We Happy Few is a survival game released in Early Access for Steam and as a Game Preview for the Xbox One on July 26, 2016. It’s being developed and published by @CompulsionGames and is expected to fully release in 2017. For more info check out their site.
We Happy Few launched on Steam and Xbox One in early access this past week and I was so excited that I dove right in. After their extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Compulsion Games seems to have gone the Early Access route to not only receive that invaluable player feedback but also help fund the rest of the game’s development. I’ve been fascinated by this title ever since I saw the first trailer last year showcasing the dystopic and peculiar world of Wellington Wells and its denizens. There is something quite beautiful and at the same time terrifyingly disturbing about the world built in We Happy Few and something that begs exploration. So I explored and what I found left me hungry for more.
Fancy some Joy?
Little is known about the actual story of We Happy Few. There is an introduction mission of sorts that explores the Big Brother-like character of Uncle Jack who appears to be the leader of Wellington Wells. Uncle Jack regulates his subjects through his personal police force and a mood affecting drug called Joy that warps the user’s perception of the world around them. If someone refuses to take their Joy then they’re a Downer and are either forced to take joy or otherwise “taken care of” by the police. This struggle to be free of the pharmaceutically induced mind control and either escape or uncover the truth of Wellington Wells’ leadership seems to be the main conflict at the heart of We Happy Few.
The story follows Arthur Hastings whose job is to go through old newspapers and censor out any unhappy stories or events. One day Arthur finds an article about himself as a young boy that triggers a panic in Arthur where he takes out his Joy and the player decides whether he takes it or not. This may be indicative of player choices playing a larger role in the final story but for the game preview there was such a small snippet of the story so players could only make once consequential choice.
Things go downhill fast for Arthur. He stumbles through his office clearly worked up about the incident and quickly becoming concerned. Things come to a front when his co-workers discover he’s a downer and sound the alarm. Fleeing to the sewers, Arthur barely escapes the authorities and awakes in almost a bunker-like room. And this is where the game gets really interesting.
Survival of the Saddest?
Arthur wakes up after escaping the city in an underground safe house. It’s at this point that the survival part of the preview begins. Arthur must now account for his sleep, hunger, thirst and health. If any of these fall too low he will begin to die and depending on what settings the player selected that death may result in a permanent game over. The survival elements are largely inspired by games like Don’t Starve. Exploring the world around home base uncovers the player’s map and so it’s to your advantage to explore as much as possible. Supplies are gained through exploring abandoned houses, completing quests for the other denizens of the derelict neighbourhood and scavenging the ruins of destroyed buildings. These supplies can be used to craft more sophisticated tools and items such as first aid kits and weapons. These more sophisticated items can be made available for crafting by acquiring blueprints from books, other people or just scavenging. It’s all pretty straightforward for anyone who has played a survival game before.
The other citizens are what makes survival really challenging if not outright frustrating. It may be a result of the game’s early state but I found that the other characters were very sporadic and unpredictable. According to the game’s wiki, these outside dwellers are called “Wastrels” and are immune to Joy’s effects. According to We Happy Few’s wiki, after years of being forced to live on the outside and remember the horrible times that led to the current state of Wellington Wells, the Wastrels have gone “insane”. This may be why while I was playing I would be walking down the street past several people and out of nowhere someone starts beating me with a cricket bat until I died. While these random encounters with NPCs definitely didn’t dampen my experience too much, though it was certainly frustrating.
Buggy as all Hell
The game did open with a message making it loud and clear that this game was going to be incredibly buggy and would probably crash, freeze, eat my save and be generally poor performing. But that said I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy the preview unless they can put up with the bugs or want to own it at the discounted price. I encountered dozens of bugs from random objects clipping through the environment to missions not clearing once completed to the mini map not moving if it was too far zoomed out. These bugs never carried over into my moment to moment gameplay, however. Fighting always felt fair and crafting never glitched out. Even the basic survival elements like eating drinking and sleeping always had their desired effects.
So if you want to experience the core We Happy Few systems of survival and combat and are willing to push through a noticeably buggy game then I highly recommend picking up the preview. At the very least you’ll get the full game at a discounted price, and I have a feeling that after another year’s worth of development, We Happy Few is going to be a very special experience.