Shortly after World War II, the people of an isolated society in Europe try to forget the war by constantly taking a happiness drug called Joy. They lose their ability to think clearly, and start to go insane. The premise alone of We Happy Few is enough to draw tons of attention and interest. Everything about this plot sounds great. First off, we can expect to find a retro-futurism theme present in the game – something we always love to see. Secondly, there’s obviously going to be shape-shifting visuals due to the Joy drug and desire for happiness by its victims. We Happy Few seems like a recipe for success, but does its gameplay stack up?
We Happy Few combines RPG and survival-horror components in an open-world environment. Taking inspiration from franchises like Fallout and Bioshock, the game delivers a great universe that could stay fresh for years. Also, many locations and items in the game are procedurally generated, further adding to the freshness. The object of the game isn’t set in stone, as it’s non-linear with various quests, but I actually think We Happy Few could benefit from a linear plot. Although we try to stay away from undeviating storylines these days, this game doesn’t feel quite right as an open-world RPG. Even a few more cutscenes would give some needed direction to the player. I wanted to have a movie-like experience with my preview of We Happy Few, but couldn’t find anything more than an opening sequence being offered. Hopefully, more guidance will be present in the final form of the game, rather than just a few more story quests and a conclusion being added.
As I already mentioned, your main objective isn’t streamlined. I spent most of my time wandering around, looting random houses and people for items. My strategy was to pick up as many items as possible, and make sense of them after filling up some inventory space. A crafting system must be utilized in order to advance through certain areas of the game. Luckily, you’re notified when you need to craft something to proceed. I found the crafting feature to be well-implemented and self-explanatory. Every item you find has some purpose, whether it be immediately, or a couple hours down the road. So, it’s always a smart idea to hold onto everything, even a rotten carrot.
We Happy Few is primarily advertised as a “survival” game, but I surprisingly found those features to be the most awkward. As a whole, the game felt like a standard RPG with a bunch of random survival meters slapped on. Specifically, food, hunger, and sleep counters constantly bug you and drain extremely quickly. Every time I was in the middle of a quest or exploring a building, I was interrupted by a hunger warning. Although ignoring the survival components won’t kill you, there are certain movement and regeneration penalties for doing so. Also, your character will occasionally become sick or injured. With all these factors ticking at all times, I felt less anxious and more like a zombie as I played through the game. Some would argue that’s the point, but I’d rather play Fallout than stumble around as a starving, sleep-deprived, alcoholic (because I couldn’t find a water source but had tons of beer).
Combat in the game is 100% melee from what I experienced. Your character’s fists are surprisingly durable, but a weapon always helps in battle. Bringing up survival again, I never really was randomly attacked by anyone. Every time I found myself fighting, it was after I had initiated a scuffle or started robbing someone in front of their face. In a dystopian world, I would imagine there would be gangs and corrupt police trying to rob you, but everyone in We Happy Few just walks around aimlessly. It was nice not having to deal with any of that, but somewhat unrealistic.
The best part of the game was its subtle horror. You constantly hear the creepy voice of a live-action clown named “Uncle Jack”. This Big Brother type character appears to be the primary antagonist of the game, and he’s everywhere. Even in my underground bunker, Uncle Jack appeared on a TV and told everyone to hunt down anyone who doesn’t take Joy. Also, the effects of WWII are apparent with destroyed houses and vandalized buildings. It will be interesting to see if Uncle Jack’s backstory is explained and if he has anything to do with the conclusion of the game.
We Happy Few still has some development work ahead, but I’m not sure if any of its core features will be altered. Fortunately, the game’s developers have promised a story, but it might be a long wait. “Early Access” games are always a strange case, as fairly judging them isn’t really possible. I’m hoping for the best with We Happy Few, but it’s definitely far from finished.