Tuesday 19 September 2017

This War of Mine – The Little Ones review: Conflict through a child's eyes

This War of Mine: The Little Ones (PS4/XOne); rating: 9/10; Age: 18+

This War of Mine – The Little Ones
This War of Mine – The Little Ones
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

THERE is no “Start” button here. Instead, to begin the harrowing experience of civilians living through a war, you must select the button marked “Survive”.

The Little Ones expands on the original premise of This War of Mine, first released on PC and iOS in 2014/2015. As before, you’re responsible for the survival of three adult characters in a hellish Sarajevo-like city caught in a civil war. Like a dystopian version of The Sims, you must tend to their hunger, warmth and mental health as they bunker down in a ruined house. Outside, the air crackles with gunfire.

But this time the adults also care for a child. Naturally enough, the little ones don’t take part in the game’s day/night cycle of fortifying the home while scavenging for food under cover of darkness. Instead, the child represents another heartbreaking resource to be managed.

While the adults can and will die of illness or injuries or suicide, if the youngster’s condition deteriorates it is conveniently rescued by the emergency services (why can’t they save everyone?).

This War of Mine – The Little Ones: It's like The Sims, only with bullets flying
This War of Mine – The Little Ones: It's like The Sims, only with bullets flying

As a game, it sounds troublingly bleak, and it is. But it’s a daring and challenging effort, the antithesis of gung-ho war games such as Call of Duty.

The stealthy foraging at night involves breaking into other people’s makeshift homes and stealing. Sometimes, you’ll return from nocturnal missions to find your own housemates wounded or dying after a raid by similarly desperate survivors. The daily drudgery plucks the heartstrings and pricks the conscience in equal measure.

This War of Mine never feels fair – like real life – and the best-laid plans can be upended by a random event. As in the PC version, a scenario editor enables you to tweak the set-up, including to make the war less like hell by shortening the time until a ceasefire. Of all the cheats and exploits in gaming, this one feels the most dishonest.

It is possible to live to the end of the conflict but you’ll have made many distressing decisions to get there. Yet there’s a hopeful humanity at play in This War of Mine, a triumph of spirit over adversity, not least the resilience of the children in the face of daunting odds.

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