The concept of life and death. It’s a pretty heavy subject matter, to say the least. It’s not every day you want to take a cold hard look at the facts and stare blankly into the abyss that is your fragile mortality. Most people will live in blissful ignorance, ordering kale smoothies in bulk, telling themselves that they will live forever, and why shouldn’t they, I suppose.
However, there is something incredible about poignant pieces of media and indeed gaming that can offer a bleak and tragic look at the fragility of life. placing the player in some truly impossible situations where the lines of morality blur, and for some strange reason, it’s captivating. This War of Mine: Final Cut is a remaster of a game that might just be the best example of this phenomenon ever.
Originally released in 2014, This War of Mine was a truly awe-inspiring survival title that saw the player endure the harsh reality of war as a civilian. You weren’t placed in the body off a gunslinging hero or a bonified super-soldier.
Instead, you manage a group of regular joes who simply want to survive. It’s an indie game that I adore, as I am a fan of these relentlessly punishing titles; in fact, Pathologic II is one of my favorite games in existence, and this game is in the same ballpark for sure.
However, after all this time, the question remains: does the gameplay still stack up, will the quality of life improvements enhance this experience, and will the harrowing events going on at the time of writing in Ukraine add a new layer of depth to this eye-opening title. We will find out all this and more as we explore this title. Without further delay, here is our This War of Mine Final Cut Review on PS5.
Drop-Dead Gorgeous, Literally
Let’s begin with how this game looks. So, to put your mind at ease, The Last of Us beat this game to the punch when it comes to this bleak, often greyscale, somewhat sketchbook animated style, as it was released a year before. You can even see that this game wears its love for TLOU on its sleeve with the near-identical UI features.
However, the way that This War of Mine took this and adapted it into a 2D, party management style game is still very impressive. With the move to modern systems, the game looks spectacular. The animations are much smoother, the resolution is crisp. This all helps create a setting filled with destruction and devastation that sucks the player in.
Obviously, this was the case over half a decade ago, so I won’t dwell on this, but it’s clear that the new hardware has been utilized to good effect; just look at those harrowing 4K visuals.
Evocative and Eerie Composition
While the art style plays a huge part in setting the tone for the game and sucking the player in, I believe that the score for this title plays a slightly more important role in this department. The game’s ambient soundtrack does an incredible job of evoking feelings of melancholy, genuine sadness, panic, relief, fear, and grief, and knows exactly when to tune in and fade out.
Read also: Best Indie Game Soundtracks.
It’s the subtle twanging of guitar strings that play as you try to talk around your comrade, who is broken and disheveled on the floor of your wartorn abode.
Or the thud of footsteps or the clunk of debris as you shovel through the rubble to clear a path reverberating around the building. All of these moments are supported brilliantly by the audio to create a tense and emotionally stirring experience from day one, right up to the ceasefire, if you make it that far.
Then we also have to say that while some aspects of the Dualsense could have been used a lot better, the haptic feedback offered when triggering some action commands is well utilized, which often has you bargaining with your controller to just stay quiet for a second while you grab a stray bandage or some much-needed food or components.
In a lot of ways, the Dualsense was a missed opportunity here, but in some instances, it adds to the intense and often tragic affair.
Now we move on to the gameplay within this title, which is the real point of interest here. To make a project like this work, you have to ensure that the world on offer is perfectly balanced, and to 11-Bit’s credit, they absolutely nail this. The aspect of this game that makes it so incredibly gripping is the harsh survival mechanics.
There are many titles out there that start the player off with nothing, and as time goes on, things get more and more comfortable, but in This War of Mine, it’s turned on its head. Day one is easy as you can ransack your base for supplies, but after that, you are at the mercy of RNG, and your ability to plan is your only way to manage this randomized hell.
The crafting system and scavenging opportunities are your two means of progression and maintaining the health of each party member, and without careful planning and care, you will begin to see the problems stack up. People get sick, get cold, get tired, get depressed, or simply break down, and your goal is to keep everyone alive with the minimal resources available to you.
The crafting system allows you to create machines and tools that will make life easier. Scavenging at night allows you to gather more supplies, but this comes with risks and drawbacks. If you are scavenging, you aren’t sleeping. If you aren’t at the base, who is defending it?
