Review: This War of Mine: Stories - Father's Promise16 Apr 2019 0
Review: This War of Mine: Stories - Father's Promise
Released 27 Mar 2019
I can still remember playing games such as Commando and Operation Wolf at my local arcade. Back then my only concern was that I had enough coins left for another go; It was a time when we blasted our way through waves of enemies without a second thought. This War of Mine was released on mobile devices back in 2015 (following a steam release the year before). It received pretty much universal acclaim for its brave attempt to shift the focus of war from frontline combat to the day-to-day struggle for survival of everyday citizens.
It draws on the experiences of normal people who were forced to question their values and morals in order to eke out a living in a war-ravaged city. Twenty years before the game's release the Bosnian War raged and the people of Sarajevo were in the midst of the longest capital city siege in modern warfare. It was this bloody siege that inspired Polish game developers 11 Bit Studios to make This War of Mine.
The original game is one of survival, in which the player leads a group of citizens in their struggle for existence. There are different scenarios, but in essence, gameplay involves savaging for food and supplies and crafting new workstations and equipment. All of this whilst avoiding the attention of soldiers and other hostile groups. The aim is to ensure that your people survive long enough to witness the announcement of the ceasefire so that they can rebuild both their city and their lives.
On some platforms, the Father’s Promise storyline was offered as additional DLC to the original game, but on mobile devices it is being sold as a standalone game. The game’s cheap price point, the short length and simplified options make it a great way to sample the This War of Mine experience without the need to invest in the full game. Father’s Promise takes a much more personal approach than the original game, focusing on the relationship between a father and his young daughter. It is a game where the story is all-important so I will have to tread lightly for fear of giving too much away.
Suffice to say, Adam has lost his wife and now his sole purpose is to care for his desperately sick daughter, Amelia. Recently widowed, tired and hungry, Adam’s situation is a desperate one. He cannot even trust his brother, who simply sees Amelia as a ticket to escape from the city. The brother’s plan is to make for a humanitarian checkpoint that has been established to allow the sick and the young to escape from the conflict. However, despite his brother’s protestations, Adam thinks that it is currently too dangerous for his sick daughter to make such a journey.
There is no disputing that the original game was bleak, but at least you had a group of like-minded people to rely on. Adam only has his traumatized and uncommunicative daughter for company and thus the feeling of solitude and desolation is brought to the fore. Adam has to split his time between gathering food and equipment and taking care of Amelia. She is in desperate need of medical help, but in a country devastated by war, drug supplies are not easy to get hold of, not even on the black market.
By day, Adam crafts equipment and gathers supplies, but he is forced to cast his net ever wider. He has to leave Amelia alone for longer and longer periods of time, putting her at greater risk. By night Adam ignores his growing exhaustion to stand guard over his daughter. He stoically ignores his own ever-growing hunger in order to ensure that Amelia is fed. As Adam staggers ever slower from place to place there is the looming feeling that sooner rather than later something has to give and that an event even more awful is about to happen.
The focus on the story means that the actual gameplay takes a back seat. With only a single character to worry about there is a lot less asked of the player. Controls couldn’t be simpler, with points of interest being depicted with icons. Tap one and Adam will make his way to the point and interact. This may result in him tuning a radio, removing rubble or cooking dinner. To make his life a bit easier Adam can build tools, a shovel, for instance, makes removing rubble a much easier task. When Adam is really tired he slows down, which can make getting around a tad frustrating. There are a few stealthy elements, but nothing too challenging; the developers have a narrative to tell and they want you to reach the end. The story itself is quite short but certainly doesn’t pull any punches, maybe it is a little too emotionally exploitative, but I guess that is just a matter of taste.
Despite having been initially released as DLC, Father’s Promise still works remarkably well as a standalone game. The music is haunting and dramatic, often accompanied by the background sounds of gunfire and explosions. The gloomy monochrome images of ruined apartments and debris-strewn streets set the bleakest of tones. Adam and the other characters are tiny, in stark contrast to looming landscapes that he has to explore. It really brings to light the enormity of the odds that are stacked against him.
It is extremely tough to take such an emotionally charged story and turn it into a game without trivialising the subject matter. This is especially true when that subject matter is based on events that are still so recent and raw. Shifting the focus from group survival to one man’s efforts to protect his daughter makes for an even more personal and harrowing experience. Father’s Promise highlights both the terrible and the inspiring sides of human nature. Initially, it seems that everyone that Adam meets has their price and is intent on looking after number one. However, despite the suffering and devastation Adam still fights selflessly for his daughter. It will not take you that long to reach the end, nor will it prove too taxing but it will certainly leave a lasting impression.