War in games and war in films has always remained poles apart, and for good reason. The silver screen has often resorted to utilizing the horrors of war when weaving a story while games normally attempt a less poignant approach. Using the magic of interactivity the action and heat of battle is more often translated to the players than the travesty unfolding before them. It makes sense; murdering people technically shouldn’t be as fun as it is. This War of Mine: The Little Ones, then, brings an oddly profound look at war. It’s not all macho men and action, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth overlooking.
Food, Glorious Food
While you’re almost certainly more accustomed to gunning down every member of the opposition in sight (odd really, when you verbalize it) This War of Mine: The Little Ones puts the focus on an entirely more important job than winning a war and that’s surviving one. War has broken out and it’s your job to maintain a ragtag group of survivors by gathering food and other supplies while the conflict rages on in the background. The main priority here is food, but things like medicine and crafting for your shelter all deliver hard hitting choices when picking what makes it into your small rucksack.
Scavenging is necessary right off the bat with the game setting you up with a few hungry and wounded survivors. Going out and gathering supplies aren’t a simple affair and is riddled with moral choices. That’s not to say there’s a moral choice mechanic, because there isn’t. This War of Mine: The Little Ones will comfortably let you pilfer and murder your way to survival, if that’s your kind of thing, and the only people that bear that heavy burden is yourself and your character.
There’s a rather disturbing mechanic at play with your characters under the surface. You see, they remember murdering that unsuspecting woman for some bread and the more you do it, the more they’ll remember it. The difficulties of war and the decisions you make surviving it will have direct, albeit background, implications upon your characters. Unpleasant and cold methods of survival can take a mental toll, sometimes even leading your characters to suicide. While this is designed to be a limiting factor of gameplay, it’s a cruel reminder of the peripheral effects of warfare and will resonate within you long after you switch your console off.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones, as the title probably suggests, mainly differs itself from its 2014 PC predecessor through the inclusion of children. As if manically depressed adults weren’t enough for your conscience to bear. The inclusion of young folk is incredibly unnerving, their sobs and naivety regularly playing havoc with your moral compass. You’ll often find yourself making decisions based on the safety of the children, sacrificing tools for crafting over gathering food to feed the weeping younglings. If you’re playing this as a parent, good luck and keep the Kleenex handy.
Ignoring the random bits and bobs you find on your travels, although morally sound, can cause just as many problems back at your shelter. These seemingly superfluous objects are crucial for producing beds, cooking equipment and even a contraption that collects rain as drinking water. Things you almost certainly take for granted are key elements of survival in This War of Mine: The Little Ones and its your choice who gets them, the children once again stepping in and spinning your moral compass around. It’s a continual reminder of not only the setting, but the harsh reality of war so often under represented.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though, and This War of Mine: The Little Ones does a bold job of displaying slivers of humanity among the wreckage of society. While many points in the game will feel unendurable, the survival of your group impossible, rare acts of kindness from other nearby settlers may be bestowed upon you. It’s a clever guilt element and at the very least will give you cause for pause the next time you’re about to cave someone’s skull in to ransack his pockets. It’s an incredibly odd feeling to have a game pick apart your morality in such an overt fashion and one you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
Given the main focus of play here is survival, the sluggish pace and unrelenting sadness This War of Mine: The Little Ones so expertly wields is also its only fault. Mechanics are thin on the ground, especially during the day when the stealthy scavenging of nighttime is behind you. This is mostly by design, and leaves you far more aware of things happening in game. While this emphasizes character emotion and atmosphere, you’re also likely to notice more of the quirks at play. These are namely the omission of some basic staples found in other survival simulators such as wielding bricks and the infamous 2×4 planks. They’re incredibly minor complaints, but hard to go unnoticed nonetheless.
The endurance of This War of Mine: The Little Ones is limited and is certainly not something you’ll want to play several times over and that’s perfectly fine. It’s a hard-hitting and unsettling look at the coldness and cruelty of the human condition and how the removal of social constructs unravels people so quickly that’ll haunt you for a long time to come. Its premise is so bold it can often outshine its delivery, the idea it’s conveying never feeling fully realized beyond the brief dips in pace. It’s the most real feeling simulator of war out there and that in itself makes This War of Mine: The Little Ones quite terrifying and truly memorable.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.