This War of Mine is the hardest PC game I’ve ever played.
I do not mean that it’s difficult, although it is. I mean that some of the most heart-wrenching moments I’ve ever experienced in gaming occurred while I was playing it.
This War of Mine is a fairly simple premise: you control a group of up to five survivors trying to live through a civil war. The specific war is fictional, but it is pretty clear that the game is inspired by the Siege of Sarajevo. As a setting, it’s certainly unusual, since only GTA IV (of all games that I know) covered that conflict with even the lightest touch. You have one goal: survive until the ceasefire.
The actual gameplay is quite simple; it works well on a tablet (only $2.99 as of this post on the Android store!), so on a PC, it runs buttery smooth. You click on a character, then click on what you want them to do, whether it’s cook, work on the shelter, grow vegetables, or bait a rat trap with fertilizer.
The day/night cycle is what makes the game the work. During the day, you stay in the shelter and work on stuff. During the night, you scavenge for supplies, guard the shelter, or just sleep. Each character has a special skill that is of value. My starting three were Bruno, Pavle, and Katia. Bruno was a former TV chef (and a good cook), Pavle was a fast runner (I don’t remember his background), and Katia was a journalist with the ability to make better deals when trading. Other characters have other skills; you can have up to five in the shelter, but the most I ever got to was three. You start with a random three, then gain new survivors randomly.
Note that I said “was” for all three of them. My first full playthrough was a failure. I made it to around 40 days of survival, but “survival” is used very loosely. Only Katia made it to the end, and by “made it”, I mean that all the people she had murdered in order to survive, the friends she saw die in the shelter, and one final raid by criminals caused her to kill herself. Katia spent most of her last week alive trying to treat and save another survivor, who had a horrible illness; he was fatally wounded in another raid.
The most gripping moment in the game, the one that made me stop and think for a moment, was being desperate for food. One of the scavenging locations is a house owned by an elderly couple. Katia snuck into the house to rob as much as she could, but when I tried to steal their food, I surprised the old couple. They initially just asked me to leave, but when I stayed, they got their son. I killed the son and a his father with a shovel, while the elderly lady cried over her dead husband. I killed her too, just on the off chance she might have a little more food. Katia was depressed for almost a week, but we survived.
I’ve killed millions, possibly billions of people in video games. You probably have too. But for some reason, killing the elderly couple bothered me.
I highly recommend this game, both because it’s well designed and very slick, but also because it’s an amazing emotional experience. The music is amazing, yet understated. It’s so different from most war games that it’s worth playing. Purely as a game, it’s remarkable deep, and that’s without the “Little Ones” DLC, which adds children to the game (although I had one in the base game). In one of the nicest touches, if you buy that DLC, a portion goes to support orphaned war children. You can even just use Steam to buy the War Child DLC, which donates $1 to the charity and adds some street art to the game.