When we first saw playable footage of We Happy Few at this year’s E3, it took most people by surprise. A unique looking title that seemed to have its own weird, sci-fi/dystopian visual style to it was enough to bring it from virtual unknown to talk of the show. I’ll admit I didn’t know what to expect of this survival horror game set in an alternate 60’s England, but it seemed like I wouldn’t have to wait long. An early access version of the game was coming to Steam and the Xbox One, so soon enough, I’d be able to get some hands on time with the game.
Well, after diving into the alpha for some time, I think I can safely say that We Happy Few certainly tries to incorporate the best of many video game worlds — but it doesn’t seem quite there yet.
For those unaware, We Happy Few drops players into an alternate, dystopian version of England circa 1960. Society has seemingly undergone some sort of collapse, and the entire population has become addicted to a sort of antidepressant drug called Joy, which, as its name states, removes any bad thoughts you might be having. It’s certainly an interesting premise, and one that can easily drag people into the story. The only problem is that there’s very little story to experience in this alpha.
The early access version of We Happy Few kicks off in the same sequence that the E3 demo does. The game drops you into Wellington Wells, where you play as Arthur, a Censor for the government. While you’re sorting out newspaper clippings and redacting what may or may not be deemed unpleasant information for the general public, you come across a paper that deals with you directly and your Joy begins to wear off. It’s there that the game takes a twisted turn, and honestly, it is a pretty great opening. Unfortunately, that’s as much as you’re given in terms of story, with a majority of it still having to be finished and implemented into the game.
After the intense beginning, Arthur finds himself awakening in an underground safe house (how he got here after being seemingly captured by the police, I’m not sure) underneath a ghetto where those who refuse Joy – “Downers” – get placed. It’s here that We Happy Few truly starts, and where we’re introduced to some of the core mechanics of the game. When I first heard of the game, I assumed it would be a fairly linear, Bioshock-esque survival horror game. However, the game leans much more on its survival aspect than anything.
Housed inside the procedurally generated areas (the game features a “permadeath” option, which resets the world whenever you die) is a game that will have you needing to scavenge, craft, and stave off things like thirst, hunger, disease, and even fatigue in order to survive. While all of these might very well make for a challenging experience, the alpha does little to teach you anything. Once you make it outside, you’ll find that the starting area is filled with war-torn houses and creepy (if not very similar) Downers that instantly attack you on sight.
Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge deal in a game like this, but as stated above, survival is the key aspect of this game. Thankfully, you’re allowed to turn off the permadeath options in the game for a more merciful “second wind” feature because, quite frankly, it’s pretty damn hard to stay alive in We Happy Few. Water, food, and sleep gauges deplete at an insane pace, which take away from allowing you to explore to instead keeping you paranoid about which rotten fruit you might find next. Combat is equally difficult, and I found myself getting outnumbered fairly quickly, which means near instant death if you don’t have a (tough to find) effective weapon.
Despite the hardships of surviving in the game’s world, there is a lot to be seen. Once you get into a rhythm, you’ll start to make your way out of the ghetto and begin getting new missions. Soon, you’ll be salvaging blueprints and building better gear to fend off the masses. When you make it back to Wellington Wells, the game turns up the “horror” aspect, as you’ll notice that you have to act (and look) the part of a normal citizen in order to avoid being clubbed to death by the creepily masked townsfolk. When the sun sets, the game gets even tougher as you have to avoid the police (who always seem on high alert) as well as navigate a poisonous smog that flows through the city.
As it stands, We Happy Few isn’t what I’d call a particularly fun game. It’s stylish and unique. This isn’t a story that’s been done before, and there is a lot of potential within the game to make for a great story. As far as gameplay goes, it’s clear the game is in very early access. There just doesn’t seem to be enough to make me want to keep playing (in terms of gameplay or story), and I left with a sense that a lot is being wasted currently.
While the survival aspect of the game is incredibly promising, it’s a bit too weighed against the player for now. Thankfully, all hope is not lost. The game is still in a very early alpha phase, and a lot of things haven’t been added. Arthur is only one of many protagonists in the game, and it’s clear that the team is still working on a ton of stuff in the gameplay department itself. It may not be good now, but it certainly has the building blocks to become great.
When I first heard of We Happy Few, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After playing it, I’m still not sure what to expect. My hope is that Compulsion Games narrows their focus to the stealth-action combat and trims some of the fat, so to speak. Either way, the game managed to completely shake up what I had assumed it was, and instead presented me with a game that has the potential to grow into something truly unique, which is a hard thing to do in today’s gaming world.
This preview was based on a digital code for the We Happy Few alpha preview version on the Xbox One, provided by Compulsion Games.