Simple, immersive sound

This War of Mine has a moody synth soundtrack and some well-crafted sound effects for the actions you take. It’s not fancy — the whole game has the feel of someone with Martha Stewart-level taste and some creativity decorating a house on a Kmart budget — but it helps to set the mood.

Sound effects for salvage, crafting, and the like are straightforward and pleasant, helping you to immediately identify when someone’s gone idle and needs something else to do. When you’re out salvaging, sound waves (represented visually) help you keep track of others in the building that might be dangerous, and your own sounds can tip them off to your presence.

This War of Mine

Above: You start with three refugees to care for — and we do mean care.

Image Credit: Heather Newman

What you won’t like

War is depressing

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I would imagine that This War of Mine is one of the most realistic war games ever made, at least from a civilian point of view. 11 Bit representatives told me for the GamesBeat preview that they designed the plot twists based in part on what real war survivors told them.

Unfortunately, that means the whole game is … a downer. Even if things go well for your collection of refugees, you can’t escape that their lives suck. You care about them, so you want to keep playing to see them survive, but it means when they don’t you care about that, too.

If you’re the kind who likes your games to have that Hollywood happy-ending promise, this is definitely not the title for you. Most of my play sessions ended in disaster, despair, and death (by shooting, by starvation, by suicide, by raid, any number of unfortunate accidents) for at least some of my characters.

This War of Mine screenshot

Above: Return from your nighttime salvage missions, and you might find that your things have also been salvaged in This War of Mine.

Image Credit: 11 bit studios

A little too much repetition

This War of Mine offers a variety of things for you to do. But after a while, crafting can start to feel repetitive, whether it’s for tools or for food, and salvaging is basically the same few operations over and over with some danger thrown in to add spice.

None of the activities ever become annoying, and the repetition does have the effect of focusing your attention on the story. But you’ll spend your days and nights performing the same few actions, at a fairly sedate pace. It’s all pointing and clicking — to move your people, to make their items and to manage your game. This War of Mine would translate really well to tablet play, should the company ever want to pursue that; it’s that easy to run with a single mouse button.

Your people aren’t that smart

Generally, the paths your characters take work well, but when they don’t, it’s frustrating. When you’re trying to avoid detection and your character walks down the stairs into another person and not around an obstacle, it’ll make you grind your teeth. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen that often, but moving your people around properly always requires some micromanagement. That can add some unnecessary fiddling when you’re trying to control multiple characters during day phases.

Conclusion

This War of Mine makes the most of its clean, attractive graphics, its moody ambient soundtrack, and the intense, emotional nature of its gameplay. You’ll care about your refugees, and you’ll want to work hard to keep them healthy, fed, alive, and well. Unfortunately, This War of Mine doesn’t make it easy on you. Even when you keep your people alive, you’re left with the feeling that you’ve only marginally improved their existence. If the typical war-based video game is the big blockbuster movie, with tons of special effects and rockets flying overhead as brave well-muscled soldiers stand and give speeches, this game is the indie drama about the consequences of war. It’s gripping, a beautiful depiction of an ugly time, and, fittingly, depressing as hell.

Score: 80/100

This War of Mine debuts today for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam and GamesRepublic. 11 Bit provided GamesBeat with a download code for this review.

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