If you aren’t careful, you could get picked off by military forces. Basically, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Only the most prepared and perceptive of players will be able to quell the chaos.
The game never pulls any punches, and if things go downhill, they tend to gain momentum pretty quick. Every decision is literally one that can mean life or death for you, or indeed, another civilian you had to kill or ransack to avoid the same fate.
The gameplay is tailored to show you the hardships of war, to blur the lines between what is right and what is wrong, and it presents it with unsettling accuracy.
No Stone Left Unturned
I think the most impressive thing is the minute details that This War of Mine includes in the overall gameplay to hammer home the player’s helplessness and fragility of life.
Take the radio, for example, a simple tool that is advertised on the crafting menu as a means of keeping spirits up. However, without this, you wouldn’t be aware of the change in the wartime economy, which means there will be shortages, or that an item once deemed common as muck will now require more goods for a trader to part with it.
This game’s potential to change rapidly and put you on the backfoot is exactly why it is heralded as one of the best examples of survival gaming and why the player never feels content until a ceasefire is announced.
This War Has No Off-Ramps
One thing that I was shocked didn’t get a tune-up was the autosave feature. The game, while excellent for sessions where you can settle in for the long haul, isn’t one that lends itself to quick drop-in sessions. You see, when you begin a day, you will need to play through both day and night before you get to bank your progress, which essentially means 10-15 minute chunks without fail.
Now, this isn’t a dealbreaker for me by any means, but in the fast-paced world of gaming today, where instant gratification and convenience are commonplace, this could aggravate a few. I would argue that this is absolutely not the game for those players, but in spite of that, I continue.
It would have been nice to have a save state between day and night, allowing you to chip away at the game in five-minute chunks, and while the PS5’s save state functionality allows for this in a pinch, it’s hardly ideal.
UI Flatters to Deceive
In terms of aesthetics, there is little we can say which is negative about this UI. After all, it essentially lifts the TLOU layout and repurposes it, and when you take notes from a game quite as iconic as that, you can’t really go too far wrong.
However, it’s the functionality that was an issue here. This is meant to be a remaster and, ideally, the best version of this game. So it baffles me that such rookie errors and clear issues persist here.
To list them off, when you begin an action, you can’t cancel it unless you run away from the actioned area, and this is never explained. Then if the player creates a machine or piece of furniture, sometimes they don’t appear, and while they can still be used, you have to guess where the actionable icons are, which, in a game with scarce resources, is a risky move.
Plus, the in-game controls are rather clunky, meaning you will constantly struggle to select the right icon on the screen, you will constantly run up and down stairs without meaning to, and navigating doors is much more troublesome than it should be.
However, the one UI blunder that sits comfortably at the top of the pile is that the UI can be manipulated to offer a ludicrous number of items to the player and make the game a cakewalk. I managed to get my hands on over 2,500 functional pistols at the beginning of the game, and this meant when a trader came, I cleaned house, took all his stuff, and my party lived like kings.
Plus, who’s going to attack a base where the inhabitants are packing literally thousands of guns? Pretty dumb looters with a death wish, that’s who. Overall, it’s not game-breaking stuff for the most part, but as this is an old game that was getting a fine-tune, this was a little disappointing.
War is a Constant
Staggering fact incoming, the world in the last 3,400 years has been at peace with no ongoing wars or conflicts for approximately just 268 of those. So it’s fair to say that war is pretty much a constant thing in the lives of human beings.
This War of Mine plays into this inevitability by making this game so damn replayable that you will actively seek out an opportunity to return to this wartorn hellscape willingly.
The game does this in a number of ways, the first being the random nature of the gameplay, where item changes, trader value changes, random events throughout the run, the areas you have available to scavenge from shuffling around, and even the weather all playing a role.
It’s the staggering depth and hardship and the brilliant feeling the player gets when you overcome this strife that keeps you coming back.
Aside from that, it’s also the customization options that are made available too. You have the option to tailor your experience as you see fit. You can dial the conflict up to the maximum; you can make items harder to come by, you can pick and choose the personnel that makes up your ragtag squad, complete with their own unique skills and flaws.
