I must admit, I’m finding it very hard starting my review of We Happy Few, and I’ll tell you why. I first came across this game quite a while ago now, two years in fact as as it’s been in early access. I’ve had some limited fun with it so far, as it was sold as a survival title, with mechanics in needing food, water and sleep to survive. Okay, so you didn’t die if these meters ran out, but it hindered you in things like fighting, sprinting and jumping. These mechanics made it into the final game and the story mode, with users in charge of their deterioration rates through difficulty levels.
Now, fast forward to today, and We Happy Few has been released into a full blown title, with intertwining story arks between the three playable protagonists. Now that the game has a narrative, jumping back into We Happy Few has been an incredibly different experience from the get go.
To give you a bit of backstory, We Happy Few is based in an almost futuristic-retro type town called Wellington Wells. Completely fictional, and it’s based in England. World War II has happened. the Nazis won, and are now taking UK born children to the German mainland causing catastrophe on the town. To control the UK residents of Wellington Wells, the Germans have introduced Joy, a drug that does what it says on the tin, makes people joyful and reduces the amount of uprising that goes on. For those of you who don’t take their Joy pills, it’s certain death as you’re outcast to the slums surrounding the main town, which is where you come in.
You start the game as Arthur Hastings, and after a very brief introduction, your given the choice to take some Joy to forget the harrowing circumstances your brother Percival is in, or to not take your Joy and remember. I chose not to take it on my playthrough and of course, was instantly recognised as someone who isn’t on Joy, specifically branded a Downer, and are quickly forced out of thew newspaper and fleeing for your life. The game opens up to a near open world setting to explore after leaving the safety of a bunker, which are later used as fast travel points by abandoned railway lines underground.
At first glance, the areas you visit do seem extremely large, but it some what ruined by the fact that there’s not really much to look at or explore. Yes there are lots of fields, and yes do come across pockets of abandoned structures, but there’s nothing inside except for some resources which quite frankly, you probably already have enough of to survive anyway. The game seems pretty generous with the things they give you. Rewards seemed very mundane and boring here.
Even secondary quests almost seemed to put you in the shoes of a delivery boy, making you go from one location to the next collecting X amount of things from that location and returning it. After a while I never really bothered with the side quests, as it was as the open landscape, very repetitive. I much more favoured the story line which in all honesty has actually been written rather well. And the voice acting and dialogue was great, and really gave a sense of setting, being British of course. Humour was pretty good here too, a couple of times I found myself giggling a little to what was said by the unique characters, especially Ollie, that character was definitely my favourite.
Combat, if you get into that situation as this is definitely primarily a stealth game felt quite robust. Favouring melee weapons here, each blow struck enemies with some conviction and the introduction of rag doll type physics when struck was a little immersive. However I never really explored beyond this. You have the ability to craft poisons for your weapons to cause some damage over time to enemies, but in most cases, a decent shovel or pipe did the job just as well. In fact, I never really crafted anything else other than healing balms, lockpicks and jimmy bars to get into crates. Except with Sally, who is somewhat reliant on chemical formulas to cause chaos in Wellington Wells.
If you however stick to the rules, then you should be fine, saying that with a pinch of salt. In all honesty, it’s so bloody hard to stick to the rules that most of the time I found myself sprinting away for my life to find a hiding place. And why certain yellow sunflowers were the only flora to give cover I have no idea. A dumb mechanic as there are bigger bushes in the game. Anyway, back to the rules. Certain areas have certain rules. For example, wear a nice clean suit in the slums, and the poverty stricken citizens will attack you. Wear a ripped suit in the cities, and you’re attacked there by the bourgeois.
However, I can’t be too harsh on the world that We Happy Few provides. For the most part, it does look pretty. If you’re running next-gen PC hardware, and can get over the fact that there are from time to time frame rate issues, then moving between the countryside into the drug-fuelled colours of the cities is refreshing. The post WWII retro world looks and feels authentic, an alternative type universe. However, immersion is broken quite quickly when you realise that there are only a few character models populating the world.
One problem is the fact that people disappear instantly when night or day hits. If you’re on the brink of flipping over to night time, NPCs that are currently populating the world all of a sudden disappear into thin air. There have even been a couple of instances where I activated a conversation with an NPC, night time hit and I ended up continuing to talk to nothing. The game doesn’t feel alive, and it’s almost as if the code is saying “right, we’ve hit 6pm, time to remove 60% of the inhabitants.” Then boom, they’re gone in a flash.
The second is the fact that there only seems to be a handful of character models actually walking around. It’s more noticeable in busier areas, and there have been times when I’ve stumbled across a small group with two or three NPCs all looking the same. Granted, they’re sometimes wearing different accessories, like a hat or some glasses, but the outfits and hairstyles are exactly the same.
The character progression however is a saving grace to some of the more annoying features of We Happy Few. It’s been designed around three trees, combat, stealth and the super-duper, the latter giving your characters the chance to carry more items without becoming overburdened, or choking out taller enemies. The first two are pretty obvious and involve skills such as harder hitting, chance to parry when you block incoming attacks, sneak more effectively right through to turning off game mechanics like odd behaviour causes people to attack you. It made my playthrough a little more sorted to my own style of gaming. If you are being chased by the inhabitants of Wellington Wells, it didn’t ever take long to lose them by hiding in a trashcan.
We Happy Few has done a great job on its narrative and character development, and there are some moments you can cherish. It’s just a shame that such a great story and setting has been wrapped in what almost looks like a copy and paste world with very little interesting things to discover outside of the main quest. Character development and perks make We Happy Few fun to match your playstyle, but there are some mechanics and useless crafting items that didn’t add much, if any, value to the actual experience. I enjoyed my time with We Happy Few, but I’m not sure I would have paid full price. Maybe wait for a patch to fit some of its issues first, then I would definitely recommend taking a look. For more information, you can head over to the We Happy Few Steam page.