This War of Mine on NVIDIA SHIELD explores the harsh realities of war survival
Horrors of survival
Katia is sick. She lies on a damp, flea-infested mattress, her body twisted in pain, begging us to make it stop.
We can’t afford to lose Katia. Mainly because Franko the trader is keen on her – he always gives her a discount.
Wait until night, when the snipers can’t see us. Then we’ll visit old Emil and Jagoda in the ruined villa. They must have medicine.
Midnight at the villa. The couple won’t trade. We’ll have to take what we need.
The half-broken lock clicks and we’re inside. Quietly now, no need for anyone to get hurt. Listen out for footsteps.
Dusty cupboards reveal little of value. What’s this? A love letter from Emil to Jagoda? Love has no meaning anymore, not in this war-blighted place.
Then, at last: medicine. We turn to leave only to hear the creak of a floorboard – Jagoda has seen us. “Emil, intruders!”
Old man Emil rushes out of the darkness, a rusty knife in his hand. He knows all too well the horrors bandits are capable of.
We mean no harm but there’s no time to explain. Emil lashes at us and we instinctively react, our crowbar shattering his skull.
Jagoda drops limply to her knees, face in her hands. “No Emil, no,” she weeps. “How will I survive without you?”
Emil is dead. Katia will live. But in truth, we have all died a little tonight.
This War Of Mine’s unique and devastating power to move is fuelled by moments like this: small, piercing vignettes of pain and tragedy born from a need to survive.
Set in the midst of a brutal civil war, the game, which is now available on NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV, tasks you with keeping a tiny band of civilians alive. It’s a curious thing: part The Sims In Hell as you attempt to rebuild some semblance of a life from the rubble, part stealth game as you raid other buildings for essential supplies. But kudos to developer 11 bit Studios: it all gels thanks to the clever inter-dependencies of its elegantly simple core mechanics.
As food and resources grow scarce and winter starts to bite, your ragtag band grows hungrier and sicker. Hard decisions turn to harsh decisions and ultimately to impossible ones.
Who do you let starve so another can live? Who gets the last course of medicine? Do you let in the frail old woman begging for shelter at your door? Do you risk someone to save a small girl caught by feral bandits? Does Emil have to die? What is a life worth?
These are weighty questions and not ones asked by the majority of games, especially those set in war zones.
The Mass Effect series was among the first to shout about the way players could make moral decisions at key narrative points, but in common with most similar games they largely boiled down to simplistic black and white “Be a hero or a villain” choices that rarely had much emotional heft.
More recently The Witcher 3 made a better fist of it, asking you to make calls where the outcomes were not clear-cut good or bad and that often came back to bite you in unexpected ways.
But where This War Of Mine hits hard is in its sense of desperation. In some ways it’s akin to Lucas Pope’s Papers Please, in that no matter how hard you try to do the right thing you’re eventually forced into a corner and have no option but to perform truly terrible acts to protect those you care about, although This War Of Mine’s minimalistic dialogue and stark graphic style make it all feel much harsher and personal.
The consequences of your decisions extend beyond the moment, even affecting your group’s psychological and emotional well-being. The survivors remember the mistakes they made on your behalf and chew them over, lamenting lost loved ones and regretting strangers’ deaths at their hands. Let them dwell on their problems for too long and they grow depressed, potentially even suicidal.
This War Of Mine is not an easy game in any sense: surviving is tough, and the choices you have to make along the way are tougher still. But it’s a compelling and unique experience that will haunt your memory long after it ends. The game is now available to download for NVIDIA SHIELD Android TV on Google Play for £10.99 / $14.99.