The voice acting is pretty decent, believable and well-delivered for the most part, and the score is delightful – well, what there is of it – there just doesn’t seem to be that many original pieces of music in there.
The stylised art style of We Happy Few has potential, but like the rest of the game it isn’t fully realised. Regardless of that, the game is a technical mess from a visual standpoint, with characters defying physics and sometimes just straight up disappearing. That frame-rate too! Oof!
The combat is meh, the stealth is lacking and there are some bloody awful gameplay mechanics littered throughout. Some of the worst AI I’ve seen as well. It’s a bit of a mess.
The only reason this isn’t getting a 10% here is because of the truly memorable moments that can be found within the story. Otherwise, this running simulator is chock full of fetch quests and boring busy-work.
Easily the best part of the game, and that’s saying something. Some creativity, plenty of encouragement to do some of the game’s best missions and some good breadcrumbs to help you keep going. By no means an easy list, mainly because you have to fight the game’s mechanics.
August 16, 2018
Never in my life have I been so conflicted reviewing a game as I have been with We Happy Few. That isn’t hyperbole either, it generally was a hard game to review. Usually games fall into one of four categories: it’s awful, it’s alright, it’s good or it’s bloody great. We Happy Few falls into all four of those categories at varying times throughout. It’s a game with a crisis of identity, a game that is more hot and cold than Katy Perry and one that has utterly confused me to my core.
We Happy Few sees players step into the shoes of three protagonists in jolly ol’ little England – in a small town called Wellington Wells – during an alternate 'retrofuturistic' mid-1960s, twenty years after the Germans won the war. This bleak dystopian alternate reality sees inhabitants in the more civilised areas depend on a drug called Joy, while those who refuse to take their Joy – or no longer can, for health reasons – are branded as Downers and are sent to spend the rest of their days in the dilapidated Garden District, to live out their lives in squalor. Throughout your time playing as Arthur, Sally and Ollie, whose stories intertwine, you’ll find yourself evading the authorities, taking your Joy to fit in and trying to survive in a world that probably isn’t even worth surviving in.
The Joy, I should mention, is truly a great and unique mechanic that brightens up your perspective on the world with more vibrant colours, and even rainbows and trippy skies to boot. Its implementation, well, that’s all a little bit awkward, like a lot of things in We Happy Few. At times it feels constrictive, forced and against the spirit of video games in general.
Compulsion Games’ latest title is equal parts narrative-driven and equal-parts survival game, all taking place in a rather large open-world sandbox. On their own, each would be a decent effort at its respective genre, but together the game has a tough time excelling on its own with the two genres often bumping heads with one another to an unsatisfying degree. It’s like having two friendship circles made up of decent human beings on their own, but get them together and they never see eye-to-eye.
Admittedly the survival mechanics have been dialled back somewhat since the game’s early access stage, but they still stick out like a sore thumb. Constantly eating, drinking and taking medication to fight numerous diseases is not enjoyable even one iota. It’s a chore. In fact, the game itself is actually just one big giant chore, with the emphasis on quantity over quality, which speaks to the core of the game itself.
The open-world is pretty damn big, but all the streets and buildings in their respective areas look the same. There are a ton of missions – both story and side – but for the most part they involve mundane fetch quests over some seriously long distances or go-there-and-beat-this-person-up style missions. The world itself is full of colourful characters… that all look and talk like one another – heck, there’s a small, elderly woman model in the more affluent areas that seems to be lurking around every corner. It’s lazy game development… well, I say lazy, but it’s clear that there’s an issue with a lack of resources here. We Happy Few is an ambitious game for a large development studio, let alone for a relatively small indie studio. Wellington Wells in all is an intriguing and alluring vision, one that isn’t executed even remotely well.
We Happy Few possibly has more baffling design choices than I’ve ever experienced in a video game though. It’s an open-world game with crafting and plenty of tools at your disposal, meaning you can play it stealthily or aggressively, until that moment where it gives you another character who has different mechanics and is super shit at stealth. Arthur’s mechanics are equal parts combat and stealth; Sally’s revolve around survival and stealth; while Ollie’s are combat and survival based, meaning that stealth is a bit of a chore when it comes to the latter two. Sally can't even perform a traditional takedown without certain gear, meaning stealth isn’t really an option at times in We Happy Few, which is a bit naff considering the combat isn’t all that to start with.
