The tagline for This War of Mine is “In war, not everyone is a soldier.” It from this starting point that I got a hands on demo of one of the bleakest games I have ever played. The trailer below does a good job of introducing you to the general vibe of This War of Mine.
Pawel Miechowski, lead writer on This War of Mine, described reading firsthand accounts of survivors from war-torn locations such as Kosovo or Bosnia. These weren’t the narratives of soldiers who survived battle but rather were stories of normal citizens having to brave the horrors of war as innocent bystanders. Pawel said that throughout reading the accounts, the team at 11 Bit studios saw the same truths keep coming up. If you wanted to survive you had to find a group. Going out during the day was suicide. This is the inspiration for This War of Mine, an extremely personal project from 11 Bit studios that Pawel hopes carries a message and is engaging in the way only video games can be.
Mechanically This War of Mine appears to be a zombie game such as State of Decay or DayZ. The demo I was shown had a crew of three distinct characters that you used to explore a bombed out apartment building. Each character has their own background and special skills. One was a former firefighter who could hold a lot of items. One was a reporter who was really good at talking to people. The last was a former thief who was, unsurprisingly, sneaky. These aren’t just titles beneath their names; each of my controlled characters had a bio which successfully explained why they were good at what they did and why I should care about them. After clicking on a person I could command them to scavenge or break open doors. Then, once I had scavenged enough materials, I could command them to craft items. The scavenging and crafting loop is what ties This War of Mine mechanically to some of its zombie video game brethren, but the major difference is that This War of Mine does not pull any punches by allowing you to forget that you are always against other humans with fears and desires of their own who are also just trying to survive.
The design for every area I visited was dark and washed out. If the bleak environments weren’t enough, it was raining constantly. This War of Mine doesn’t seem like it even wants to be considered “fun,” but rather wants its players to be engaged with the story and moral decisions that arise during it. From reading actual first-hand accounts, the team knew that getting through war as a civilian often leaves you scarred long after any physical danger is left. You cannot win This War of Mine, but through doing things you may not be proud of, you can survive.