This War of Mine Hands On Preview – You Don’t Win in This Game, You Survive


War is hell. That’s not a term to be taken lightly. War tears communities, countries, and sometimes the entire world asunder. As video game players, we often play games that depict war. Sometimes they glorify battle, sometimes they show you the dark, dirty, tragic side. One thing I haven’t yet seen, however, is a look at the ravages of war from the perspective of the civilians trapped in a war torn city. This War of Mine aims to tackle this point of view in an interesting way.

The early version of this War of Mine I received access to gave me a glimpse into “the first 12 days” of the game. I don’t know how long the full game will be, but even just getting through the first 12 days was quite a challenge. In the beginning you’re introduced to three civilians who have come together through struggle and are now fighting for survival together. They arrive in an abandoned building and it’s your job to direct them as they try to make the space livable. This includes clearing rubble, scavenging for goods, and making basic amenities like beds and a stove.

You do this during the day, at night you send out one of your survivors scavenging. After assigning who is going to sleep and who is going to guard your building, you send a survivor out on the hunt for food, water, weapons, and building materials. This is where it gets scary. While out on your scavenge runs you can encounter houses full of useful goods, but you can also find other people. Some have innocent intentions, some will trade with you, and some are much more dangerous. Proceed at your own risk.

It’s like Mark of the Ninja, except you have basically zero combat capabilities.

Resources were constantly running thin and I was barely keeping everyone going. Wounded survivors need bandages. The sick need medicine. Everyone needs food and sleep, and there just aren’t enough resources and hours in the day to accommodate everyone. After struggling for several game days and feeling like I was doing terribly, I realized something. This isn’t a traditional game. This War of Mine fits into a relatively new genre of game that’s appeared in the last couple years.

This War of Mine is an empathy simulator. The point isn’t to “win” the game or beat the system. The point is to reach an understanding and empathize with the characters you’re controlling. The goal is to show you how bleak things are for civilians during wartime. Other games have achieved this with success, like Papers Please and Cart Life. This War of Mine isn’t a game for beating, it’s a game for surviving and scraping by. Failure isn’t really failure, it’s  more just an inevitable potential outcome.

There’s something I think This War of Mine does better than, say, Papers Please. When you begin the game and are given three survivors to look after, you get to see their faces. You get portraits of them, and back -stories, and they speak occasionally. One of the failings of Papers Please was how it reduced the family you were taking care of to status bars. You got readings like “Uncle: OK, Wife: Sick” but never got to see or hear anything about them. This made me feel less attached to those characters than I could have been. This War of Mine shows you who you’re caring for and creates an attachment.

That’s why it was so hard when I sent they guy who I had assigned as my designated scavenger out on a mission. When he got to the warehouse looking for supplies, he found an armed militia already there. Instead of turning and leaving, I had him try to sneak around in the warehouse and gather goods without being detected. They found him and shot him dead on the spot. It was my fault. He was dead because of me. This struck me especially hard because they gave him a name and a face, and I let him die.

I’m so sorry Marko….

There’s still some work to be done on this game. There’s a lack of direction at the beginning that may be intentional, but makes it hard to know what to do first. More importantly, there was no save feature. I didn’t play all 12 days I was allowed to play because that would have taken several hours without the ability to save my progress along the way. I have complete faith that this will be addressed, in which case I’m pretty interested to see how This War of Mine turns out. Just know that this game isn’t “fun” in the traditional sense. It’s meant to make an emotional connection, and it succeeds.