Most of you might remember We Happy Few from its initial reveal at Xbox’s E3 2016 press conference, but it originally started as a Kickstarter. Back then, the reveal trailer showcased an interesting premise, a lively world, and colorful characters. It had hints of Bioshock in its DNA just from the first teaser trailer. This quickly changed once the game gets announced as an early access title and players were finally able to land their hands on it. The game turned out the exact opposite of its teaser focusing on survival and crafting in a desolate world.
We Happy Few takes the idea of drug abuse seriously. It is kind of riff on the modern world with its usage of drugs that deal with emotional issues. Set in the 1960s, this story features an alternative timeline immediately after world war 2. The main setting is the island town of Wellington Wells that is more of a dystopian society where everyone has to take a hallucinogenic drug called Joy that basically removes trace of bad memories and replaces them with happy ones. It is the classic example of ignoring the real world problems and being in denial over them. Joy might make these people temporarily happy and ignore problems, however, it also has other repercussions that get exploited by the government.
If you are reading the story, you might think that it sounds great, but this is where the game starts to fall apart. The developers have spent a lot of their time to create this interesting world and made it full of lore and other forms of media to read, but it all ends up getting tied to a gameplay system that is clunky, boring and often times simply uninteresting to play, and has a bunch of technical problems that have an adverse effect on the experience. The efforts by the developers to create the staggering amount of lore in the game is commendable though, and if you are the kind of player who loves to read them, this will be a treat to play.
There are a total of 3 playable characters that you are able to control throughout the main story quest. The introduction deals with Arthur who starts to get flashbacks of his ‘bad’ memories once he remembers the death of his brother. Since Arthur has taken Joy to suppress this kind of memories, once he is off the pill, he slowly begins to regain his ‘humanity’ side which starts to threaten his colleagues who label him as a ‘downer’ that ruins their happy moments. It is such a grim reminder of the events in this post-war world and sets the tone for the rest of the game. The other two characters that you will be able to control are the experimental chemist Sally and ex-soldier Ollie. The narrative is laid out in such a way that their tale will intersect during the main story, but you are not allowed to manually pick and play one of them.
The bad news is that Arthur being the first character is a rather dull experience. His story and motivations never feel compelling enough, and the events that he goes through barely offer a satisfying conclusion. The good thing is that the other two characters that you will control are not that bad, but it will still take you a while before you are able to get to the next character’s story, so hopefully, you are ready for it. Thankfully each character has their own personality and gameplay style thus making the game feel less repetitive, but the story does offer a lot of filler elements that go nowhere but simply serve the purpose of increasing the length of the game.
The roots of the game are laid out in its survival-focused gameplay. It was originally conceived as such, but as the interest in a proper story increased, the developers decided to painstakingly go through the entire game and craft a narrative that tied it all together. This has easily become the best part of We Happy Few, but the old design roots are still seen in the gameplay mechanics dragging down the overall product. As a survival game, you will be crafting resources, keeping an eye out on the various health-related status like hunger, sleep or thirst, and making sure that your character is able to avoid any unnecessary encounter in the world since this is more of a stealth focused game despite offering the choice of combat.
As a fan of the writing and lore, I felt compelled to explore more of this world, however, I was constantly getting held back by the tedious management of each character’s health to make them survive through this entire ordeal. There is so much to do in the world, but it always ends up being a grind to actually carry out your tasks. This was a classic case of confused identity when the developers just weren’t sure if they wanted to create a narrative-focused or survival game. In its current state, We Happy Few sadly ends up being neither of them resulting in a product that feels like a bloated mess.
Stealth is something that is a requirement throughout the game, and honestly, it is another huge negative in this world. I can understand why they decided to implement this in the design, but it just doesn’t work as well. The combat is terrible due to the clunky hit detection and feedback. It is no fun to keep doing it so your best bet to avoid any a headache with encounters is to stick with the stealth option. Melee combat is no good but even if we talk about the weapons, they will degrade and damage over time adding another survival element that you will have to manage from an ever-growing list of tasks.
This is not a bad-looking game by any means, but it doesn’t call for this kind of performance with the visuals. The frame rate feels smooth in indoor sections but once you are out in the open, the frame rate starts to get unstable and there are stutters and slowdowns. The load times are also too long during the main campaign. Even the initial intro after booting the game has to go through a loading screen every time. The short pause between story segments results in a new loading screen every time and thus making it more of a game of patience. This was all that I experienced on the Xbox One X so I can’t even imagine how much worse it will be on other platforms.
We Happy Few Review (Xbox One)
Game Reviewed on: Xbox One
Game description: We Happy Few is an action-adventure game developed by Compulsion Games and published by Gearbox Publishing for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
Despite carrying an interesting premise, especially for its story, We Happy Few falters due to the lack of overall polish. It suffers from terrible performance and clunky combat controls while the focus on putting as many survival mechanics in a single-player story ends up making it look like a product that lost its identity.