War has been an integral part of video games since the very early days of gaming. Many genres of games feature just about every aspect of War, with some almost glorifying the violence with little to no effort into showing the results of what War has on the innocents caught in the aftermath of battle with the exception of Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts. Early in 2015 ‘This War Is Mine’ released on PC and focused completely on telling the experience of life of civilians fighting to survive the effects of War. Now released on PlayStation 4 it has one added expansion, the Little Ones, bringing a child’s view to the game:
This War Is Mine is a survival game where the player controls civilians caught in the devastated aftermath of War. Tasked with ensuring their very survival by scavenging for materials and food whilst upgrading the house they take shelter in. The game has a day and night mechanic where during the day the survivors will work to gather the materials need to forge new stations to build tools needed to help survival. Keeping the survivors fed is a natural element in a survival game and during the day time portion of the game you will also spend time learning more about the survivors around you, their emotional state and their experiences of the war.
At night the survivors can choose to rest, to defend the house from attack or to leave the house and risk exploring the war-torn wilderness to gated materials. Whilst exploring you may encounter other survivors who if friendly will offer to trade resources with you. However some may be hostile and will often be more aggressive and better armed than you so trying to hide and avoid contact becomes a tense game of cat and mouse.
Your house really is your lifeline in the game both in providing a safe place to live and to give a sense of belonging which to the survivors suffering the most from their war-time experiences can give hope. Working to improve the house becomes as important as the need to find food. Improve its defended and you will be better equipped at night. It also adds another element of risk to exploring at night as you could find yourself returning to find your house has been raided and resources stolen or worse, fellow survivors having been attacked and hurt in your absence.
The multi faceted survival gameplay ties in nicely with the tone and message that This War is Mine is trying to deliver. It really holds nothing back in showing how War can bring misery, pain and hardship to innocents caught up in its darkness. I found the themes used very unsettling at times and often uncomfortable to play but it is important to remember that this game wants to show players the reality and ugliness of War which is sometimes diluted and lost in the reporting of conflict on the news or the lack of acknowledgement of collateral damage in other games that focus simply on the action of battle.
The addition of ‘The Little Ones’ expansion to this console brings a very real and emotional new aspect to what is already a sombre and hard-hitting narrative and game experience. The expansion adds children into the mix and this for me was perhaps the most impactful element so far. Adding to the survival mechanics already played, The Little One will have their own needs that require tending to on top of everything else. Naturally the child will require looking after in terms of being fed and kept safe but as a child they will want to play and through talking to them know that the have no understanding of what the war was about or the events now taking place around them. Whilst they are too little to help with exploring and heavy work, they can be taught to search for materials needed.
It is obvious that the game has come from a PC foundation with a clear gameplay system built upon using a mouse and keyboard setup. The move to a console controller has not been a smooth transition and for me proved to be frustratingly sluggish at times. The finicky nature of having to move survivors into the right position to activate action markers can prove to be cumbersome.
This War is Mine: The Little Ones’ is a dark harrowing experience designed to show the harsh reality of the effects of war on innocents of all ages and this is particularly powerful through the eyes of children. Seeing the emotional, physical and mental impact of the after effects of conflict is a stiff reality check when put alongside the glorification and thrill of combat seen in other games. It can be very dark at times and often uncomfortably so with the added element of experiencing it all for the viewpoint of a child hard to play.
I am glad to have experienced this game but it did prove to be a game I couldn’t return to regularly unlike other survival games once its message had been hammered home. But it accomplished its goal of delivering the message that war and conflict have consequences, for combatants and innocents alike.