A voice for the voiceless
When it comes to brutal and bloody conflicts in video games, so often many sad and gut-wrenching aspects of these harsh encounters are never touched upon, instead, the attention is focused heavily on the front line where shrapnel rips between skin and meat before reaching bone while attack helicopters hover above. When the bullets begin to fly it’s understandably easy to forget about the innocent people that find themselves stuck at the centre of the drama. From the elderly, too old to hold never mind strong enough to aim a rifle, to the small unfortunate children of war who are so young in age they cannot simply leave their families behind to venture off into the streets and surrounding homes to search for the vital resources that might help them and their loved ones make it through another day.
This War Of Mine: The Little Ones: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release Date: 29 January 2016
Price: £24.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Stepping out from beneath the shadows of Call Of Duty and Battlefield to drive a poetic stake right through the dark heart of war comes This War Of Mine: The Little Ones, a powerfully gritty yet heart piercing tale of a group of civilians desperate attempts to survive a conflict in war-ravaged Eastern Europe. Originally released back in 2014 for the PC, This War Of Mine has now been built upon and launched onto consoles in the form of The Little Ones, which, for the first time introduces small children to the equation.
11bit Studios introduction of young and for the most part, unable bodied children to a title already awash with grief and desperation serves well in delivering an unfair reality that really hits home while also presenting a new and difficult to take dimension to This War Of Mine. Surviving an unforgiving environment becomes that much harder when children are involved. Unable to fend for or defend themselves, on a daily basis, I faced the most difficult decisions to keep my small group alive.
What does one do when the only other adult survivor in the group is severely wounded, unable to stand. Do I go out at night leaving the young child at home and pray that bandits don’t breach our quiet, rundown safehouse or do I stay home and pray that Bruno somehow gets better with time so that he can guard the innocent child while I hunt for the precious items that will keep us warm and well fed?. How does one make that choice without a heavy Heart.
Let’s start at the beginning
This War Of Mine: The Little Ones puts you, the player in charge of a small group of civilians holed up in one of the games many decrepit sheltered buildings, where each individual harbours faint hopes of surviving the war. The differing scenarios could see you begin life with a group of young adults or a mixture of adults and a small child. To survive the ensuing days, players have to make decisions dependent on the current circumstances of the group, where to survive, you might have to do things you never thought you were capable of and at times make the ultimate sacrifice in the quest for survival.
There is a real beauty that lies within the art design behind This War Of Mine: The Little Ones. The dark and somewhat grisly 2D charcoal effect aesthetic left me with an overwhelming sense of utter depression. Every location visited from the city map provides a fresh but at the same time harsh reminder of the surrounding war and misery it had inflicted on the land, this heart-wrenching tale of survival had a found a way of gripping me within it’s greasy palms, never letting me forget exactly where I was, not even for a single second.
The premise for This War Of Mine: The Little Ones is a simple day and night cycle where by day, players are confined to the safe house due to heavy sniper activity outside. With each daybreak comes time for the survivors to recuperate from the previous night’s events while at the same time building a safer, more comfortable home to live in. From a small crafting table, beds, a stove, heater and water resources can be easily constructed while weapons and tools can be built by ways of a different form of workbench. Food can be cooked with the right fuel resources available and medicine stored to heal the sick.
Some days, there will come a knock on the door, a survivor will appear looking to trade items so even if you fail to find what you were looking for while inside a rundown apartment the chances are this guy holds what you need. Obviously the more important the item the more he will look for in return, which can make your life extremely difficult if you are low on protein and bandages. If a member of your group is killed while out at night it is possible that another civilian could turn up to take their place in the safe house, provided you let them in.
With the cover of night, I was able to select a civilian to take out into the City to look for the items my group badly required. Resources within the game are scarcely hard to come by and sometimes I would have to make tough decisions to survive, taking from people who couldn’t defend themselves. One evening I found myself inside the quiet home of an elderly couple, desperately low on food and medicine and with wounded back at home. I made the horrible choice to loot the couple, leaving them with barely a thing, not because I wanted to mind you, but because it was a necessary evil that I must. This heinous act left the civilian sad and full of remorse upon his return to the safe house, rightfully so… I returned to the house some days later to find the elderly couple gone.
Other nights out in the City were taken with an air of caution with certain locations overrun with military or bandits that refused to share the precious loot with me, it wouldn’t take them long to become hostile and attempt to kill me with a variety of weapons. Some areas offered me hope with the City Hospital still semi-functioning, inside a Doctor to heal my wounds for free as well as medicine I could take back with me. The Supermarket also provided me with materials, thus proving that there was indeed some kind people still lingering inside the City.
Having a child around was proving to be a tough ask, because at times you feel handicapped due to there being one less abled body to assist in survival. Instead, the small child would play games around the half bombed building, taking to a swingset I had previously constructed or playing rock, paper scissors with Pavle. I found myself tending to her every need, always placing her before my other group member. At times she would often get sad and inconsolable, declaring her hate for me over nothing. Life was hard, it became a lot harder when I left her with Pavle overnight to come back and find he’d hung himself from starvation.
As the days passed and Winter drew closer, the temperature began to drop significantly, requiring me to constantly burn wood and books to keep our safe haven warm and above the minuses. I listened to music on the Radio as Snow began to slowly fall outside, the snow allowed me to take snowflakes, melting them down into a sustainable source of drinking water, I even built a snowman to make the building feel more welcoming and homely, but no matter how safe you think you are, Bandits come, they always do…
11bit Studios have successfully built on an already great game. They have taken a side of war that people seldom see and shone a spotlight directly on it. The never knowing and constant juggling to keep every member of the group happy is a hard and at times thankless task and not one to be taken lightly. Friends can quickly become ill and then terminally ill if not cared for, leaving you to take frantic and desperate action. It isn’t a simple case of looking out for yourself because others will quickly suffer from it and with a little one to look after, could life be less simple.
This War Of Mine: The Little Ones is a sad and tragic story of one group’s survival amidst conflict, portrayed brilliantly by the silent but powerful characters that help bring the game to life. The art direction isone I have often admired, the 2D charcoal style aesthetic brilliantly drains away any possibility of bright and vibrant colours, leaving the game with a very desperate and lonely feel. The soundtrack, composed by Piotr Musiałis is subtle yet strikingly eerie while helping to maintain the overall feel of the game. The introduction of small children to This War Of Mine is always one that is going to turn heads and might not be for the faint-hearted, however, all of the above ingredients make this one hell of a game, and a very compelling and immersive one at that.