We Happy Few left an immediate impression after the Microsoft Conference at this year’s E3 Expo. It’s graphics and setting mirrored past Bioshock titles and its premise seemed all the more dark and intriguing. The game’s trailer actually turns out to be the first five minutes of We Happy Few, but it’s only afterwards that the game’s expected formula turns out to be something quite different.
In an alternate reality of 1960s England, you play a fellow by the name of Arthur Hastings – a media redactor in the town of Wellington Wells. I got a pretty big Nineteen Eighty-Four vibe from it all, where every resident is under scrutiny and must bury memories to forget their past and fit in. A local drug known as Joy helps facilitate this but, one day, Arthur refuses his Joy and must flee the civilians and constabulary of Wellington Wells.
In this early access-styled release, We Happy Few swiftly reveals itself, first and foremost, as a survival game. You explore a randomly-generated layout of Wellington Wells and must juggle fitting in with the ‘regular’ inhabitants as well as manufacturing a plan to escape. Your first major concerns are obtaining enough food and water to last a few days, a challenging prospect seeing as how Wellington Wells is actually full of dilapidated dwellings and morsels of rotten food.
It’s also important to stock up on supplies. There was a carefully placed tap close to the safe house, but the biggest problem ultimately comes from finding food. Stamina regenerates at a designated underground safe house, but consuming successive servings of decaying meat and vegetables leads to sickness – causing dehydration. Perhaps I played too cautiously, but I could only last a few days at a time when formulating a plan, as there’s your need for rest to micro-manage as well.
Unfortunately, this initial offering of We Happy Few becomes rather lacklustre from here. I found that my time with Arthur Hastings was going to be short, due to the amount of crafting needed for specific items (such as fancy clothes for entering more affluent areas of Wellington Wells), the lack of waypoint markers when quests presented themselves, and the eventual death to hunger; I was always playing against the clock.
I revelled in the exploration of Wellington Wells both before and after taking my Joy. These pills of happiness will turn out to be pretty important in future patches, turning Wellington Wells’ decrepit streets into stretches of lush greenery, and rainbows singing birds. But popping too much Joy will come with its disadvantages – leading to an air of intoxication and a possible overdose; too much attention is sure to be a bad thing.
Civilian hostility is at a minimum and Arthur can freely scour the town without being labelled a ‘Downer’. The way all the AI echo the same two or three phrases is not only off-putting but it’s distracting, especially when some guy follows you for a hundred metres telling you to leave his property.
But, on the bright side, Compulsion has stated We Happy Few is only at around 50 per cent completion, missing most of its story elements. This is good, because this game simply cannot function without a story and is the most obvious way to bring much-needed spark to this title. Power Up Gaming will be monitoring the progress of We Happy Few a lot more closely and we look forward to seeing whether community feedback calls for minor tweaks to Compulsion’s vision or a total overhaul of the current system.
Obviously, there are lots of features yet to be added, such as tailoring particular survival parameters to suit you, but this is a different game to what was sold back in June. The trailer implies a more narrative-driven experience with none of the randomly-generated, stressful and overbearing survival elements that rival games like Don’t Starve. Not only that but, so far, the We Happy Few seen in the E3 trailer is a hell of a lot more interesting than what’s currently available in the Game Preview version.