We Happy Few drops players into a world where negative events are deleted from the history books, citizens live blissfully ignorant lives devoid of free thought, and single pills can quite literally turn your frown upside-down. Set in an alt-60’s England, We Happy Few introduces players to a post-war dystopia where conformity determines life and death.
Taking thematic cues from 1984, We Happy Few crafts a narrative that explores the effects of extreme public oppression and manipulation. The game has the potential to grow into an interesting socio-political commentary, only if it can overcome the Early Access roadblocks that seem to be slowing it down.
We Happy Few is primarily a game about conformity, stealth, and survival. While dabbling in the thematic and artistic elements of games like Bioshock, Dishonored, and The Stanley Parable, We Happy Few takes a different approach by incorporating survival mechanics, a procedurally generated world, and even permadeath.
During the prologue, players are placed in the torn suit of Arthur, an office slave whose returning memories cause him to skip his dose of Joy pills. When his co-workers notice his curious behavior, Arthur is labeled as a Downer and is banished to the real world. Like an emergent Bethesda vault-dweller, Arthur climbs up from an underground safe house only to discover a war-torn English neighborhood full of other Downers. Players must proceed with a simple goal in mind: survive and escape.
The first few hours of gameplay consist of scavenging for food, water, and supplies in an effort to find the resources necessary to escape the island. Your neighbors consist of fellow Downers who have also stopped their Joy pills and have been left to teeter on the brink of insanity. While in The Garden area, you’ll mostly just have to scavenge for as much as you can in order to gather enough items to craft better supplies.
All the while, hunger, thirst, and fatigue meters will regularly pop up as reminders to manage your basic needs. When injured, you’ll have to craft healing balms and other items to maintain your health. These meters were particularly annoying during the first week of Early Access, but thankfully the developers quickly responded to feedback and have adjusted various survival timers and meters so they are less intrusive.
Quests are logged in your journal and are fairly easy to follow and complete, unless you are struggling to find the necessary resources to cross the bridge in the main encounter. The side quests are rather plain and aren’t worth writing home about. However, some dialogue and interactions between NPC’s help describe past events in such a way that makes us yearn for the missing story missions scheduled to release in the coming months.
There currently isn’t a way to create custom waypoints on your map, which can make navigating the procedurally generated neighborhood a bit tedious. Since you need to repeatedly return to your Safe House to rest and offload items into storage, you’ll find yourself having to backtrack through the same areas multiple times. Custom markers would help players orient themselves and move about an area much more efficiently.
Stick with the game long enough, and you’ll eventually figure out how to cross the bridge to a new area, where there will be a heavier focus on compliance and conformity. Players will need to wear the right clothes and even pop a few Joy pills in order to blend in and not attract the wrong sorts of attention. The Joy pills actually provide a refreshing change to the bleak, droll environment that typically surrounds you. Everything becomes colorful and bright, almost like stepping into Bioshock Infinite’s Columbia for the first time. Arthur’s happy, you’re happy, and everything is nice for just a few minutes. Maybe blissful ignorance isn’t so bad after all?
Overall, We Happy Few is still very much an alpha, and unfortunately it shows. More story elements and cut scenes are supposed to be incorporated into the game in the coming months, once the survival mechanics are tweaked and polished. Although Compulsion Games has described the Early Access version as “feature complete,” the lack of narrative guidance may turn some unsuspecting players away from Early Access before the game truly begins to shine.
The developers have been receptive to player feedback thus far. We Happy Few is in dire need of fine tuning and balancing, but that doesn’t mean the game can’t reach its true potential in the future, and hopefully we’ll see this happen sooner than later.