Marko returns from his scavenging expedition at a quiet house in the northern part of town that was owned by an elderly couple. He knows that he left them with virtually nothing and has most likely doomed them to a slow death from starvation. He collapses just inside the door of the shelter, his spirit broken, unable to move. Bruno informs him that bandits came while Marko was out and stole their food supplies, and he is clearly injured from an altercation with them. Misha wet the bed last night even though he’s never done that before and Pavle’s cough is worsening despite the fact he has been bed-ridden for two days. They’d heard on the radio that cold weather was on its way…
Welcome to This War of Mine: The Little Ones, a gruelling survive-em-up from 11 bit studios. I spent quite a bit of time with This War of Mine when it was originally released on PC in November of last year, and I thought I’d dive in to see what had changed in the currently console-exclusive version of the game called The Little Ones. Mechanically-speaking very little has changed from the base PC version, however as the title might suggest 11 bit studios have decided to crank up the depression factor with the inclusion of children. While I’m glad this great experience is now available for console users and it is certainly worthy of your time, feature-wise it pales in comparison to its PC counterpart which harms some of its replayability.
Think about the children dammit!
For those unfamiliar with this War of Mine it plays like a bleak stripped-down version of the Sims. Set in the fictional war-torn city of Pogoren, which is currently under siege and cut off from outside aid, you control a small group of two to four survivors trying to eke out an existence in the ruins. Principally, you are responsible for keeping them alive by building and improving their shelter with materials found scavenging locations at night. You must take care of every aspect of their lives to ensure they live to see another day. This means keeping them fed, rested and healthy in both body and mind. The beleaguered survivors are a bit of a dreary, needy bunch and keeping them all happy at once is nigh impossible. The game excels at giving you situations where you simply do not have enough resources to do all the things you think you need to ensure their survival. Sacrifices and compromises have to be made.
The beleaguered survivors are a bit of a dreary, needy bunch and keeping them all happy at once is nigh impossible
Home Sweet Home
I did my best Misha!
The game relies on a gloomy grey-scale visual style which suits its atmosphere perfectly. Occasionally there are splashes of muted colour but in general it’s mostly shades of black and white. The soundtrack is similarly quite minimalist, which is good as it doesn’t grate on your ears when listening to it for long stretches. The game interface is very simple, with icons over items indicating they can be interacted with. I was surprised by how well the game played with a controller compared to PC, and by the end of it I think I actually preferred playing with a controller over a mouse and keyboard. With a controller you have to physically walk your character to something you want to interact with, and if there are many options you can select the specific action using the D-Pad. You can switch between survivors easily using the shoulder buttons and indeed making sure everyone is busy by multitasking is the key to success. I did find that sometimes the icons became a little cluttered in some areas making them difficult to select, however it’s certainly not game-breaking.
This War of Mine is not a particularly easy game, especially when you first start out. Your goal is to survive as many days as possible, and poor choices made early on can resonate throughout your entire playthrough. Outside influences beyond your control can have a devastating effect too and your situation can quickly turn dire, sometimes to the point where it is impossible to recover and your survivors’ days become numbered. For instance, every night there is a chance that bandits will come and attempt to steal your hard-earned supplies. You can hardly blame them though, much like you they’re just trying to survive. I had my entire food store raided one night and it almost broke my little community. For the next few days we teetered on the precipice of failure as I tried to keep the shelter on track and recover from my loss. Additionally, the onset of winter comes with some considerations too. If you don’t adapt and find a way to keep the shelter warm day and night, your survivors will very easily get sick and require rare meds. The game gives you tools to minimise the impacts of these events, but it’s up to you to both find them and fund them with resources that you scrounge.
Story-wise This War of Mine tends to let the gameplay shape your tale, and there are multitudes of emergent gameplay moments that run the gamut between soul-crushing and heart-warming, and sometimes miraculously both at the same time. While each
survivor has a brief bio and a personality, it’s how you end up controlling their destiny that will inform your perspective of their story. It’s quite powerful in this way and is both a depressing and highly personal look at the nature of war and desperation from the perspective of ordinary citizens who are simply trying to survive another day.
Even acts of pure altruism won’t make Bruno shut up about cigarettes
The main difference between the original PC game and the console version is the addition of a child who at some point will be foisted upon you. Children are utterly defenceless, confused and sad creatures and you can’t help but despair as you watch their innocence shattered by war. My child Misha came at a particularly bad time, and initially I am ashamed to say I regarded him largely as dead weight, another mouth to feed. Misha couldn’t scavenge or build things around the shelter and was often depressed and needed constant attention. One thing he was great at though was lifting the mood of the other survivors, and for this I came to love him somewhat and I managed to forget about all the precious food and meds he was consuming. You see, our survivors are not hardened soldiers, they are just ordinary people, and small amounts of levity in their lives can make a world of difference to their mental well-being. Conversely, having to commit morally ambiguous acts in the name of survival depresses them greatly and sometimes they view the accumulation of their acts as so heinous that the psychological wounds run too deep to heal…
Misha loves his swing in the basement next to the furnace
While this great experience translates well to consoles, The Little Ones is missing a couple of bells and whistles. Like the PC version you are given the option of creating your own story and customising a bunch of options like how many survivors you start with and how harsh winter will be, however unlike that version you are given no option of sharing that story. I wasn’t particularly inspired to play something I created knowing that it was only for me. The community for this game on PC is strong and there’s lots of users sharing their created content as well as a suite of modding tools for further customising the story in weird and wonderful ways. The absence of this on console makes your experience fairly isolated and somewhat hurts replayability.
This War of Mine: The Little Ones is a simple yet innovative depression simulator that offers a thorough challenge. It presents a rich and emotionally powerful setting in which your only job is to survive. For those that already own this game on PC, the addition of children provides an interesting twist but doesn’t change things drastically and it still feels like much the same game. The lack of sharing features for custom stories is disappointing too in comparison. This being said, if you haven’t played This War of Mine I can thoroughly recommend picking up The Little Ones on console. What you’ll find is a rewarding experience that allows you to carve out your own story and join in an emotional struggle for survival at all costs and against all odds.
Reviewed on PS4