This War of Mine: Final Cut Review: A Game of True Horror
I always laugh when something is called a final cut or a final version of something. As long as there are developers out there interested in a game, with a potential incentive to tweak something popular, there’s a chance for new versions. Nothing is ever final. Despite minor annoyance over the naming conventions, I’ll give This War of Mine: Final Cut a pass since part of the reason they’re releasing this remaster on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S is in response to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the overall mission of This War of Mine to really spotlight the true horrors of war.
While I’m probably the last person alive to try out This War of Mine in any form, let’s start with a rundown of what the game is for anyone else who has been living under a rock like me. It’s a war game, but not in the way most players will be familiar with. You aren’t part of any army, or a militia, or a freedom fighter. You’re just a civilian, or group of civilians, dealing with the fallout of an ongoing conflict. While there are different scenarios you’ll get dropped into, they offer similar enough experiences in that you’re just playing normal people trying to survive a situation they could not have seen coming.
In the early days, that will be hard, but in the scenarios I experienced, I mostly found the game’s early days manageable. This War of Mind is fundamentally a survival game, so your goal will be to keep your people alive. That involves the same sort of things most survival games do. You’ll need to explore, find resources, feed your people, make sure they’re getting rest, and heal their injuries and illnesses. All of that works about how you would expect it to.
Where This War of Mine is different is in how you get what you need. Initially, your characters will have issues, but they’ll mostly be in decent shape to start, and you’ll be in a base filled with items to gather, rooms to break into, and enough food and medicine to get you started. Things feel familiar. That won’t last. Quickly, things start coming at you much faster than you’d see in the average survival game.
I first noticed this when I ran out of things to ransack in my base. That meant I had to go outside to keep building my resources, keep my people fed, and deal with increasingly common issues like illness and depression that were popping up. You can explore other structures by night, looking for resources, but you’re not the only one doing so. You’ll encounter others dealing with the war as best they can, some of whom are willing to fight for those few precious resources in the same way you are. Coming back safely from these nightly excursions is no sure thing.
A Lot To Manage
Even if you do come back, though, things aren’t perfect. Often you’ll return to find your base was raided in the night. Items were stolen, and the people who stayed behind were hurt; you’ll need to fix that. You can fortify your base, but that takes precious time and resources. You can build weapons for those who stay behind, but that takes time and resources. The people who are going out or staying up on guard duty aren’t sleeping, so they’re getting more tired. Soon food becomes an issue, and while you might be able to trade for more, your items to trade start running out. Then it starts getting cold, or you come across an encounter you can’t walk away from, which really makes your people depressed. If you want to deal with that, more time and resources.
There’s always more to do than you have the time and resources to handle. Staying ahead of a thousand horrors coming at you becomes more and more precarious, and you start to realize that even the slightest mistake will send you spinning over the edge. I began to wonder if letting that sick person die and stop being a drain on my resources made sense, though notably, that’s one less person to go out at night or fight off would-be invaders.
There’s No Hope Here
That feeling of hopelessness, where there’s no real winning, only surviving, is entirely the point of This War of Mine, and it gets it across brilliantly. For some players, those who just want to have fun, this probably isn’t what you’re looking for. Mechanically it’s imperfect, with your characters moving slowly and imprecisely, and not only in ways that are intentional. Navigating the world on PS5 is tricky because there are so many choices to make, and a controller simply isn’t made for it. I often found my character moving the wrong way or climbing up a floor I didn’t mean to. It got a bit old at times, though it’s rarely a major issue in that turning around and fixing the problem was quick, and characters are responsive. It contributed in some ways to the game’s overall mood, though I’d have liked my frustration to be focused a bit more on the situation and less on the mechanics.
You can’t really describe This War of Mine as fun, though, even if the additional DLC available for it, such as the Stories modes which are focused more on set characters in a more scripted scenario, do tell compelling stories. I didn’t come out of my play sessions with a big smile on my face, ready to dive in for more. The gameplay is still compelling, and I felt drawn to saving my characters from an awful fate. I wanted to make sure they survived, even if the scars of their survival would undoubtedly stay with them if this were a real war.
It’s impossible not to think about what real people in different parts of the world are going through right now when playing This War of Mine in 2022. That’s part of the point. Buying a video game perhaps isn’t the best way to support those people, but This War of Mine: Final Cut captures the true horror of war in a way that few video games will even try, let alone succeed, and for that, it’s an absolute must-play. If you’re like me and waited nearly eight years to check This War of Mine out, it’s time to fix that mistake.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PC; Publisher: 11 bit studios; Developer: 11 bit studios; Players: 1; Released: May 9th, 2022; ESRB: T for Teen; $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of This War of Mine: Final Cut provided by the publisher.