Before we begin with this preview, it’s important to note that this game is an early access game and there is currently no pending release date. With that being said we aren’t going to discuss the glitches, bugs, and framerate issues as much as its content, since these can all be easily — and probably will be — fixed. That being said, after spending five hours in this 1960s dystopian survival game, I’ve emerged with mixed feelings about Compulsion Games’ newest endeavor, We Happy Few.
We Happy Few, in design alone, is a very interesting and fun game at its core, as it adds a quirky and tense spin on the typical survival formula. Since everyone needs to appear as if they’re on the drug Joy, it forces you to blend in more with your surroundings. Given that most survival games are either set out in the wild or a destroyed city, this switch to an actual sprawling village is a fun change of pace. Yet, it would be nice if the actual methods of blending in felt more organic and natural to the game itself. As is, all you really need to do is not go into someone’s house, bump into others, or draw your weapon out in public. The act of blending in quickly feels like an afterthought as you really just need to not be a complete jerk to other “Wellies.” It’s a shame because the world you are actually placed in is phenomenal and kept my drive to explore.
Wellington Wells, the town in which the game takes place, has its own personality, as it’s filled with vibrant colors and a 1960s British pop invasion aesthetic. It offers We Happy Few a certain charm that oozes over everything surrounding the game and is without a doubt its best quality. The various NPCs have their own personalities and quirks, along with humorous, lanky designs that make them instantly recognizable from a distance. Characters like the cops are intimidating and you may get quite a rush when an angry mob of happy smiling citizens chasing you down with pitchforks in hand. Leading the charge, and rightfully so, is the voice of the people, Uncle Jack. This unsettling character is masterfully acted and caused me to stop and listen to his speeches over the loudspeakers and televisions multiple times. All of this helps pull you into the world of We Happy Few and rest assured you will rarely make it out alive.
The We Happy Few gameplay boils down the basic survival and crafting components we have seen in dozens upon dozens of games that mimic this game formula. You need to manage your hunger, thirst, and sleep while you complete a variety of sidequests offered from the various citizens. Though the game offers really no way to mark which quest you want to follow or offer anything close to a reliable waypoint so you may just end up wandering aimlessly until you stumble upon it. In terms of the survival mechanics themselves, they are quite basic and really there’s nothing special outside of the occasional Joy pill you have to take. It would be nice if the items and ideas of survival were expanded upon to better fit the world.
This is a shame, given that some of the side quests are really fun, such as rescuing a doll from a group of scavengers or trying to see an ‘invisible house” while on joy. Sadly this difficulty for We Happy Few is incredibly inconsistent and can cause some serious frustrations. Most of this comes from the absolutely awful A.I., which really doesn’t have any sense of consistency to how they act or react to the world around you.
Sometimes the citizens won’t notice you breaking into their house right in front of them, while others will stalk you across the entire map despite how far you’ve had to run. It’s also fairly easy to trick the A.I., as I was able to lure out one foe at a time to a desolate field so I could kill them and enter their home without resistance. This is a shame because the A.I. really makes or breaks this kind of experience and if they received some serious polish it’s possible that engagements could be much more tense and less exploitative.
Overall I am skeptically hopeful for what this game could bring to us. The world and characters feel too good to waste on a mediocre survival game and if Compulsion really sits down and adjusts their mechanics this could be a hit. While I am still excited to try We Happy Few, this wasn’t the experience I was hoping for, even in an Alpha state. Perhaps I’m just being a downer about the entire experience and need to take my daily dose of Joy…
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