This War of Mine: Final Cut (Xbox Series) Review

As painfully relevant as ever…
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I had a feeling trying to review the This War of Mine: Final Cut release would be difficult. I played the original release on PC in 2014 and enjoyed (though that’s not the right word) the premise, tactical survival mechanics, and the message. It was impactful and memorable but it felt like a one-and-done sort of game. As the Final Cut bundles in all the post-release content, and some new content just for this edition, I took the time to sink another half-dozen hours into a custom classic campaign, got comfortable with the gamepad controls, and started working through the three “Stories” on offer – scenarios that add a stronger narrative element, feel a little more guided, and add a few novel mechanics.

It’s proven to be a very different albeit equally impactful experience, in part because of the well-documented brutality we’ve seen during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the fact I now have a young daughter and played through a father-daughter scenario introduced in the Little Ones DLC. It remains a harrowing experience, but it’s also an intelligently gamified experience that’s difficult to critique objectively; which is not to say I won’t try, as This War of Mine: Final Cut is a topical release, available on multiple platforms, that everyone should experience – even if they don’t enjoy it in the traditional sense.

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The Little Ones and The Father’s Promise DLC remain the most impactful additions to the base game. It’s easier to deal with adult suffering when they can rationalise the situation and try to adapt – something you can’t argue for children and other dependants.

Although the town and country are fictitious, the scenarios in This War of Mine were inspired by records of atrocious living conditions and atrocities that Bosnian civilians endured during the Siege of Sarajevo – with several locations on the map drawing on real-life events. The actual reason for the start of the Graznavian civil war, faction ideology, or the reason for the eventual ceasefire is never explained in-game – and they don’t need to be as it’s irrelevant to the survivors. The focus is on the dynamic and emergent personal experiences of a small selection of civilians caught up in the war, as the security situation deteriorates and winter sets in. Admittedly, after a few attempts, you’ll realise certain survivors are better suited to certain roles, and major escalation events always occur sequentially. However, if you play the classic mode, it randomises your starting survivor group and shelter layout that, in turn, alters the timing and severity of events (and the time you need to hold out until the ceasefire). If you’re looking for an experience with a greater emphasis on narrative and survivor interactions, the three “Stories” scenarios should have you covered. Regardless of which mode you pick, your choices during the siege – such as aiding others, stealing from the weak, or killing without good cause – alter each survivor’s epilogue after the ceasefire.

The gameplay is unexpectedly easy to grasp for a survival game, playing out in detailed 2D cutaway environments. By day you stay within your shelter, interact with visiting survivors or traders, build and upgrade facilities, craft gear, and try to keep your survivors fed, rested, and healthy. By night, you need to scavenge in local ruins for food, medicine, tools, weapons, and building components – or trade for them with neutral groups. During these excursions, there’s a strong focus on careful movement, watching and listening for threats, and stocking up your limited inventory with what you need most. You’re not entirely helpless either, as you can eventually craft or purchase weapons to engage in clunky but deadly combat.

Probably my greatest praise for This War of Mine is mine that despite the constant challenges it throws at you, it’s never vague about what you need to do and how you can achieve it. Deteriorating security and an increased chance of raids mean building barricades, crafting weapons, and having survivors stand guard at night; the onset of winter means building heaters, gathering fuel, and stockpiling food. Crafting menus are simple, item descriptions are clear, and survivors periodically update their “bio” to indicate their needs and concerns. The challenge comes from prioritising, optimising, and keeping your cool during semi-random events that force you into fight or flight situations, or have you weigh up the risks of helping another survivor.

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With the right upgrades, you can become less dependent on scavenging for supplies like food and water, but it’s a risky and essential part of the early game.

Although This War of Mine: Final Cut builds off of console ports released in 2016 and plays out on a 2D plane, it’s clear the game was initially designed around a mouse or touch-screen input. The gamepad feels best when out on scavenging runs – especially when you’re in combat, or running and hiding – resulting in a more responsive, action-oriented feel. However, the bulk of your playtime is spent in your shelter micromanaging multiple survivors, building, and crafting. The more you expand, the more interaction icons begin to litter the screen, and the tougher it gets to quickly position your character and toggle through the surrounding icons in range. On more than a few occasions, I accidentally broke off conversations by gently nudging the thumbstick, selected the wrong interaction prompt with a child, and cancelled half-complete projects. It’s not game-breaking but, when you’re desperately trying to finish several crafting projects or cook meals before the nighttime sequence begins, it can be infuriating fighting the gamepad as well as the clock.

When it comes to the presentation, This War of Mine: Final Cut looks artistically striking but still provides players with all the information they need. The muted, almost greyscale visuals have a charcoal-stylized appearance that creates an oppressive and gritty atmosphere but clearly defines the play area, potential exploration routes, and interaction points. Lighting, sound ripples, and vision cones allow you to observe the environment and plan before pushing forward – or beating a hasty retreat. The writing and detailed animations ensure survivor interactions feel believable – especially when you’re dealing with a parent-child relationship – and these translate into gameplay variables. The children introduced in the Little Ones DLC can bring life to the gloomiest situation but it’s heartbreaking when they begin to despair, disengage from activities, or start demanding constant attention. Just when you want to prioritise their needs, it becomes harder to achieve and they can even disrupt adult sleep cycles.

The ambient audio is primarily the distant crack of gunfire or booming artillery strikes, while the soundtrack is both wonderfully melancholic by day and dynamic when scavenging at night, ramping up when you encounter a potential threat. Of course, as a fairly old game by this point, so This War of Mine: Final Cut runs at high resolutions and frame rates on the current-gen consoles without a hitch.

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Locations can look stunningly detailed but, the more you expand your shelter, the more icons you have to toggle through with a gamepad when trying to perform basic tasks.

This War of Mine: Final Cut, despite the premise and uncomfortable scenarios, is still a tactical and mechanically satisfying survival video game that you can attach some numbers to. If I have any major criticism, it would be that the very nature of a videogame – with hard-coded mechanics and rules – allows you to master it with enough practice and that initial sense of helplessness and dread fades. Now, while you could argue video games are almost always about escapism, their ability to digitally place us in someone else’s shoes and to see the world from a different perspective, can also be used to deliver a healthy dose of reality.

I started this review by stating how different the experience was in the context of an ongoing war, but the more I played, the more I realised that thought simply highlighted my own bias. At any given time, someone, somewhere, is experiencing the personal horrors of war – it’s just often in chronically unstable, globally-isolated regions without little media coverage (either due to lack of interest, lack of access, or probably both). Games like This War of Mine are an ongoing and necessary reminder of how personal war is, and how callous and inhuman so-called leaders are when they try to justify wars of aggression.

A review code for This War of Mine: Final Cut was provided to gameblur by the publisher.

This War of Mine: Final Cut (Xbox Series) Review

This War of Mine: Final Cut (Xbox Series) Review
8 10 0 1
8/10
Total Score
  • Story
    8/10 Very Good
  • Gameplay
    7/10 Good
  • Visuals
    9/10 Amazing
  • Audio
    8/10 Very Good

The Good

  • A painful reminder that war is always personal
  • Daily struggles, interactions, and survivor archetypes intelligently gamified
  • Striking visuals and haunting soundtrack

The Bad

  • Escalation events become predictable with multiple playthroughs
  • Imprecise gamepad control can have gameplay ramifications
Total
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