Game Review: We Happy Few (Xbox One X)

We Happy Few is an action-adventure game developed by Compulsion Games and published by Gearbox. Originally announced in 2015, the game was released as an early access title in 2016 with all versions of the full game seeing wide release in 2018. Compulsion Games placed the game in early access so that players were aware that it was an Indie title. We Happy Few had garnered a lot of attention following E3 2016. At the event, Microsoft showed their support for the project. Regardless, the game wasn’t the AAA title that many were anticipating. In fact, it was almost entirely funded via a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Like many of you, the trailer for We Happy Few really grabbed my attention. As a massive fan of Bioshock, I loved what I was seeing. Sadly, it released to an almost universal negative reception. The game had spent 2 years in early access only to release as a bug ridden mess. Well, I’ve held off playing it for that exact reason. Several patches later, here are my thoughts on whether We Happy Few is worth your time or not.

Played from a first-person perspective, players control one of three characters in the game’s three different acts.  There is Arthur Hastings, a well-balanced character adept at crafting weapons; Sally Boyle, adept at sneaking and crafting chemical concoctions; and Ollie Starkey, a strong melee fighter adept at crafting powerful explosives.

The game uses procedural generation to create the layouts of some parts of the game world at the start of each playthrough. Each Act presents the player with a main story goal, with a series of main quests to follow, but several optional side quests can also be completed to gain additional rewards. Completing objectives can earn the player-character rewards as well as skill points which the player can allocate among a skill tree to improve the character’s attributes or give them new abilities.

Throughout the game, the player can collect melee weapons, items, food and drink, and wealth. A core element of We Happy Few is Joy, an addictive hallucinogenic drug used by most of the citizens of Wellington Wells. If the player opts to have their character use Joy, they will see the town in a colourful, joyful environment, and will be able to walk through the town without attracting undue attention from its citizens, but this does impair some of the character’s abilities. As their Joy depletes, the town will revert to its dismal, war-torn state, and while the character will have full control of their abilities, they will be seen as a “downer”, an enemy of Wellington Wells.

Also, We Happy Few includes elements of stealth and survival games.

The game’s universe takes place within an alternative timeline, stemming from a version of World War II in which the United States did not join the Allies, leaving the United Kingdom to fend off the German forces alone.

I won’t delve much deeper into the plot or its characters as I’d be here all day and so would you.

My emotions are mixed when talking about We Happy Few. On one hand, the story is one of the best that I have ever experienced. However, it is let down by a number of things. It is immediately clear that this is a game that was funded through Kickstarter. Visually, it looks like an older title rather than something you’d expect to see on current hardware.

Patches have done a great job of fixing things up. However, the game is still riddled with bugs and technical issues. NPC’s aimlessly wander the streets, walking into walls, floating above benches etc. Also, the same models for the NPC’s repeat constantly which is disappointing. Texture’s popping in late is a common issue and the combat is still a cumbersome experience. As good as the plot is even that isn’t perfect. Make sure you pick up all of the collectable masks to ensure everything is as clear as possible.

Still, other than those things and likely more that I’m forgetting the game manages to function surprisingly well. As I said, the story is fantastic. I love the world and concepts that Compulsion Games have created, it’s all wonderful. I can’t think of a game as artistically unique as We Happy Few. At least none that I have played in recent times.

I read an article in which someone described the game as if Bioshock, Fable & Fallout had a baby and that really does describe it perfectly. The characters are well-rounded and interesting. The voice acting in the game as a whole is tremendous. This helps greatly during some of the surprisingly hard-hitting moments for which there are a few. I loved the subtle and direct ways in which each of the 3 characters stories intertwined. Each of them feel different and their conclusions are all satisfying.

There is a good variety to the missions and I never experienced any broken quests which is great. Although, a few too many side quests see you simply going from A to B or collecting an item of some kind. Also, the survival mechanics feel almost unnecessary.

As you can tell, I am conflicted. If I were to score the game based on the story alone then I’d be giving We Happy Few a 9/10. However, I have to take into consideration the average gameplay and below par visuals. Still, considering this is an Indie title it really is impressive. Compulsion Games have achieved so much with so very little.

Overall, if you can look past the technical shortcomings of We Happy Few then you’ll find an excellent, narratively driven single-player experience. I highly recommend you go back and give it another shot. It isn’t free of issues which is unforgivable at this point but I would still love to see more stories set in this fascinating universe. As easy as it is to compare this to games like Bioshock that really isn’t fair. This is an Indie title in every way and to even draw such comparisons is remarkable.

We Happy Few
  • The Final Score - 7.5/10
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