It takes skill, passion, and most of all humanity to successfully develop a game about the horrors of war. This War of Mine may be the most acclaimed anti-war game, a harrowing survival experience set in a war-torn fictional country. There is now a new entry in this subgenre of gaming, only this time it takes place in the very real Poland during World War II.
Torn Away follows Asya, a ten-year-old who endures many traumas of war. From the bombardment of her city to scavenging for food in the woods, the 2D adventure runs the gamut of what many children lived through in the 1940s. In a way, the story is both excessive and too restrained: as this is aimed at a younger audience, elements like life in a labour camp or fighting in the trenches feel lightly sugarcoated, hinting at some of the violence but never explicitly tackling it (again, likely to avoid traumatizing younger players). At the same time, the narrative throws so many different disgraces on little Asya that it borders on ridiculous. If the goal was to use this character as a symbol of pure innocence becoming corrupted, the storytelling could have worked better if certain sections (like an extended sequence in the woods, running away from wolves and seeking shelter) were cut and others (mainly the labour camp) were extended.
While that may seem like a big issue with Torn Away, it is a game that will work for pre-teens in learning about what happened from 1939 to 1945 in central Europe. The quality of voice acting for both Polish and German characters is impressive, as is the melodic and piano-heavy soundtrack. What makes the game feel truly special is its art style: while the levels are in 3D, everything is stylized as 2D art, making certain snapshots look straight out of a children’s book.
The gameplay also takes full advantage of the gorgeous visuals. There are three types of sequence; puzzle areas, in which Asya has to find keys and complete simple first-person mini-games to proceed; adventure sequences, which blend stealth, platforming, and box-pulling; and first-person moments, used to great effect to immerse players into Asya’s disoriented and scared mindset. The difficulty is bordering on non-existent, as every puzzle is quite easy to figure out and almost every stealth portion lasts no more than a couple of minutes. The only frustrating element of gameplay is the platforming: Asya’s jump is slow and tired, effective for slower scenes but horrible to control during chases, leading to multiple deaths when hopping between very tiny logs on a frozen river.
Torn Away lasts no more than four hours, and while it wallows a bit too much in this girl’s tragic story (going beyond simple historical accuracy and feeling more like replicating tropes from films like Life Is Beautiful, Come and See, and The Book Thief), it is an enjoyable game to play, elevated by its charming art style and lovable main character. Asya’s growth from kid to young adult is startling to see unfold, developer Perelesoq needs to be commended for respectfully portraying what it means to be deported and see the world burn, drawing intentional parallels to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine.