War is a standard setting for games, with some of the biggest franchises putting you on the frontlines through different eras, whether past, present or science fiction future. We’re used to being one of the best soldiers whatever side you’re fighting for has to offer, and enemies are mowed down in waves as you go through each battle. What these games very rarely do is look at the impact on civilians, and those who must try to survive as their homes are destroyed around them.
This War of Mine first released in 2014 on PC, but as it arrives on consoles for the first time it now features additional content in the form of The Little Ones. The original game tried to showcase how adults would survive in a warzone, but The Little Ones ups the stakes as children are introduced. Not only are you looking out for yourself, but also a child who has no idea on how to cope with the war and needs absolute protection.
When the game begins, war has already been ravaging a city under siege, as rebels and the government army clash. With a number of randomised elements, the regular campaign first presented me with three men who were trying to keep each other alive before a father and daughter appeared a few days later, asking to join us and take shelter. For a time, things went well as the closest run down areas still had plenty of food and medicine to take.
During the day the four adults would be tasked to build things like beds or workbenches, or sleep if they had been sent scavenging. I had to carefully ration my resources, so that each person got a meal a day, though not necessarily a hot one. In This War of Mine four or five hot meals, one for each person per day, is a luxury. At night someone needs to be sent scavenging for resources while the rest of the group would stay at the shelter, either sleeping or standing guard.
Scavenging is something that needs some planning, and you need to take stock of what you have. At first it’s quite easy to work through the abandoned houses, going through cupboards and trash piles, but as time goes on more risks need to be taken and you’ll find that taking a weapon with you of some kind isn’t such a bad idea. In fact a crowbar comes in handy when breaking into a place or for defending yourself. It all really comes to a head when you go back to the shelter and see that the child in your care is sick and starving.
Raiders had attacked while I was out scavenging, managing to steal what little food and medicine I had stockpiled, meaning that I couldn’t take care of the sick child. It’s situations such as this where you begin to ask whether it is right to steal or even kill in order to make sure that the child and the rest of your group survive another night. In the evening I choose a new location to scavenge, a home that was still occupied by an old couple.
I steal food and medicine from these people, getting into a fight with the old man who ended up dying before I fled back to the shelter, before my character slumped to the floor and cried. It meant that my group had survived for a little while longer, but at what cost? These are the kinds of choices that have to be made, and there is no easy way to play the game. It is made worse when you have a child who is crying, completely broken by the conditions you’re living in and wounded by those who raided you.
As the war goes on and supplies become harder to come by, I made sacrifices to make sure the child was okay. Supplies that could have been used to create a tool were instead turned into a swing, one of the adults went hungry for a day so that the child could eat. This War Of Mine: The Little Ones does an outstanding job in making you want to help the child under your care, no matter the cost. The person you traded a lot of things for just to get one bit of medicine becomes a target, and desperation sees you kill them. There is no joy to be found in the killing in this game, and the decision to do so isn’t made lightly, but at least your child will live.
You can play a set scenario or create your own with your own group of civilians, who each have their own skills. These customised scenarios let you choose what buildings will be accessible and who occupies them. No matter who you choose though, it is the child’s safety that takes precedence. Of course, you can try to ignore them but when they’re crying that becomes very difficult, and if a child were to die that would essentially destroy any morale the rest of the group may have. A person’s mental well-being is just as important as their physical, and if they get to a point where they’re so depressed that they won’t do anything you’ve pretty much lost.
The aim is to keep the group surviving up until the ceasefire is called. In the set scenario that could be between 20 to 50 days, while in customisable scenarios you can choose which day it will fall on between those numbers. Whatever limit you choose, the game is stressful as every decision you make can backfire in an instant.
While the majority of the game is fantastically well done there were a couple of times where This War Of Mine: The Little Ones crashed, taking away some of my progress, but hopefully this can be patched out soon. There was also a minor bug where when trying to initiate conversations one of the characters would appear to lie down and then stand while in mid air before the correct stance was given.
This War Of Mine: The Little Ones is more than a game, and can be considered one of the most effective anti-war tools ever created. This is not a game you play for fun or to unwind, and the addition of children for the console release makes it even more poignant, as the realisation dawns that all over the world people are living through these hellish conditions. This War of Mine: The Little Ones doesn’t just drive home how desperate people get in times of war, but also makes you take note of how lucky so many of us are to live in a more stable place.
Version tested: PS4