This War of Mine Preview: War is Hell (For a Change)

As the saying goes, war is hell — but not usually when you’re in a video game.

In games, war is fun: a chance to be a hero, blasting away at aliens or Nazis or nondescript soldiers wearing helmets. Polish company 11 Bit Studios, which is behind the Anomaly series of mobile and PC games, wants to change that conception and bring players into the more frightening, realistic side of war.

Developers for 11 Bit showed off a playable build of This War of Mine, the side-scrolling survival game, at PAX East 2014 in April. The focus, said Managing Director Grzegorz Miechowski, is to show that war is something “very serious.” In doing so, players don’t fight as soldiers, but rather struggle to stay alive as civilians caught in a blasted, ruined warzone.

The focus isn’t on showing atrocities, however, Miechowski said. You won’t be subjected to torture or war crimes as you work through This War of Mine. Rather, it’s about the more generalized experience of someone living with war nearby — life as you might otherwise have known it is over, and every day is a struggle to stay alive.

In practice, This War of Mine is a side-scrolling title in which players gather up resources from various ruins in order to improve what might be considered a “base,” which is a partially destroyed apartment building where nothing works. In the build shown at PAX, players controlled three somewhat randomly generated characters, each with various skills.

“You need to take care of your team,” Miechowski said. “You can’t survive alone. You have a small team, it might be a family, and the team might have strengths that are not obvious, but it might also have several weaknesses.”

Dealing with your characters and using them to their full potential, or avoiding their drawbacks, is a big part of the experience, he said.

“Sometimes people might just be a pain in the ass.”

About half of This War of Mine concerns the apartment building, which resembles the underground base of X-COM, with multiple levels and rooms. Characters can scavenge through junk, refrigerators, and locked cabinets and doors to find supplies. You can also use things you find, like wood and nails, to build things at your base’s work bench. Upgrading the apartment is a constant process; if you build a better stove, you can cook better food, which keeps your people in better health. Construct a bed or two and your team will be able to more effectively rest and recover.

Days are spent working in the apartment, Miechowski said. It’s not safe to explore the city during daylight because of snipers and other hazards. Nighttime is when players can head out to scavenge other areas in search of food, gear, medicine and even weapons — which you might need, should you run into other survivors.

“Sometimes people might just be a pain in the ass.”

Like the base itself, each area is laid out in 2-D fashion kind of like an ant farm, and you’ll often have to find ways around blocked doors or other impediments. This War of Mine limits the information you can get about a level to what your characters can see and hear, with a graphical presentation for both that’s similar to games such as Deadlight or Mark of the Ninja — areas glaze over when you’re not able to see into them, and sound radiates out from the things generating it in visible circles.

Your inventory is limited by how much you can carry when you’re out and about, and there are considerations like whether you should bring weapons for fighting, tools to break locks, or food, water and medicine with which to trade with people you meet in the world. Though the PAX build had constant elements at its various locations, the game itself will be more randomized, so you’ll never know what you’re going to encounter at a given location.

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