One of Switch’s greatest strengths (besides its central ‘homeheld’ gimmick) must be the sheer breadth of available software. Whatever our mood, the menu screen’s glorious spectrum of icons always has something that’ll hit the spot, running the gamut from rainbow escapism to grey, gritty realism – and This War of Mine Complete Edition most definitely falls into the latter category.
A civil war survival sim set in a fictional country called Graznavia, it sees desperate civilians holing up as best they can in a city under siege. You’ll face nightly raids, plummeting temperatures, hunger, sickness, disease and depression. Suffice it to say, then, it’s the polar opposite of Nintendo’s first-party output, but 11 Bit Studios nails the feeling of desolation and despair it’s going for. Survival isn’t an easy endeavour.
Starter characters, shelter and scavenging locations are randomised every playthrough, although the premise remains the same – make it to the end of the war (usually 30-40 days). Scavenging provides materials to build necessities such as beds, heaters and stoves, but your home base is vulnerable to attack, so repairs and weapon-crafting are essential to prevent raiders stealing your supplies. From the very beginning, it demands careful strategy, and it does a great job of keeping you on the verge of losing control.
Characters have specific strengths – perhaps they’re agile looters with large backpacks or a dab hand with a saucepan and a pinch of salt – and you should utilise those skills while you can. Sniper fire keeps you housebound by day, but the cover of night enables exploration of nearby locations with a single party member. Night-time scavenging is a dangerous business, though, and for every innocent trader you come across, there’s a bunch of ne’er-do-wells ready to attack.
Tough decisions come thick and fast, exacerbated by inclement weather and dwindling supplies. Robbing vital provisions from defenceless people won’t sit well with everyone in your camp and morale isn’t simply an emoji here. Depression breaks spirits, leaving you unable to directly control the sufferer – a serious impediment to your chances of survival. So, you must juggle both mental and physical health.
Kids can be another plate to spin. Introduced in the incorporated Little Ones DLC, they can’t venture out at night but can be taught to help around the house – handy if your adults need rest and recuperation. Our main playthrough featured a father and daughter and the protective parental role immediately deterred us from immoral acts. Sometimes conflict is unavoidable if you stumble upon hostiles, and This War of Mine can quickly become a stealth combat game. It’s not the most fluid example, but works well enough.
A low-key, subtle soundtrack compliments the distant mortar and gunfire, integrating well without feeling repetitive, and the scratchy, sketched aesthetic translates beautifully to Switch. The game isn’t without a little jank, though; character interactions often go awry – we’d often end up hugging the space in front of a character we were trying to comfort, for example. Dialogue boxes are nicely legible but often overlap, and character movement is a touch skittish. Controls map well to the Joy-Con, although all the pulsing circles and icons cry out for a touch interface which is strangely absent; knowing a mobile port exists, we hunted through menus, but to no avail.
‘My Own Scenario’ enables you to tailor everything about Classic mode, even the intensity and length of the winter and war, which is useful if you’re attached to (or want to avoid) certain characters, although uncertainty is arguably a core component – every run is supposed to be an unpredictable nail-biter. In addition to ‘Classic’ mode, three standalone ‘Stories’ that drop you into bespoke scenarios are also included. In the first – The Father’s Promise – a lone parent must care for his sick daughter. It gives you a taste of things you might not have encountered in the main game (although it just so happened that we did). The remaining two stories are ‘coming soon’ in a free update.
In video games, the old ‘war is hell’ chestnut usually bookends bombastic campaigns that spend their time yelling that – booyah! – actually, war is totally bad-ass; however, this game has that adage at its core and highlights the human ramifications of conflict. As a player, accepting that you’re likely to fail is a key lesson, and ‘surviving’ is a very different thing to ‘winning’. It requires compromise and the game is at its best when your thoughts of futility and uncertainty align with your characters’.
As such, This War of Mine is necessarily somewhat of a downer. It absolutely caters for the gung-ho survivalist wanting to craft and use weapons, but at its heart, it’s a game about broken people. It forces you to make brutal, demoralising decisions to get by – stealing, killing, turning ‘useless’ people away. It makes you appreciate the escapism you have at your fingertips while giving you pause for the terrible reality it depicts.
This War of Mine remains an affecting survival experience on Switch and this edition is a comprehensive package. A couple of minor technical issues do little to diminish its power and, although the lack of touch controls is odd, sleep mode is a winner for squeezing in a few days as-and-when you can. Switch arguably helps make this downbeat game as accessible as possible, though there’s little point in double-dipping if you’ve tried it elsewhere. It deserves to be played in whatever form you can find it, though, and is therefore a very welcome addition to Switch’s diverse catalogue.