Let’s talk design decisions for a minute, because We Happy Few has some of the most infuriating design decisions around, especially when it comes to Sally and Ollie. Ollie, for instance, is a diabetic, meaning you have to keep your blood-sugar level under control throughout your playthrough. If you don’t maintain Ollie's blood-sugar level, it has severe penalties, with low blood sugar halving your health and your stamina until you’ve self-medicated; while high blood sugar causes your health to slowly decline. In a game where some resources are hard to come by, that is a pain in the fucking arse – I spent an hour of Ollie’s 4-5 hour playthrough searching for honey because the trees I tried to extract it from had bugged out. I genuinely can’t think of a worse mechanic in video games.
One of the most baffling design decisions in the game is putting a curfew on the city at night. It makes sense from a narrative perspective, yes, but sneaking around Wellington Wells in the evenings is nothing but tedious. It’s interminable. You can get a perk for two of the three characters to be curfew-proof at night, so clearly Compulsion isn’t really all about the immersion after all. It’s all quite mind-boggling. There’s no way to put this other than: the game’s stealth mechanics aren’t good enough for stealth to become a staple mechanic for a third of an in-game day.
The same counts with running as well, in fact. Run in the city and people get suspicious, then everyone turns on you, causing you to run some more. That is until you get a perk late on, of course, where people no longer think that you running around is suspicious. Speaking of running, We Happy Few is effectively a running simulator: get quest, run to get item, run back; get caught stealing, run; someone turns on you in the city, run; and if all else fails in a main story mission, just run. This wouldn’t be so bad, but the game has a stamina system that has you gasping for breath every five seconds or so. That, and you pretty much spend 95% of your time running around the open-world, dashing from one objective to the next. Dear Esther and Gone Home ushered in the era of the walking simulator, We Happy Few is most definitely not going to usher in the era of the running simulator. It’s likely to be more well known for having more backtracking than a current-day politician than anything else, to be completely honest.
Then there’s the tech side. Oh dear. We Happy Few is broken and barely acceptable at times, and it blows our collective minds that anyone would put out a game in this state. For starters, the frame-rate on consoles is shonky; then on top of that there’s a ton of pop-in items and textures throughout, the load-times are nothing short of ridiculous and other NPCs often float on nothing, disappear into thin air or just straight up walk straight through stuff. Then there’s the AI, which is similarly terrible; one of the worst examples I’ve ever come across in fact. On top of that there’s the random load-screens, some of which lock you in place when you come out of them; the weird animation of climbing over objects; and the missions that just completely bug out, meaning you can’t complete them. We Happy Few is a buggy mess, one teetering on the edge of falling into the category of completely broken. If I’m being completely honest, the game just isn’t finished. Heck, it’s barely passable at times.
Okay, okay, I’ve pretty much shit all over We Happy Few for the last 1,100 words or so – and rightly so! – but littered throughout We Happy Few are moments of brilliance. Yes, I said brilliance. We Happy Few’s missions and mechanics might not be great – they’re pretty bad – but the game’s story beats, characters and some set-pieces were honestly the only thing keeping me going during my 25-hour playthrough, most of which is just filler. There’s probably a really tight and memorable linear narrative game in there somewhere, there really is, but in order for me to discover that, I had to drag my balls over glass to get to that point.
The characters, the world, their stories, their heartbreak, their troubles, the dystopian world, the vision of it all, the twists and turns, it’s all there from a concept perspective. Delivery, definitely not. That’s what I find so bizarre though, that throughout the game there are moments of sheer brilliance, plot twists that could rival even the greatest in video games such as BioShock, but the overall product is a bit of a turd. It’s genuinely like We Happy Few was made by different teams who never spoke to each other. Case in point is an encounter between Arthur and Sally in Arthur’s playthrough which takes place in a completely different place when you play it through in Sally’s playthrough. An unforgivable oversight if you ask me.
We Happy Few is one of the most erratic video games I have ever played. It’s a wee bit broken, for one, and has some of the most ridiculous design decisions in a game I’ve ever seen. It’s boring, it’s quantity over quality, it’s full of fetch quests and long-distance sprints, all designed to artificially lengthen the game. But somewhere in there are some truly iconic gaming moments and twists, I’d say on par with BioShock at times. The true shame is that most people won’t get to see them, but who can blame them?