You can create your own characters if you wish as well, and you can shorten or elongate the war as you see fit. You are in control here, at least until you begin the game, and then it’s backs against the wall, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Just a Pinch of Narrative
Then lastly, we have to talk about the power of narrative here. Now, we don’t want to date this piece too much, but the horrible things happening in Ukraine at the time of writing absolutely play a role in how powerful the narrative content on offer is, as it hits very close to home.
However, looking purely objectively at this, this narrative’s strength is purely down to the things that are left unsaid.
The game doesn’t tell you things; it shows you things and makes you witness them firsthand. You are in charge of your own destiny here, and yet you never feel like you have both hands on the wheel. The narrative is formed through your decisions, your actions, and the bonds that you form with these people that you simply inherit at the beginning of the game.
You can’t help but care for these people, growing more and more attached with each day you survive. When something tragic happens, that sucker punch is a prime example of how powerful this unspoken narrative is.
This unspoken, user-created narrative is supplemented somewhat by little smatterings of dialogue, NPC interaction, and notes that the player will find when scavenging. These are short snippets that offer a window into the final moments of another survivor’s life, and the ambiguous nature of each will leave you reeling.
Some are puzzles to solve or clues that will lead to useful items. However, it’s the notes that only serve as a harsh reminder that for you to survive, others must suffer that deliver the most brutal gut punch.
Then, of course, you have the character diaries that are a means of connecting with your party more, establishing their backstories, and understanding how their past professions can help you in this time of hardship.
All these minor storytelling techniques combine to offer a rich and unique, player-led narrative experience that will have you audibly gasping, cursing, and blubbering in equal measure. The only emotion you’ll seldom experience is joy, but that’s by design.
Alternatives to This War of Mine: Final Cut
This game is a title that has some truly dark and unsettling subject matter, and as a result, it may be a little too much for you to handle. No judgment here. However, you may have really enjoyed the gameplay on offer. So we thought we would offer up some games that have similarities to this game so that you can get a taste of the TWOM experience. Check it out below:
- Fallout Shelter
- FTL: Faster Than Light
- Pathologic II
- Don’t Starve
- The Long Dark
- Valiant Hearts
- State of Decay
Question: Is This War Of Mine an Old Game?
Answer: Not really; it depends on what you define as old. This game was released on 8th generation platforms in 2014 and received DLC and content updates until 2016, so really, it’s only about half a decade old.
However, it should be noted that This War of Mine: Final Cut is not a brand-new experience, and if you are a returning player, unless you are willing to invest in the stories DLC expansion, there isn’t anything all that new that the game has to show you.
Question: Is This War Of Mine a Mobile Game?
Answer: Yes, it is a mobile game, as the 2014 original game was adapted for android and IOS mobile devices and tablets. In fact, the game is also the subject of a fully-fledged tabletop board game too. So if you want to experience this wartime epic on the go or with friends, these are great options.
Question: What Else Have 11-Bit Studios Made?
Answer: With indies like this, they tend to be a flash in the pan, especially when you produce a game quite as jaw-dropping as this one. However. 11-Bit used TWOM as a vehicle to push forward and create some other notable and well-respected indie titles. Here is a quick list down below:
• Children of Morta
• South of the Circle
Overall, there are few games that can evoke quite as much emotion, complex philosophical thought, and existential dread but still be deemed genuinely fun experiences. This War of Mine: Final Cut walks this tightrope without faltering. Even after many years, this game has matured like a fine wine and offers a gaming experience that will most likely never be replicated.
It’s an oddity, an outlier, a quintessential game everyone should play, and now thanks to this remaster, those that didn’t before can play on modern systems and enjoy the much-needed quality of life improvements and, best of all, witness the devastation in stunning 4K.
The game does retain some of its flaws from its initial release, and it’s also worth stating that the subject matter may be too much for some. However, if you are looking for a game that blurs the lines between video game entertainment and art, this is certainly a contender.
- A sublime setting and beautifully haunting art style, now in 4K
- The gameplay is fine-tuned to ensure that each decision matters. There are no easy decisions here.
- The smatterings of narrative and the selection of characters offer rich lore and backstories.
- Due to features like building your own game, and the character variety, the game is very replayable
- The bone-chilling score offers an astounding ambiance
- Some minor bugs with crafting
- Autosave feature only happens between full days, which doesn’t lend itself to quick gaming sessions
- Combat is still lack-luster