Originally announced early in 2015 and funded by Kickstarter that summer, it’s no secret that We Happy Few has had a rocky development process. The game was listed on Steam’s Early Access the following year where players could get their hands on it for $29.99. Still in Early Access the price to play jumped up to a “discounted” $50.99 in August of 2017 after Compulsion Games announced that they would be adding reworking NPC AI and adding a campaign mode. At the time, Gearbox defended the spike in price, but after an extended period of time without any significant updates, they began offering refunds and pulled We Happy Few from steam in April of this year.
And now we’re here. After three years of PR turbulence, we’ve finally reached release day. But was it worth the original hype or will we all have to dope ourselves with Joy to forget this horrible experience?
The short answer is yes. But this game was made with a specific audience in mind and certainly does not cater to our inner action hero.
The story of We Happy Few takes us deep into a dark world seeping with mystery. An account of how the world fell into despair unfolds through three different acts, each featuring unique playable characters and intertwining tales. The game opens with a familiar scene featuring Arthur, the news paper censor who comes across an article that brings back a few unpleasant memories. He quickly reaches for his bottle of Joy, the magical happy pill that makes everything swell in Wellington Wells. If you choose to take the happy pill, the game’s credits roll and you continue to live a happy life. But if you toss it to the side, it’s not long before you’re discovered as a “Downer” and you must flee for your life.
Arthur’s knack for speed makes it easy for him to sprint away and escape danger. After the completion of Arthur’s story, players move onto Sally Boyle, who is more slower and therefore more stealth focused. Lastly, you play as Ollie Starkey, the big loud Scottish brute that I personally adore.
We Happy Few is a game that mixes stealth, crafting, and combat together in a manner that holds it back from ever feeling like an action game, and that is a very good thing. What makes this game effective is that you never stop feeling like a normal citizen. The characters you play as certainly aren’t hopeless, but they definitely aren’t heroes either. Whether you’re distracting guards by tossing small objects, outrunning the Bobbies, or crafting objects, your characters always feel like they are average people who have learned these skills out of nothing more than necessity.
Need a lockpick? Make it out of bobby pins. What about a weapon? Pick up a branch, a rock, and some duct tape to build a basic club. Each item you craft is made from every day items or plants found around the world. Nothing you create lasts forever either. Weapon degradation and limited uses force you to constantly be on the look out for spots to loot crafting materials. Keeping your inventory stocked with healing items is the only way to survive.
As you complete quests and sidequests, you earn points that can be allocated to a skill tree making your character grow, but nothing so powerful that it’s game breaking. Each level of increased health adds an additional fifty percent to maximum health. Other upgrades grant players the ability to hear enemies from farther away, or make their stealth takedowns quieter than before. But each of these upgrades both cost a great deal of points and only add nominal bonuses, never making you feel like an action hero.
While We Happy Few has taken a very stylistic approach to their animation, there are times when it works for them and times that it doesn’t. I encountered a number of NPCs whose dialogue didn’t remotely match up with their animation. The charicaturesque character design at times pulled me right out of the otherwise engrossing world.
When it works, it really really works. The true success of We Happy Few is how effectively it tells stories of you travelling through the environment. Radio broadcasts, letters strewn about, and vandalized posters tell a deeper story of this dark imagining of a not-so-great Britain. It reminds me quite a bit of my first time through Bioshock‘s Rapture. We’ve uploaded a short gameplay video to give you an example of such designs:
Compulsion Games already detailed a number of their post launch plans, expanding on this twisted world. Players who enjoy We Happy Few can look forward to a free update that will build upon what’s there as well as a sandbox mode. But for anyone who purchases the deluxe edition or the Season Pass, there are three new stories to look forward to. Compulsion Games has provided a brief description for “We All Fall Down”, “Lightbearer”, and “Roger & James in: They Came From Below”:
We All Fall Down- Much like any well-worn happy mask, all societies develop cracks in their veneer. But that doesn’t mean you should go digging up dirt from the past. Right? *pops a Joy pill* Right!
Lightbearer- Heartthrob, artist, and personal trainwreck, Nick Lightbearer is Wellington Wells’ most celebrated rock star—but what truly makes him tick? Tune in to Uncle Jack’s late show to find out.
Roger & James in: They Came From Below!- Precocious Roger and Impetuous James set off in search of adventure and love, only to uncover bizarre technology and a terrifying new threat. All is not as it seems. Or is it exactly as it seems?
We Happy Few is an atmospheric first-person survival game that tells its tales well. But the overall gameplay feels a bit sluggish, almost as if it was running on a game engine from 2007. For anyone seeking an action game or a pure stealth game, We Happy Few is most likely not for you. This game was made for people who like to play in the sandbox and be told a good story while smacking a few goons around. It’s a bit rough around the edges at the moment, but nothing a patch can’t fix.
The stylistic animation does wonders for atmosphere, but technical stutters distract.
We Happy Few has a solid system of game mechanics built around the core gameplay, but it sometime feels like it’s running on an out of date engine.
SFX and music cues are perfectly timed and pull you deeper into this fallen kingdom.
There’s plenty of fun to be had for anyone seeking a new world to explore and steal from.
Final Verdict: 8.0
We Happy Few is available now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
A copy of We Happy Few was provided by the publisher.