This War of Mine is not a fun game. But it isn't trying to be. While other "realistic" war games will hand you a rifle and tell you to take that beach, Private, in This War of Mine a few scraps of meat is a much more important tool for survival. You control three survivors living in a bombed-out house in the middle of an extremely non-specific war zone, trying to scrape together enough materials to craft their way through the war without starving or freezing.
Needless to say, this is not the kind of game that will appeal to those who like to spend their virtual time jumping through colorful Miyamoto landscapes, this is more like a playable version of your great grandpa's stories about what they had to do to get through the war in the old country. You spend all day trying to access new parts of the house, gathering materials for beds, stoves, and vegetable gardens, and then spend all night creeping around the surrounding city searching for food and more materials and hoping that no one's living in the abandoned supermarket you've decided to loot.
All three of your survivors need to be cared for - they have to eat, sleep, get occasional medicine, and every once in a while read a book or listen to the radio to keep them from becoming suicidal or depressed. They're like The Sims, if The Sims took place during the Blitz. If one of them gets sick or injured he's more or less out of commission for several days, and it will fall to the other two to build and explore... or rather, one will have to build and explore while the other sleeps so he can go scavenging once the sun goes down. Timber and other building materials are easy enough to come by, but food is almost non-existent - finding a single piece of raw meat on a scavenging run is something of a windfall.
I recall the one moment of real excitement in the preview build provided by the developers: looting a store and peeking through a cracked door to find a soldier assaulting a woman. This is the part in most games where you'd bust down the door and fill him full of righteous lead, then get an achievement for your heroic deeds. But in This War of Mine, the general bleakness of the last few in-game days told me that trying to attack him with my bare hands would almost certainly mean the death of one of my survivors, which would then mean that the two other survivors in my care would be more likely to starve. The right thing to do would be to intervene. The smart thing to do would be to run. I sat there, frozen in indecision, while the soldier got closer and closer to the woman.
In the end I opened the door, which provided just enough distraction for the woman to run away... after which I immediately ran faster than her once the soldier drew his gun. The game's tone made it clear that things could have been much worse.
This War of Mine provides some much-needed context to events that some of us might only ever see filtered through a news report. The desperate actions and tough choices are intentionally awful, but they're not outside what you would reasonably expect to find in a place where thousands have died and the civilized world is all but gone. It doesn't preach and it doesn't grandstand - games like Metal Gear Solid love to talk about how horrible war is while also delivering action movie montages and giving you an army's worth of firepower. No, This War of Mine makes its point by simply showing what ordinary people have to do after the gunfire subsides.
Technically the game appears to match its PC version, at least on the SHIELD Tablet I used for testing. The characters and portions of the environment are 3D, while the gameplay itself is entirely 2D. It's not going to wow anyone visually and the interface (originally designed for monitors and television screens) can make it very difficult to read or select a specific person. That said, once you get the hang of the various commands and inventory management, it's easy enough to get around. I would recommend playing on Android TV or via an HDMI cable if you can.
This War of Mine can't be called entertaining, and can't earn a recommendation for players who want excitement or challenge. But that's not the point - no one watches Schindler's List and complains about a lack of one-liners. The game serves as an illustration of how far the medium has come. That something as inelegant as living in a war zone can be handled with enough subtlety and grace to make the player think about real-world events is a testament to how personal playing an event can be, as opposed to reading about it or merely seeing it through a camera lens.
This War of Mine is available for Android tablets and Android TV devices. It costs $9.99, half off its current price on Steam, and has no in-app purchases.