This review was written with patch 1.02 installed.
A Disappointing Title With Squandered Potential
We Happy Few should be one of the best games released this year. The sickly hedonistic visuals and intriguing story tease echoes of Bioshock’s creepy atmosphere while maintaining enough originality to make it a bold, unique game unlike much else out there. Much like its procedurally generated brethren No Man’s Sky, We Happy Few is a title that needed another year in development to really harness the potential this game had to offer. Corrupted save files, game-breaking bugs, questionable survival mechanics, woeful combat and laughable AI make We Happy Few a game of what-ifs and ultimately one of the biggest disappointments released this year.
To be fair to Gearbox’s procedurally generated dystopian adventure, the first 3 or 4 hours of the game are generally very good, helped by the unique setting of a retro-futuristic 60s England and a tightly woven story within a constrained area. Wellington Wells is a world on the brink of collapse with many of its inhabitants oblivious to the chaos around them, high on a drug called Joy which makes people euphorically happy and care-free. Anyone refusing to take the drug or not joyful by default are exiled from cities and forced to scavenge and survive in ramshackle houses on the fringes of these metropolis’. Once you reach these large city areas, big cracks begin to form in the foundation of the game and destroy what promise this one had going for it early on.
Combat is clunky and oftentimes a contrived, unconvincing affair
It’s here that you take control of a man named Arthur, working as a redactor (censoring negativity from newspapers) in the heart of the city experiencing flashbacks mid come-down from Joy. Instead of popping a pill and continuing on obliviously, you decide not to take Joy and as a consequence, find yourself shunned by society and labelled a “Downer”. After a tense chase scene, the game opens up with a story that sees you trying to piece together what’s happened to the world now you’re sober and tracking the whereabouts of your brother Percy. As the game progresses, the narrative shifts to two other characters, Sally and Olly, before a brief epilogue that closes out the story and sees you pick one of two choices to end the game. The story itself develops well, with interesting story missions and plot developments that slowly uncover more about this nightmarish world while fleshing the characters out in a compelling way.
The story is compelling and the shifting narrative perspectives work well
As you progress through the story, the general gameplay sees you completing main quests and busy-work side missions to advance the story while traversing through a procedurally generated world. Key landmarks remain fixed to points across the expansive map where story missions take place with the game automatically generating and populating the world around it. Expect villages, rolling hills and large cities to fill up most of the world map meaning no two players will have the exact same experience. Despite this unique concept, the open world traversal is ironically one of the most uninspiring parts of the game. Streets all blend together with too much similarity, NPC variety is disappointing to say the least and the various city areas congested with a myriad of issues and frame-rate stutters that destroy the immersion. All of this stringed along by survival mechanics that only further emphasise the awkwardly contrived gameplay mechanics.
The aesthetic and general visual design of the world is outstanding and easily one of the highlights here
As you play through the game, sleep, hunger, thirst and level of Joy all have to carefully balanced through eating food, drinking fresh water, sleeping and popping Joy pills. The latter opens up the ability to move through barriers and get past guards but overdosing on this drug can spell disaster or worse, death. Completing main quest lines grants you skill points which can be used to make things a little easier as you play including extra health, less suspicion when sneaking through streets and even the ability to switch off the survival elements altogether. While this seems like a nice idea on paper, the execution of each of the main mechanics is in serious need of tweaking and it doesn’t always become clear exactly what actions grant you skill points beyond the main quests.
The ideas of a dystopian 60s Britain are solid though and the overall world-building is certainly intriguing which is why reviewing this game has been put off until a few more patches have been released post-launch in the hope that the issues have been alleviated somewhat. During our 15 hours with the game we were greeted by corrupted saves, game-breaking bugs, dialogue and voice acting failing to sync, various frame-rate issues, quest markers not activating along with a host of graphical and physic-based glitches. As an early access or even a £15 game this could perhaps be forgiven but expecting consumers to cough up full price for a game that’s in essence broken is downright inexcusable. Even with a 12GB patch that’s fixed a few of the bigger game-breaking bugs plaguing the game at launch, We Happy Few is in serious need of re-balancing, heavy patching and gameplay tweaking to make it anything but a conceptually solid, disappointingly executed game.
We Happy Few’s menu system is clunky, unconvincing and unnecessarily convoluted
The story is easily the best element of the game though and accompanied by the unique aesthetic, make We Happy Few a game worth experiencing but not for the ludicrous asking price of £40. We mentioned earlier that this is very reminisce of No Man Sky’s controversial launch in 2016 but unlike Hello Game’s sci-fi sandbox (which we actually enjoyed as an idea and promising concept), We Happy Few’s gameplay mechanics are lacklustre at best and broken at worst. All of this spurred on by some ugly, contrived menus full of tabs and unnecessary clutter, woeful AI, poor crafting and questionable stealth mechanics. All of these issues overpower what intrigue the game has and make this far more of a chore to play through than it should be.
With the promise of a sandbox mode and more post-launch material (including full priced DLC), We Happy Few could be a good game a few years down the line. Whether the interest will be there given the justifiably disgusted reception this received at launch remains to be seen. We Happy Few is yet another example of a rushed product thrown into consumer’s hands broken and buggy; a joyless downer of a title that deserved so much more.