Posted on 13 Aug 2017 by L Coulsen

We Happy Few

The Defence

Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Compulsion Games
Genre: Action, Adventure, Indie
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: No data.

The Prosecution

Minimum
Recommended
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 2.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 460
AMD Radeon HD 5870
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 6 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i5 2.5 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon HD 7870
RAM: 8 GB
HDD: 6 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

Early Access State

As things currently stand, We Happy Few is mostly a complete title already. The core gameplay is finalised and there are several areas already included, with another (the final before full release) arriving on August 16th. This will also bring with it a price increase to the full retail version, though the full game is still “some time” away, all that’s really lacking is the full story, of which there will be three. Everything else is solid, there are no significant bugs and Early Access players have a lot of content to explore.

We Happy Few is a curious entity. Comparisons to the works of Orwell and Vonnegut are unavoidable, and entirely correct. Set in a dystopian, alternate universe version of 1960s Southern England, it’s the story of a society strictly regulated to ensure nobody ever feels any negative emotions. Every good, upstanding citizen of the country takes a pill called “Joy” so that they will be constantly happy, as the name implies. Similar to the film Equilibrium, but rather than trying to remove all emotion, they just want everyone to be tripping balls all the time. If you’re not, you’re cast into the slums and labelled a “Downer”, which is not really the kind of place you want to be. Of course, such a society can hardly succeed long term, and is certainly not nearly as nice, happy and bouncy as the ruling classes would have you believe.

For the Early Access build, you take on the role of Arthur Hastings, but the final release will include three distinct, if intertwined, stories to choose from. Arthur is just an average chap, whose daily duties consist of checking old newspapers and making sure nothing unhappy stays on their pages. Not at all unlike Winston’s job in 1984, except without the rewriting part. He just straight up deletes anything unsavoury. But upon seeing an article that reminds him of a traumatic event from his own past, the effect of his Joy pill starts to wear off. And only a short time later, he attends an office party with a “pinata” that turns out to be a dead, rotting rat carcass…tasty. From there, he does a runner and the real meat of the game kicks in.

Well this is, how would you say, a tad embarrassing.

At its core, We Happy Few is a puzzle/survival game, with the focus being on gathering supplies to help yourself not die, and figuring out how to get to…actually, it’s not at all clear what your end goal is, within the game world that is. Old Arty knows he needs to do, well, something, but isn’t at all clear on what that is. Being chased out of town, losing everything, and ending up in a slum nicking everything that isn’t nailed down will do that to a person.

The game advertises a procedurally generated world, but as with many titles that make the claim, the truth is a little different. It is certainly true that each playthrough will not be identical to the one before, but the actual world is more or less the same each time. Consisting of a series of different environments ranging from the aforementioned slums, to industrial and well to do districts, and more. The order you actually approach these various locales, and the basic layout, remains unchanged. However, there are several different ways to approach them, which will not necessarily be available to you each time you play. As well as multiple side missions that also change each time you start over. So, it’s not so much that the world is procedural, but rather, think of it more like a pool of potential objectives that are assigned randomly for each new save file. The way that the very first Diablo did it back in 1996. It’s possible that this may change with the end product, what with it offering more than one story to play through, but it seems unlikely there will be such a fundamental change in the way the engine works.

One of the more interesting things is how side quests never really feel like they’re just tacked on filler content. Many of them actually factor into your end goal, with some being necessary to actually progress at times. Such as how one route to the next area requires you getting some honey from a beehive, which itself needs you to gather the materials needed to craft a rubber suit so you won’t be stung to death. Or needing to know a titbit of television trivia to convince the guard you’re not a Downer, which leads to you having to track down some recent arrivals who, of course, ask you to go something for them first. That’s not to say that everything is directly tied in like that, there are genuine side quests too, which are not really anything more than world building content. My personal favourite is the poor chap lay bleeding in a field after an argument with the missus. He seems to have found himself, how do you put this? A bit stabbed. It was one of those moments that, as a native Brit, just rang true in a way one would not expect from a game developed primarily by non-natives. One of those little things that shows just how much effort has gone into making the experience as authentic as possible.

I see what you did there!

There are also things here and there that just don’t quite mesh. Like how, in the pinata scene, they talk about it being filled with candy, which is a word the British almost never use, unless talking about something like a candy cane. See, though America uses the word broadly to describe confectionery, we’ve long referred to such foodstuffs as “sweets.” But then, even that doesn’t actually break the atmosphere. This is an alternate history version of Britain after all, it’s not true to say we never referred to sweet foodstuffs as candy either, and truth be told, little moments like that, for a Brit like myself, actually end up adding to the sense of everything being just…not right. Just a niggling sensation that there’s something rotten and out of place. Which leaves me wondering if, perhaps, this was not a deliberate decision on the part of the developers.

We Happy Few has come a long way during its Early Access run, with more content being added at a fairly steady pace. There’s already enough there to consider it a finished game, truth be told. Lacking in a climax to the story, yes, but the framework of the gameplay is solid and extremely functional. Think of it like this Early Access build being an essentially complete Alpha for us to experiment with whilst compulsion work on finishing up the final game. Up to this point, they’ve taken on the unenviable task of actually working on two versions of the game at once, the currently available Early Access build, and the complete, final release version. The promise of a much more focused campaign, campaigns even, really helps it avoid the main problem that most survival games fall into. You have actual, tangible goals to aim towards, beyond just finding some bits and pieces to make your next cool piece of equipment.

The crafting system even makes sense, following real world rules. No more of this five logs and a handful of pond slime to make a backpack or whatever. Clothes need cloth, healing balms need crushed plants and that kind of thing. What I’m saying, is that there’s a lot to like about We Happy Few, including the story being that, what we’ve seen so far, is really engaging, and the gameplay resource gathering and crafting gameplay doesn’t get in the way, it actually works together to make a cohesive whole. Okay, it’s not the best looking game ever made, and isn’t going to win any awards for pushing new technology or anything like that, but it has a unique and interesting art style that makes everything come to life. And it even, somehow, if you can believe it, has a first person melee combat system that actually frikkin’ works! And is hard as balls, so try and avoid that…yeah. Simply put, full release cannot come soon enough. I really want to know what’s actually, really going on here.

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