The concept of We Happy Few is suspensefully interesting and quirky in many ways, but the experience you get is marred by an ensemble of technical issues and poorly paced scenarios. Although I kept trying my hardest to enjoy what the game had to offer, I found myself many times expressing frustration over how the game would stumble over itself. Frequent bugs and difficulty spikes made some spots of the game more trouble than they should’ve been, but it was big issues like crashes that totally ruined the experience for me. There is a good game behind the creepy smiles and mystery of We Happy Few, but I left feeling anything but happy in the time I spent playing it.
The story follows three characters who live within a society that is an alternate version of events following World War II, where the United States did not enter the war to help out the Allies. There’s a strong British influence in the dialogue and demeanor of characters, similar to a British television drama. Events take place within the town of Wellington Wells, which has its citizens walk around wearing white masks and taking a drug called Joy. The significance of all of this unravels slowly as you play through the game and see the perspective of all three playable characters, but whether it’s satisfying or not by the end will depend on if you like slower paced stories in your games.
The most interesting parts of We Happy Few involve the first-person gameplay and the role-playing and survival elements you manage throughout the game. You can shoot and fight in first person against enemies you encounter, as well as traverse most of the area within Wellington. Doing so does take effect in a few survival aspects, where you need to eat, drink, and sleep in order to keep your stamina and health full. Failing to do so will not kill you, but you’ll definitely feel the negative effects at crucial times. These survival elements never become too annoying unless you’re playing at harder difficulties, and even then you can manipulate how much they come into effect before you start the game.
The role-playing abilities come in the form of skill points and crafting with items you find on your travels, which are simple to utilize throughout but can become a chore as you get deeper into the story. You gain EXP by defeating enemies or completing various quests throughout Wellington, which you can use to spend your skill points on a few helpful abilities. Having an easier time in the game’s seemingly unfair sections requires you to have enough skills available to endure everything. There’s an element of stealth involved in a lot of areas, but most of the time you can still get by without having to be completely quiet.
The big problems with We Happy Few don’t come from anything within the core gameplay however, but from the technical parts of the game. There were many times when I lost a significant amount of gameplay due to the game crashing randomly on the console. The game’s auto save feature does bring you back to a previous checkpoint, but it can often be further back from events you may have already completed if you didn’t frequently save manually. This is a real problem when it happens during big part of the game’s story and you have to repeat a lot of what you already did just to get to where you left off, which is both not fun and incredibly frustrating.
The load times when you start the game and transitioning between areas is also a major issue. The game has some pretty long loading screens that can pop up when you enter a new area of Wellington. There were times when I was traveling to a new way point for a quest and stopped multiple times by load screens that would interrupt the action, including in places when I’m trying to sneak pass enemies lurking nearby. Loading also was long when starting up the game from a previous save after it crashed beforehand, which only added to the frustration. Why new areas aren’t able to load more sufficiently rather than interrupt the action is anybody’s guess, but this did no favors making We Happy Few a more enjoyable experience.
There is some downloadable content that mixes up the story and gameplay of We Happy Few, which is tied to the game’s season pass of content. The DLC scenario “The Came From Below” is the first in a series of side stories about other citizens of Wellington, only this one has a big sci-fi twist to it. The story follows lovers Roger Bacon and James Maxwell as they search for Dr. Faraday within an underground lab filled with evil robots. While the majority of the original game’s elements are the same, a few changes to the survival elements and weapons you obtain make this DLC scenario different.
You don’t have to worry a lot about eating and drinking, you gain access to a Ray Gun that can be used to solve puzzles, and you can find new items to open up new abilities and skills. Though not very difficult, the scenario does have some difficulty spikes that can make certain spots a little frustrating. This might be worth it for some people to check out, as well as the other forthcoming DLC scenarios, but if you’re not enjoying We Happy Few’s main game then you won’t find much else different here.
There’s a lot that needs improvement within We Happy Few. Many people will just check out of the game’s experience after going through a few crashes, but those who manage to stick with it might find something they’ll latch onto. While I liked the first-person and role-playing elements, I didn’t resonate too much with the survival aspects of the gameplay since they didn’t bother me too much throughout the experience. Unfortunately, anybody’s appreciation and enjoyment of these elements will be impacted way too much by all of the technical problems that plague We Happy Few, which is a real shame.
This review is based on a digital review code of We Happy Few for the PlayStation 4, provided by Gearbox Publishing.