For a long time now we’ve been hearing about We Happy Few and during that time people managed to create their own expectations for it. These expectations basically boiled down to a Bioshock-like experience. Basically what we’ve been told is that it will be a story driven experience with some forms of procedural generation. Now before I get into this discussion I’d like to make a few disclaimers. This is an EARLY ACCESS PRODUCT meaning the game is nowhere near being finished and any judgements being made are for in its current state, not what it will be. Therefore, there will be no review score at the bottom. I should also mention that I’ve been playing the Xbox One version, so any performance issues I’ll be talking about don’t represent the PC version. Ok, let’s get into it.
When you first start up We Happy Few, it takes you to the section that was shown at E3 this year during the Microsoft press conference. This E3 gameplay trailer ended right as the game actually opens up. You get knocked out by the guard and you end up in your underground residence. The game doesn’t really tell you how you got here, you just have to keep moving forward. That’s all they have for the story parts so far. They even mention it in their disclaimer before you start playing the game.
So there’s not a hell of a lot to judge on that front other than its immediately interesting, this opening section is immediately interesting and I would like to know more. Unfortunately we won’t know any extra story bits until 1.0 comes along, and judging by its current state that’s going to be a long time away. After this opening segment you’re introduced to an open world where you can wander wherever you’d like, until you either die or run into a bridge that is.
Much to my surprise, this game is actually a roguelike with survival elements. When I say survival elements, I mean it’s got them all. It has a crafting system, survival meters (hunger, thirst, sleep and health), and you even search through abandoned houses and such to find these scraps. There’s also other elements of the survival aspect that aren’t immediately apparent. Some examples being, if you eat rotten food you’ll get sick and if you take your Joy pills you’ll go through withdrawal symptoms when it’s over and your other meters will drain faster. This wouldn’t be all that bad if it wasn’t so damn overbearing. The meters are draining at an almost constant basis and after a little while it just becomes a massive burden. Rather than surviving while playing the game, you’re just spending all of your time surviving.
When getting into the other roguelike elements, like restarting after your character dies just seems unnecessary. Now, I’m a massive fan of roguelikes Spelunky is one of my favorite games ever made, so I’m not necessarily a stranger games resetting your progress upon death. However, in We Happy Few, it does something that I’ve never really encountered in any roguelikes and it really rubbed me the wrong way. When you die and restart, the quests seem to stay the same. So every time I had to restart I found myself doing the same quests over and over again. It became very repetitive and almost completely unnecessary. They way that Compulsion has set this game up is basically an open world adventure style game, only when you die you have to repeat the same quests. When you have a roguelike set up like this it massively takes away from the fun. I found myself doing the same quests over and over again. It inevitably started to feel like a chore. It got to the point where I just decided to turn the permadeath off completely and it ended up providing a much better experience. This game misses the core of what makes a roguelikes so damn fun, learning from your mistakes. Instead of attempting to change how you approach each run, it felt like I didn’t have any options and it was just trial and error. The way you play this game doesn’t lend itself well to traditional roguelike tropes.
Now, it isn’t all necessarily negative because this game doesn’t really have to change a hell of a lot for it to drastically improve. This game has a fantastic art style and mood. In the first few minutes it really managed to make me feel weirded out and very interested to find out more about what happened to the world. There’s something to this game and I can’t exactly put my finger on it. Basically, it’s just trying to accomplish too many things at once, it almost feels like somewhere along through development it lost its destination and now it’s just going wherever the hell it wants.
In its current state, We Happy few also has some massive technical issues on the Xbox One version, but that’s to be expected in an early access game. Frequent frame drops, excessively long loading screens, a lot of texture problems and sometimes signs even turn up in the middle of the street. In addition to these technical problems, the A.I is also incredibly wonky. A lot of the time there’s no given reason as to why some of them will attack you, they just do. I’m not sure if that’s something that was intended or not because of how little they actually tell you about the game, but regardless when it happens it seems to have no rhyme or reason to it.
For an example on how buggy this game currently is, there are bridges in this game that serve as checkpoints. You need to have a few things accomplished in order to enter them. I tried entering one of them with none of the criteria met. The gate opened and it let me through which was already surprising. However, after it let me through I got stuck in a wall and beaten to death by the guards that let me through. This wasn’t a thing that was supposed to happen either, other times I had tried to enter the guards tell you that you can’t get through and then proceed to beat you to a pulp. But the game saw it that I had met all of the criteria in order to enter, then realized it fucked up and murdered me.
We Happy Few in its current state does not leave good impressions with me. It’s currently a mess and it has no clear focus. I’m not entirely sure if releasing this game in early access was a good idea for them, especially because Compulsion Games has been getting such a massive pass with its aesthetics alone. If you’re considering buying into We Happy Few now, I’d suggest maybe waiting a little bit until they have some things figured out.