When I first saw We Happy Few it was during Gamescom in 2015 featuring some very hopeful visuals and ideas of what would later become the full game. We Happy Few was originally Kickstarted in June of 2015 by Compulsion Games raising over $260,000, much more than their intended goal of only $200,000. During the development, the team was very much adamant about the idea of early access, partly to gain feedback from players as well as to become completely transparent about the game to prevent players from expecting too much out of it. The game was released on Xbox Game Preview in 2016 and only 2 short years later, the game has finally seen a full release and I can surely say that the final product had me enjoying the core gameplay as much as I loved the environments.
We Happy Few follows three characters I played as the character Arthur, an average Joe type of character living in a world where everyone around him takes Joy, a drug that suppresses any sort of unhappy thought inside the user, transforming them into a gleeful deluded citizen. This world looks down on people who do not take Joy for various reasons, calling them downers and judging harsh punishments upon them. It isn’t until Arthur starts seeing things in a negative light that he starts uncovering the truth about the world he lives in, that a large population of citizens are thrown out of the city, left to starve and scavenge for themselves causing neighboring towns to look more like something out of a zombie apocalypse.
The game is basically an action adventure game with a heavy emphasis on survival and rpg elements to progress. The game starts by giving you the basic knowledge of all mandatory features such as depleting meters like hunger and thirst while later introducing various diseases and plagues. It is up to the player to scavenge for items in the world to produce everything from weapons, clothes, first aid, teas, and many more helpful concoctions. I really like the idea that simply digging through garbage cans is not enough to get by in the game, with a big emphasis on risk and reward. Simple looting will get you simple items while completing tasks given or robbing larger locations will get you fresh food and rarer items.
The first few hours of the game are a bit rough and I can see individuals with less patience losing interest quickly. The game is open world but a bit tougher to master compared to other large scale exploration games like Minecraft or Skyrim. The game doesn’t really take off until you find at least one safe room in which you are able to freely fast travel through locations, it helps incredibly since they’re so scarce and the map is so large. Another learning curve I stumbled on at first was remembering every bar and when to check. The hunger bar requires food although if you eat a rotten piece of food you may get food poisoning which could often mean death if you are unable to find any way to stop it. Sleep is also important with players having to stop for a rest once in a while to keep their stamina up.
The game suffers from the same technical weight of other survival games featuring different meters as well as over encumbrance if one is to pick up too many items but it also achieves the same result with players having to manage items and keep an eye out for their character at all times making the game feel engaging while keeping the challenge of maintaining a full stock of supply important. Random NPCs are almost no fun at all as well, with dialogue between the player and characters always ending in random gibberish between the two making them, for the most part, walking items one must beat like a pinata to collect.
The art direction for this game is very well done and brings a nice balance making the player feel more immersed into this psychotic yet living location. The world is full of towns containing boarded up houses, demolished locations, parks, and plenty of forestry while keeping the townspeople wandering around hopelessly and it brings an added contrast to the idea of forced happiness. When you start out you first see the slums full of sad miserable people but giving you basically as much freedom one would want but when you get into the main city you start to see a larger contrast with streets lined with rainbows, televisions everywhere you look, machines that are operated to compliment you while you start to see your freedom slowly get ripped more and more away with the inclusion of Joy detectors, larger numbers of police and checkpoints forcing you to use Joy to get around causing you to suffer from Joy withdrawal.
The game uses visual and audio to evoke emotion from the player at all times. Whether it’s a frantic run for supplies at night or a brisk run from one location to the next during the day, there’s a feeling of dread at all times even in the happier locations forcing you to think light on your feet to decide the next course of action. For example, there might be a fenced off camp in the middle of the woods full of guards. The game gives you the ability to sneak into the location although it is recommended to have items that could disable traps to prevent anyone from spotting you or you can run in guns blazing ready to take the entire camp for yourself. Either way the game will offer a sense of urgency full of bombastic music or a sense of calm collection and control. This is what makes We Happy Few such a delight to play for periodic bursts of time.
We Happy Few is a game that offers a unique take on the survival rpg idea with a light linear story wrapping it all up. Although a few of the technical assets such as basic crafting, inventory limitations, a painfully slow start, and useless NPCs weigh it down at times, as soon as I found myself rolling it was hard to put it down. The game is chalk full of secrets to explore with little to no limitations on how to reach your goals. On the surface the game is an environmental work of art offering so many environments with a very unique tone and setting that one can’t help but want to explore. If you’re looking for a game that is off the beaten path but still full of content and personality then look no further.