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We Happy Few

Posted by GG Goblin On August - 23 - 2018

Give me some Joy.

The road to release for Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few has been turbulent to say the least. From an exciting unveiling back in 2015 that suggested the sort of dystopian setting that would get BioShock fans excited, through to a launch on Game Preview that was less than welcomed, We Happy Few has been discussed and dissected so much in the recent past that the actual launch feels somewhat underwhelming. The final product may not be what the players were expecting all that time ago, and certainly still feels like an unfinished product. However, by casting aside expectations and making some allowances, there is still the beating heart of an interesting game to be found, and mind-altering drugs are not required.

whf1 (Copy)

For those who have not been following the trials and tribulations of the games development, We Happy Few is set in an alternate 1960s Great Britain. Germany won World War II and as a result Great Britain suffered dearly. In answer to all of this suffering, the government came up with an extreme solution which involved having their population take a drug called Joy. This drug basically hides all of the bad stuff by suppressing the memories of the user, while also making them overwhelmingly happy.

The problem comes from the fact that the inhabitants of Wellington Wells have become so dependant on the drug that those who choose not to use it are classed as “Downers” and will suffer the wrath of the drug-induced population, which includes being cast out of town, and beaten to within an inch of their life. This , of course, plays into the games narrative as the first of three playable characters through the game, Arthur, chooses to stop taking the potentially dangerous drug and begins to remember the past. Believe me when I say that the world is a very different place, and really quite disturbing, when Arthur stops taking his Joy. Prepare to be shocked.

We Happy Few is essentially a narrative-driven survival game. Players will take the roles of three quite different characters through the course of the game, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, along with motivations and approach to solving problems. The game is set in a relatively large open world and the player is quite able to head away from the beaten track set by whatever mission the story has them focused on, to explore and find side quests. The quests do tend to lean towards the more mundane type of fetch quest, but the option is there.

whf2 (Copy)

Being a survival game, there is a lot of emphasis on things like thirst and hunger. While the player can adjust how much importance is placed on stats like these within the difficulty settings, including tweaking the importance of combat or stealth, playing on normal will keep the player hunting for food, water and the like, which will take up a fair chunk of their time. Things get even more complicated when taking into account the existence of food and drink that can actively make the player ill.

Crafting is an essential part of any survival game, and the crafting system in We Happy Few is surprisingly robust. The crafting is straight forward and easy enough to navigate, but not all of the items that can be crafted are that useful. Bandages will be needed to stop bleeding, while purified water can be made to offer water without the added Joy, and different outfits required to get safely into different areas of the world, will all need the player to be constantly on the look out for ingredients.

Perhaps the most important part of the game is the stealth and the ability to fit in. It is here that there are moments of pure genius that, if they work properly, are incredibly enjoyable. The different clothes that a player wears will dictate how easily they can move around a given area. For example, out of the town players may find that their fancy suit attracts attention, while other areas may require something even fancier. Being able to move around without being watched or chased is important, and being that people on Joy can easily spot a Downer, and there are even places which detect if someone is not taking their Joy, there will come times when the player will have to pop some Joy just to progress.

whf3 (Copy)

This is a double edged sword though, as the drug can cause hallucinations that will have the player doubting what they can see. Use the drug too much and the player will become more and more unable to distinguish reality from drug-induced fantasy, and will start losing their memories.

So, players can pop a pill and blend in, able to strut around the area, enjoying the beautiful colours while greeting other people in the street. However, once the effects of the drug start to wear off, the developers have done a brilliant job of transitioning the world back to reality. The colour fades along with the happiness, and the psychedelic environments become much more depressing.

Sadly, despite the sneaking around or trying to blend in, there will come times when fighting is the only solution. Unfortunately, the combat in We Happy Few is not very good, and seems obviously stacked against the player. The answer, forget combat all together and run away if it looks like a fight will break out. It’s a shame, but the combat is just too frustrating to do anything but avoid.

Despite all of that time in Game Preview and Early Access, We Happy Few is still fairly packed with bugs and glitches. Nothing really seems to be game breaking, at least in my time with the game, but there are plenty of graphical glitches and wonky AI settings to break the immersion. Hopefully these will be cleaned up in the coming weeks/months, but it is still unforgivable for a supposedly finished product.

whf4 (Copy)

The magnificent dystopian setting of We Happy Few is certainly enough to get any gamer excited, and there are some nice ideas in the game that make it even worth playing. However, the game feels muddled in what it is aiming for, and unfinished in the number of issues that are present. There is a lot of game here, perhaps too much, but many of the problems could end up being fixed and the result could well be the game that players want. At the moment, We Happy Few is a flawed but unique game with a great setting. Now, where’s my Joy?




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