After a long and turbulent development period and an early access release, We Happy Few is finally available in its (mostly) finished form. However, does it have what it takes to make this reviewer happy?
The history of We Happy Few is rather interesting. Upon announcement, it garnered a significant amount of attention for its narrative and setting. Developer Compulsion Games revealed at the time that they were planning to make its campaign in a roguelike style but I think that message didn't connect with most gamers who were expecting a narrative-heavy action-filled adventure in the vein of BioShock. Once We Happy Few released via early access, players got their first taste of the gameplay and many were turned off by the overall structure and as a result, most of its hype died down. To Compulsion's credit, they took a lot of player feedback in redesigning the game but the deflated hype compounded with delays resulted in a far less celebrated release than they expected after their initial reveal.
Knowing We Happy Few's history helps me understand how it came to be the amalgamation of mechanics and genres that it currently is: first-person melee combat, exploration, survival and crafting, stealth, and a dash of horror thrown in. While it's quite an ambitious project, it mostly just falls flat on its face. That being said, its one shining feature is its narrative that takes place in the always happy town of Wellington Wells in an alternate version of the 1960s where Germany won World War II and controls most of Europe. Citizens drug themselves several times a day by ingesting Joy pills that blank their short term memory and give them a sense of euphoria.
In the story's first act, you play as Arthur who comes across a specific news article that jolts his Joy-addled brain into action as it reminds him of a tragedy that happened with his brother Percy many years ago. This sends him off the rails and after other citizens of Wellington Wells find out he's no longer taking Joy, he is removed from the city and cast to the wastelands outside of town. The plot continues with Arthur's story then later acts allow you to play as other characters to help fill in pieces of the narrative and history of Wellington Wells. The entire plot is rather interesting and a decent reward for plodding through We Happy Few's far less engaging aspects.
One of the biggest issues with We Happy Few is that the missions are simply unexciting. They either consist of fetch quests, beating up baddies, or stealthily avoiding detection. The combat is rather dull as it's played through a very simple first-person melee setup where you're armed with a weapon like a shovel or pipe and sort of just dance around enemies and attack and block as necessary. The stealth is even worse; mostly because the AI is extremely dumb and can be rather glitchy by getting stuck in places that you need to cross.
We Happy Few's survival aspects feel half-baked, too, probably because the developers scaled up and down their importance multiple times. There are several meters you have to manage such as hunger, thirst, sleep, and Joy but for the most part, they don't affect anything much. It's also extremely easy to eat or drink something so they mostly end up being unnecessary nags that you have to address every so often. It's also fairly intimidating for new players to the genre to see all these meters in the pause menu. Crafting is equally as indistinct. You can make healing items which is nice but I found myself never bothering to craft blueprint weapons or anything else as I settled for the bounty of weapons and items that I was able to collect while exploring.
The epitome of boredom sets in whenever you're in the city of Wellington Wells. It's vibrant and interesting but you literally can't do anything in it. You can't run, jump, duck, or steal. Doing any of those things will quickly arouse the suspicion of townsfolk and constables, resulting in a mean beat down and having to restart from your latest checkpoint. I triggered their ire regularly by accidentally walking into restricted areas or near a crime scene and even searching an item which was considered stealing for some strange reason. Each time it happened, I had no choice but to endure a beating then restart after a long load screen.
Outside of Wellington Wells is a bit more exciting but far less visually appealing with plenty of repeated structures and assets. In the outskirts, you can actually steal things, explore new areas to reveal the map, and potentially survive encounters that may arise against weaker foes. However, the problem with exploring is that you'll quickly realize that there aren't many interesting things to search for. Every chest you find seems to contain the same few things and nothing you discover ever provides an exciting weapon or ability.
Even chatting with NPCs as you explore is completely futile as they seem to just pull random phrases from a bank of responses. Usually, what you say to them and what they say to you doesn't align in the slightest. Speaking of which, We Happy Few's performance could use some work as well. After completing a mission, it was about a 50/50 chance whether the mission marker would actually disappear from the map. Load times are long and occasionally, you'll have it freeze up for a few seconds as your run through certain areas.
We Happy Few is an ambitious title with an interesting premise but it fails to deliver on the things that make a video game fun to play.
- + Intriguing premise and story that will make you want to see it through to the end
- - Uninteresting missions and dumb rules that actively make it less fun to play
- - Dull combat, stealth, and crafting
- - Superfluously obtrusive survival elements