In games, wars are usually things we fight in. Gunning people down, riding tanks, flying planes, and partaking in huge online battlefields. Sure some of those games deal with the tragedy and sadness of the theatre of war, but you’re generally still running about with a gun trying to inflict damage, attempting to survive.
But in most wars, it’s the civilians and bystanders that are affected the most. People who lose their homes or have to seek solace and refuge somewhere else in the world. Then there are labour camps and the atrocities that happened there. Torn Away is a game that examines all of these issues – all through the eyes of a small girl in Russia during the World War II.
The story and the use of history to show the horrors of war through the eyes of a little girl is a brilliant and effective tool. In Torn Away you see the world through the eyes of 10-year-old Asya who is living in Stalingrad with her mum in 1942. Her dad is away flying planes in the war. Asya has imaginary friends through a rocking horse, a doll, and most importantly a blue mitten. These characters narrate her thoughts and talk to her throughout the game.
War hits Stalingrad and Asya and her mum find themselves in a labour camp. A tragedy happens and Asya heads out on the run, hungry and cold trying to escape Germany. As you can imagine the narrative is hard going at times, and you can’t help but think of the wars in the present day and how there might be thousands of Asya’s out there. But I think that found in Torn Away is a brilliant piece of storytelling, well crafted and told imaginatively; engagingly throughout. It’s like watching a movie at times and big shouts must go to the makers for telling this story.
Torn Away is forever mixing styles and ways of playing. At the start of the adventure, it’s all very calm, running like a point-and-click adventure where you are just doing simple tasks; collecting pencils or mending a mitten. The controls take a bit to get used to in this format though, feeling very much like they were made with a touchscreen in mind where you have to drag and move items and turn them. But it seems to work on the Xbox quite well. You best get used to them too, as you’ll be using them to do different things, from striking a match to making breakfast, boiling potatoes and frying some sausages.
Other parts of the gameplay include a sort of 2.5D exploration of the warzones where you run, crouch and jump over things. Sometimes you are being chased and other times you have to use objects to climb onto or push things over streams to get across. There are stealth sections as well, requiring you to hide and move, keeping out of the way of German soldiers or wolves in the wild. These moments can be exciting, but at times frustrating as platforming isn’t the game’s bread and butter. There are other moments when Torn Away goes into the first person, like a trenches section. These don’t sit well within the game structure.
Visually, Torn Away does an amazing job. Beautifully animated characters are found throughout, and the backdrops are sublime. When cutscenes pop, they are used with a devastating effect to really hammer home the drama and tension of the situation. It stayed with me well after completing the four or five hour running time; muh of that is to do with the visual triumphs the game pulls off.
The soundtrack does an outstanding job too. It is almost like a huge blockbuster score at times. The effects, cries, and shouts are superb, whilst the voiceover is good. The main part of the mitten does a brilliantly emotive job.
The mechanics in Torn Away are so varied that a couple could have been lost along the way without affecting things; like the first person sections. But it’s the storyx’s emotional beats which shine, absolutely spot on whilst the main characters are wonderful and tragic. The visuals are nothing short of stunning and it’s great to see a game tackle some harder historical moments of humanity.
Torn Away, stand up and take the applause.