Video: We Happy Few Early Access Impressions

Posted by: 8/16/2016

When We Happy Few was shown at the Xbox press conference at this past E3, it was my first introduction to the game. I wasn’t the only one that got a BioShock vibe from the video being shown off, and with BioShock being one of my favorite franchises, I was very excited to hear more. Upon learning that it was a first-person survival game, I lost a little bit of interest, but I still wanted to see more since the setting looked fascinating. But after getting a few hours of hands-on time with the Early Access build of We Happy Few, I believe the game was not ready to be handled by the public just yet.

We Happy Few is set in an alternate 1960s England where everyone is taking a medication called “Joy.” This medicine alters the way the citizens of Wellington view the world, and they are on the lookout for anyone not on Joy. If the citizens feel like you’re out of line, they will force a smile on you; usually with a weapon. While the front of the game gives off the impression that it is a story heavy first-person game, it turns out that We Happy Few is not dissimilar from the dozens of survival games on Steam. It just has a more interesting look to it.

While I’m not too fond of survival games, We Happy Few is more up my alley, due to the atmosphere and setting of the game. But the repetitive nature wears on your quickly. Pair that with a map system that doesn’t work well, tedious quests, and little information about what you should be doing, and you lose interest quickly. I can see an incredibly original game that is being developed, but I wonder if the game should have been released later this year once more work was done.

As with any roguelike survival game, you’re at the mercy of the random number generator. That works with a lot of survival games, but We Happy Few is trying to implement an in-depth narrative, paired with a procedurally generated map. The same story beats will happen with each player, but their maps will be different. In the few different runs that I’ve played (remember this is a roguelike), the map doesn’t feel different enough. You notice the same landmarks, which makes sense. But after a while the different settings run together.

During my time with the game, I’ve run into some areas where I could see significant story beats set up, but nothing plays out. I don’t know if the game is glitched, or if I got to that area at the wrong time. I wanted to learn so much more about the world, but the game makes it hard with its design. For example, I stumbled upon a fountain that triggered an inner dialogue with the character I was controlling. He mentioned hanging out at the fountain with who I assume is a love interest. He made the comment, “if I took some Joy, I could relive those memories.” This leads me to believe that there are areas where you can take Joy and see the world in a different way, which sounds amazing! I just don’t know where to find any Joy. There is a scripted sequence at the beginning of the game that hints at this mechanic, but I feel like it should be more prevalent.

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As stated before, I can see the early makings of what could be a fantastic video game. But Compulsion Games needs to do more work with having scripted events inside their world to really bring the player into that settings. Right now the world is really boring, and I find myself frustrated because I need to sleep and eat when what I want to do is just explore this setting and learn about this world. The game is slated to be in Early Access for six to 12 months, so it could change drastically over time. If you think this is a game you’ll want to play when it is finished, I’d suggest spending the $30 and just holding off. But if you’re hesitant, I would wait until the final product is released.

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