We Happy Few Preview

Posted August 2, 2016 by Roshan Krishnan in Video Games

Developed by: Compulsion Games

Published by: Compulsion Games

Available for: PC (Steam Early Access) and Xbox One (Xbox Game preview)

Reviewed on: PC

After some stellar demos at the past couple of E3 conventions, We Happy Few is finally out on Xbox Game Preview and Steam Early Access. The game definitely seems to be further along than it was in pre-alpha, but it’s worth noting that the game is still in alpha—the game’s world is only about half completed and the game’s narrative is entirely absent (save for the prologue seen at this year’s E3). Bearing that in mind, We Happy Few is still a competent survival game with a few interesting mechanics that shake up the tried and tasted (if stale) formula used by Don’t Starve and its ilk.

We Happy Few’s gameplay loop is mechanically complex, but without sufficient depth, gets tiring quickly. The game features most of the mainstays of the survival genre like hunger, thirst, fatigue, and so on. Managing these status effects incentivizes foraging and exploring. Searching for unspoiled food is a lot harder when you’re sleep deprived. The tradeoffs found in most survival games are also present here: you can stay up all night hoarding resources, but you face a greater challenge when you’re sleepy, thirsty, and hungry. When a disgruntled homeowner beats you with a cricket bat, you’re going to really regret pulling an all-nighter. These interactions between the game’s systems could theoretically become much harder but as they stand right now, they are quite straightforward. In the starting area, water is nearly ubiquitous in the form of water pumps. Spoiled food also doesn’t act as a real impediment because of all the pills and antidotes for being sick. As you enter later areas, good food is quite easy to find. There is also a rudimentary market that lets you sell useless loot and buy important resources.

Joy time!

Things don’t look great. Oh well, Joy time!

On a related note, the game really picks up once you progress past the starting area into Hamlyn, the Wonderland-esque city of the non-Downers. Hamlyn has some of my favorite quests from the game and also features more threats in the form of the cartoonish Bobbies, who can easily overwhelm you with their clubs. Instead of isolating the game’s areas, We Happy Few does a great job of allowing players to backtrack. Traversing between the islands in Wellington Wells also brings forth its own challenges. The Downers don’t take too lightly if you wear a nice, shiny suit, while the drugged-up citizens of Hamlyn view anyone in a tattered suit with suspicion. Add some Joy gates to the borders, and you have a carefully laid out map.


Cheese it, it’s the fuzz!

In fact, the best mechanic in the game is Joy, an unassuming little pill that makes you forget about the dystopian, nightmare world in which you live. Joy plays a huge role in the game and adds an element of social stealth. It is possible to walk the streets of Hamlyn without being Joy-ed up, but the whole ordeal becomes more difficult. As the pill’s effects of euphoria and compliance wear off, you also “lose your buzz.” There are also various Joy gates that sound off an alarm if you aren’t on the pill. This mechanic adds more nuances to gathering resources. If you don’t save your Joy, you might find yourself cornered in a stranger’s home, awaiting retribution.

Crafting in the game is quite intuitive. For example, a torn suit can become a proper suit with a sewing kit. The recipes have only a few ingredients, making it easier to farm them. Secret recipes that craft extremely useful objects are also found in certain locations. Where the crafting system falters is in its depth. Food and shelter, two of the biggest pillars of survival gameplay, have nearly no connection to what you craft. Most survival games have some form of progression in cooking, from simple cooked meat to exotic meals. The precursors to these elements are definitely present in the world; there are a number of campfires in the Downer areas and most houses have stoves. Similarly, there is no base-building (yet?), meaning you sometimes have to walk really far just to find a bed.


I’m no expert, but sugar and water doesn’t make for a good diet

Fortunately, most of the game’s quests are quirky and whimsical enough to remain fun. One quest actually had me helping a cologne maker woo a girl. The interactions during such quests are almost always well-scripted and humorous, as opposed to interactions with random NPCs. There are also some clever references and interesting bits of lore in these quests. On the other hand, a few quests seem more like filler as they literally end up being straightforward fetch quests. These quests left a sour taste in my mouth, especially when they had a poor reward upon completion. In my opinion, the final game could definitely do away with such quests altogether, as I would rather play a game with fewer, tighter quests that make me want to keep playing the game.


It’s like Mission Impossible with crazy people

Where We Happy Few really excels is in its excellent art direction. Although some of the textures are overused, the game is still visually gorgeous. The characters look gangly and stylized, in line with the rest of the world. Every time I popped a Joy pill, I was amazed by the overall transformation of what I see. Even the lighting seemed to change to reflect my drugged state. Furthermore, the game is very atmospheric, and a story is sometimes told without any words. In a mission to rescue a kidnapped doll, you enter a house with a makeshift puppet theater. I interpreted this as a family’s last-ditch effort to stay sane. Of course, they end up trying to kill you after you find their creepy doll shrine covered with booby traps. Unfortunately, such moments aren’t as abundant as I would have liked. As the game’s open world is only half completed, I’m holding out hope for more of these immersive moments.


That doll did NOT look happy

We Happy Few definitely suffers from a range of glitches. The game sometimes fails to recognize that you have a certain item—something that is particularly frustrating when you need it to complete a quest. The AI logic is also sometimes puzzling. NPCs follow you relentlessly around the map for no reason and fail to reset between days. Quest objectives are also randomly reset. Graphically, the game often stutters and is prone to crash. On a high end PC, the game required multiple restarts in order to stop the stuttering. In the grand scheme of things, such glitches are mostly insignificant. As the game is still in alpha, I’m sure the developers are aware of such bugs.

In the end, whether you purchase this game is entirely dependent on your view of alpha games and Early Access titles. If you would like to support the game and have a say in its general direction, then We Happy Few is one of the most promising Early Access games to back. On the other hand, the game as it stands right now is more like a stylized Sir, You Are Being Hunted than a tight, narrative driven game with social commentary. However, I have high hopes for this game and definitely believe that it’s on the right track.

About the Author

Roshan Krishnan

Roshan is an avid writer and was recommended by four out of five doctors. He loves watching TV shows, reading as many novels as he can, and generally surfing the internet. He would be a much better writer if he knew how to finish stuf