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This War of Mine review: Exploring the horrors of war through civilian eyes

Hayden Dingman | Dec. 10, 2014
I approach the garage cautiously. I know a family used to own this place, back before the war, but there's been rumors they're gone. Or maybe not gone, but dead. "That would be perfect," I think to myself, and then I feel bad for thinking it. "Perfect that someone's dead? How messed up is that?"

A dozen days to keep your soul. Those first dozen days or so are full of enough empty locations you can mostly make your way in the world. You can loot an abandoned house here, steal from a front step there, and generally avoid coming into contact with other survivors.

Everything stays relatively quiet on the home front too — when you return every night the game tells you whether anything happened while you were away. For a while you'll get the luxury of letting all your unused characters sleep, returning to find that peace lasted throughout the night.

The game opens more and more city locations each night though, and eventually you reach a point where all the empty areas are stripped bare of valuables and you're forced into contact with others on a regular basis. It's at that point This War of Mine gets uncomfortable. Because see, you could go infiltrate that military base for supplies, contending with an entire army of well-trained men with advanced weaponry. Or you could kill the poor guy in the garage and take all his stuff without fearing for your life.

I've had the luxury of growing up in the United States, and despite the fact we've been at war for more than half my life things have stayed pretty quiet at home. This War of Mine forces you to make choices I'm grateful I've never had to make in real life. This isn't Call of Duty or Battlefield or Medal of Honor. This isn't a story of heroics, or valiant sacrifice. It's a story about rats. It's a story about how far you'd go to survive. And it's easy to abstract it — to look at it as a game, with virtual people doing virtual things.

What makes This War of Mine particularly horrifying though is that it's not abstraction. Sure, the particulars may be fictional. Sure, it's an oversimplification of human relations. But there are people making these choices, being put through these situations, every damn day.

That's a powerful message. This War of Mine says more about the realities of war with its small-scale, side-scrolling interpretation than Call of Duty has said across bombastic sequel after bombastic sequel.

Bottom line

This War of Mine isn't perfect as a game. Towards the end of a run there's too much downtime — some of the systems are overly exploitable, and once you've got a routine set there's little reason to deviate.

But like Papers Please, This War of Mine conveys some horrific truths about the world we live in, and it does so in a way that other mediums could never accomplish — by forcing you to live with the guilt of your own choices.


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