August 14, 2016
About the author : Project manager by day, crazy cat lady by night. Emily's first love is J.R.R. Tolkien. She's also into Walking Dead, video games, Doctor Who, and anime. When she isn't knee-deep in her latest fandom, she's usually sleeping.
One of my most anticipated games of 2016 was released in early access a couple of weeks ago: We Happy Few. I got it for Xbox One (since my 2012 iMac can’t run, well, much of anything now) and I’ve put probably 10-12 hours into the game by now. The final game will be much larger than what’s available now, but I still have a pretty good feel for the game as a whole.
We Happy Few lives up to its marketing. Of course, this is an alpha, so it isn’t fair to judge the full release game on the bugs that exist now. I’ve gotten stuck on multiple quest lines, even the main quest. I definitely don’t recommend playing the game in its current state if you aren’t a patient person. There are also some design elements of the game that could be smoothed over, particularly the items menu.
Set in an alternate reality 1960s England, the entire population of Wellington Wells is hyped up on Joy. Joy is a drug that forces you to forget the sad things from your past and causes hallucinations (happy ones, of course!) about the present. If you don’t take your Joy, you’re a Downer, which gets you exiled.
That’s what happens to the player character in the alpha, Arthur Hastings. After getting a flashback about his brother he decides to skip a dose of Joy. As the drug’s hallucinations wear off, he starts to see the horror that everyone has been living for years. He’s outed as a Downer, captured, and thrown out into the wastes. As far as I can tell, the goal of the alpha is to return to Wellington Wells.
If I remember correctly, the final game will have three playable characters and the game world will be twice as large. Because I’ve gotten stuck a couple of times while playing the alpha, I’m not really sure where the current game ends. From what I have played, it’s difficult to see how the full game can have a happy ending.
We Happy Few is a survival game. While I do enjoy a good survival game, this one can be particularly challenging. Not only do you need to manage your hunger, thirst, and weariness, but you also need to avoid the suspicion of NPCs, the occasional booby trap, and various sicknesses like food poisoning and the plague. I’ve found that a very slow, deliberate playthrough is a little easier, if more tedious for some players.
Sleeping outside the sewers (your safe zone) seems to always be a bad idea because you’ll wake up surrounded by angry NPCs–then you need to kill or be killed. You also need to be careful about suspicious activities like breaking into coin boxes in phone booths, rifling through mailboxes, and taking items from drawers. If an NPC doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll likely attack you. If one NPC attacks, more will probably gang up on you.
One of the biggest challenges comes from some design elements that can be improved. For example, the item menu is difficult to manage. Not only is it difficult to see which items are which, but it’s often difficult to see where your cursor is. It would be nice if items were color-coded by type. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken some form of medicine that I thought was food. Even though the icons are different, some are very small.
I think there could also be improvements to the map. You can’t place markers on the map and there are no prompts telling you where to go for any of the quest lines. It usually takes me many hours of gameplay to not get lost, so I found myself consulting the map a lot. It was a slightly irritating process. The player is even more dependent on the map because the game is procedurally generated. In English, that means the map changes each time you start a new game. No matter how many times you play it, you’ll have to re-familiarize yourself with the world every time.
The aesthetic for We Happy Few is very unique. The dystopian nature of the world fits surprisingly well in 1960s England. Somehow the dark, yet somewhat humorous, tone is perfect for England. The look of the game is also very consistent–every element belongs. That makes for an immersive experience.
It looks like, as far as the other Downer NPCs go, there are only 3-5 character models (maybe a few more). Normally this might get slightly annoying, especially since each NPC has a unique name. However, Compulsion Games neatly sidesteps this issue. Arthur, the player character, will occasionally comment that everyone looks the same and wonder if it’s an effect of Joy. Well done.
It’s a fun game with a unique setting. The lines are well-written and at times quite humorous. I’m not sure that I would recommend playing the alpha, since there are quite a few bugs. Based on what I have seen of the alpha, I definitely recommend getting the full game when it comes out.