We Happy Few is a game that has been highly anticipated and is now available in early access. The game is set in the 1960’s in a dystopian world where things aren’t what they seem.
Developed Compulsion Games, We Happy Few is an interesting survival game set in a dystopian, retro-futuristic English town known as Wellington Wells. Upon starting the game, it instantly reminded me of the Bioshock series, along with many films like A Clockwork Orange. You play as a timid character called Arthur who is working in what seems like a fairly ordinary job, sorting out newspaper articles for the publics ‘best interests.’ The inhabitants are taking pills known as “joy” which are some kind of hallucinogen, making the world around Arthur seem like an idyllic and pleasant place to exist.
It soon becomes clear, after Arthur sees past family members in a newspaper article, that the world isn’t quite what it seems and I chose to not take my next dose of Joy. This leads to Arthur being outed as a “Downer” and therefore becomes dangerous in the eyes of the guards patrolling the world. You’re put into the game world pretty quickly after the brief introduction and immediately find yourself scrambling to find resources and escape the ever looming threat. During your escape you’re knocked out and awaken in some sort of bunker, before heading up a ladder into the chaotic world above.
The game is essentially a survival game, with you searching for water, food and places to rest. What makes the game so interesting is that the world is procedurally generated, with elements of stealth and plenty of crafting. It’s clear from the start that the people wandering the streets are not that normal as they shout obscenities and throw abuse at you as you pass. Houses are crumbling and windows and doors are boarded up. The procedurally generated aspect means that the town is different every time you play. The game in its current state doesn’t have much of a narrative once you enter the town, but there are various missions and tasks to carry out. The tasks seem to be fairly mundane and uninspired but it seems like the main goal is to cross a large bridge by gathering various objects.
The most important thing to mention about We Happy Few is that once you die, you restart over with brand new missions and the layout of the world also changes. This is both frustrating but also genius, as it gives the game replayability and a tonne of tension. If you don’t want to play the game in this way you can in fact turn off the permadeath, if you’re afraid of losing progress. My main fascination with the game was the random encounters and interactions I had with other dwellers. Some folk may appear friendly, often if they are after something, or strangers can turn on you in the blink of an eye and before you know it you’re being hunted down by hordes of angry townsfolk.
The combat in the game also feels surprisingly good, with lots of melee weapons to pick up and it all plays from a first person perspective. Weapons are degradable, meaning after a few swings it becomes useless. I loved the tension that pulsates constantly during the game and when the day slowly turns to night it feels even more nerve-wracking and sinister. You will find that the villagers around you aren’t afraid to speak their mind and pretty much anything you do, whether it’s approaching a house or taking water, they can suddenly turn on you and before you know it you’re fighting to stay alive. What makes the game so tense is that you’re searching constantly for items in order to survive, whilst avoiding the raving lunatics roaming the streets. This is both the games brilliance and downfall, as it makes for nail-biting gameplay but I almost wanted to have the freedom to explore the unique world around me. You also have the option to try and blend into the weird world around you, by changing clothes and acting like the other dwellers.
Many games use the idea of blending into the world around you, whether its Assassins Creed or Watchdogs, but here it almost feels essential in order to survive at times. Blending in though isn’t that easy as there are various checkpoints throughout the world that check if you’re still taking Joy. You can take Joy, but its important to be aware that the drug can wear off after a while. Taking the drug has its positives and negatives and it becomes a crucial factor to escaping. The game is also littered with items to collect and it’s a good idea to pick up as much as possible because you can craft some very handy tools and equipment to help make survival a bit less stressful. Your inventory is fairly substantial and you can also expand the number of active item slots as you progress. You will use items in a multitude of ways, whether its helping others with first aid or using weapons to apply brute force.
So far my time with the game has been great and knowing it’s still in its alpha stage, with no story driven focus, its been great fun. The only issues I had with We Happy Few were the various survival elements and how quickly the thirst, hunger and sleep bars deplete. I also found that the game did crash a couple of times, which I was told could happen in this early release, but the framerate in general was fine.
Overall, We Happy Few is a unique game that’s full of mystery, corruption and nerve-shredding tension. The setting and world around you is truly unsettling and I always felt like I was in danger and the villagers could turn on me at any moment. Some of the mechanics and performance issues need tweaking, which I’m sure will be addressed in upcoming updates.
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