We Happy Few Preview
We Happy Few turned a lot of heads during Microsoft’s E3 presentation in June. While most of the conference made me feel proud to own an Xbox One in 2016, We Happy Few made me feel something I didn’t expect: discomfort. Who can forget the eerie and unsettling piñata moment when it was revealed the masked characters were feeding off a dead rat? While a lot remained unclear as to what sort of game it actually is, the trailer most definitely left a notable impression on myself and many others.
Now, the talented folks at Compulsion Games are putting We Happy Few up on Steam’s Early Access and Game Preview for Xbox One. After spending some time with the alpha build on Xbox One, I can confidently state that We Happy Few took me by surprise, but not always in a good way. It doesn’t have a lot going for it in the story department so far, but it surprised me more than I imagined with its deep and system-driven survival gameplay. While the trailers may have hinted at it being a linear narrative experience, this is so much more than that.
Right off the bat, you are captivated. For those not familiar, it’s set in a dystopian version of England in the 1960’s. Something catastrophic has happened and the world at large is trying to suppress the horrors by popping a new drug called Joy. It’s undoubtedly an interesting premise, and the opening ten minutes (which is the same as the E3 demo) are immediately gripping. You play as Arthur, who oversees the daily news in Wellington Wells . He’s caught off guard when a story hits close to him, which results in him choosing not to take his medication. It isn’t long after that he is accused of being a “downer” — someone who isn’t taking the drug — and is chased, caught, and placed in an underground bunker somewhere outside town. This is where We Happy Few officially starts and, sadly, where the story elements end in the alpha. Compulsion Games is clearly still working on details and will be updating the game regularly until its final release in 2017.
“The alpha does a poor job on telling you where to go or how all of your loot can benefit you, so the first few hours can be frustrating.”
What’s immediately apparent once you gain control is the survival aspect. Helpful hints pop up now and again reminding you to keep tabs on your hunger, thirst, injuries, and fatigue. In order to do that, you’ll have to scavenge for items and tools throughout the procedurally-generated levels. The alpha does a poor job on telling you where to go or how all of your loot can benefit you, so the first few hours can be frustrating. It’s even more challenging when you throw in the fact that enemy “downers” are quick to fight you at random times. If you’re starting out with We Happy Few, I’d urge everyone to take off permadeath and replace it with the “second wind” feature. It took me a long time to figure out what I needed to do, and I died a lot in the process. Sometimes it gets overwhelming trying to complete an objective while keeping your vitals topped up.
As is the case with any rogue-like, those who are persistent and determined to see We Happy Few to the end will ultimately get the most out of it. Sooner or later, you’ll find your own rhythm to the gameplay. Only by taking risks and experimenting was I able to finally grasp some of the intricacies of the mechanics. It’s safe to say that We Happy Few isn’t the easiest of games, and there were a few times when my patience grew very thin. Encounters with the Wellington Wells police force are particularly challenging, and even with permadeath turned off, it was still maddening every time I was clubbed to death almost instantly.
The heavy focus on surviving has me a bit worried. It often expects a lot out of the player without offering much explanation. While it is still very early in development, I have faith that the developers will be listening to feedback from the community and press. What We Happy Few has going for it, however, is a striking visual style and a compelling story to accompany it; although, it’s still early to tell how all of the pieces will come together. The survival aspect might turn off some players who just want to experience the narrative but Compulsion Games definitely has a solid experience here. If they play their cards just right, then this could definitely be a must-play title when it’s out next year.