Game Review: This War of Mine: The Little Ones
This War of Mine is a game that has done well during its time on PC, as proven by its strong Metacritic score. It’s way of telling the story of a group of everyday humans trying to survive in a war zone proved to resonate well with gamers. This War of Mine: The Little Ones builds on the core game by adding a few things, namely the need to try and keep children alive.
It may sound like a very slight change, but it’s something that completely alters the dynamic of the game. Children need feeding, just like everyone else. Unlike everyone else though children can’t go scavenging… or do much really apart from play and talk to people. Despite their limitations they are not immune to most of the harshness of the war zone. Raiders will hurt them, illnesses will happen and they will get upset when things aren’t going well.
The one thing that can’t happen, which is a good thing, is death. Children will be taken away from the war zone if things become too harsh for them to survive. Although deaths are not visually that brutal in the game, it’s still something that would not be pleasant to experience, especially due to how much time you invest in the characters. As you progress through the game the diary of each character is added to, giving you a bit more information about what happened to them. Some watched their family and friends die, whereas others have just found themselves stuck in the war zone after trying to help one person too many.
It is here that my first complaint about This War of Mine: The Little Ones begins. I have a reasonable sized television and the correct prescription for my glasses., and where I sit to play my videogames isn’t that far away from my television. Despite all these facts there were still several moments I struggled to read the text on the screen. Some of it was important information, like the status of my characters. This wouldn’t be an issue if there were other ways to view it, but not all information can be enlarged.
This may sound like a minor issue, but for a game that advances most of its narrative through text it’s actually quite major. I sat a bit closer to the television and was able to read it, but it drew my attention to what the game is. A port of a PC game with minimal attempt to make the experience better suited to playing on a home console. It works well on a gamepad, but there are still moments the controls seem a bit finicky. This becomes more apparent when you’re trying to sneak around and accidently make yourself run, thus drawing attention to your whereabouts. It’s a small thing and you learn to compensate, but it’s an issue, especially during the more intense raids on buildings. Not all the buildings you can raid are unoccupied and normally the people occupying them have some form of firepower to deter you.
Raiding is an important part of the game too, so you have to make sure you tread carefully. Your day cycles are spent reinforcing your house, cooking, eating and making sure that everyone is prepared for the evening. In the evening you need to keep your house guarded whilst also considering raiding other houses to get supplies in order for you to survive. Some raids will lead you with difficult decisions. Do you steal from that old couple so you can eat and heal your survivors? Is your house in a situation where stealing from innocent people may trigger a serious bout of depression? Do you really want to live with the guilt of killing someone? It’s important to consider many things, but the outcomes are not always black or white.
I stole from a group of people that had killed an innocent priest thinking it would be fine. Instead it leads to most of my house becoming upset. Surely those that I stole from are bad people and taking items from them is fine? That in itself highlights the kind of questions that the game can make you ask yourself. It’s during those moments that the game is at its best. Raiding houses and keeping your group alive are good game mechanics, but it’s the daunting realisation of what you have to do to stay alive that makes the game what it is. I failed in my first run through of the game. The radio was saying that the war would be over in days. My last survivor was sick and not well enough to go out and get medicine. When he passed away I put the controller down and reflected on my playthrough.
It would be easy to get angry about falling at the last hurdle, but if anything I felt I had the kind of experience This War of Mine: The Little Ones wanted me to have. Making me realise how harsh being stranded in a war zone can really be. The game has various structured stories to see in the game, all with different casts of characters and scenarios. You can also design your own group of survivors if you want to. However, the game is made better by not knowing what to expect and the opportunity to customise undermines the point of the game quite a bit.
If you have played This War of Mine before then The Little Ones probably doesn’t offer enough to go back to it. If, however, this is your first opportunity to play the game, it’s an experience I would recommend considering. It’s a surprisingly addictive strategy game, despite its morbid setting, and it’s one that has a fair bit of replayability. It’s rare that games deal with the non-combat side of war, and I can’t think of many that do it as effectively as This War of Mine: The Little Ones. The introduction of children adds another layer to an already emotionally packed game to make it an even more impactful experience. If it seems like a game that would interest you, then it can be picked up now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.