in This War of Mine.

This War of Mine

Now in my 30-minutes of hands-on time, I didn't face any crucial decisions, but I did get a good idea of how the game plays and the basics of what players can expect. The game plays as a point-and-click on a 2D plane. You click on the survivor you want to control and then click on an object in the world to have them interact with it. It's a very simplistic setup that focuses more on your decisions than successfuly performing an action. 

During the day phase, gameplay is a little slower. Using the items you scavenged the night before you build up your refuge and care for your survivors. This can include building tools like a bed to sleep in, a device to catch water, or a fire to cook food. At night, you are shown a map of places you can go to scavenge for supplies. Each location shows what you can scavenge for, and if there's a possibility of danger. 

Scavenging for items presents an opportunity to gather supplies you desperately need, but also represents danger. Depending on the place you scavenge, you can run into other looters, or other survivors willing to defend their supplies. While the threat of conflict is always present, I didn't once resort to violence in my playthrough. And I went through 6 full day cycles. Sure, my refuge was attacked a few times during the night, but in most cases we automatically defended.

The biggest difference between daytime and nighttime, aside from pacing, is character vision. When you are in your shelter, you can see all interactive objects, but when you are out scavenging, the building is black out and your vision cone is limited to only the room you are in. Despite the limited vision, you can still "hear" where others are, and that is represented by a moving, pulsing red circle.

I was a bit surprised to see that This War of Mine doesn't really present you with missions or tasks. It's up to you to survive. Is it more important to sleep and get rest or to eat your limited food? Which character do you choose to go out scavenging with? Who stays back and guards your supplies? Each day is full of decisions, some bigger than others. 

Matching the somber concept of This War of Mine, is the game's art style. It utilizes a grayscale matching the drearyness of the war outside. And everything has a pencil sketched look to it, adding to the surreal feel of the crazyness happening around you.

Perhaps the biggest indicator of a solid game is the fact that I was forced off the machine because I had reached my time limit. In 30 minutes, I cycled through 6 days, but I could've easily stayed for 60. In just my short time with the game I had formed a connection with those in my survival group and I wanted to aid them in these most desperate of times. If this kind of addictive gameplay can carry over into the final game then This War of Mine will be a great play.

This War of Mine is being developed for PC and mobile devices. It's due out sometime in 2014.

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