We Happy Few is a game that began it’s life on Kickstarter before being picked up by Gearbox and Microsoft where it could be polished up and given the life it was meant to have. However what we got in return was something that should have spent a lot more time in a program like Steam’s Early Access than a full playable game that is worthy of the brands that helped fund it.
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Publisher(s): Gearbox Publishing
Developer(s): Compulsion Games
Release Date: August 10, 2018 (US) / August 17, 2018 (Australia)
Price: $59.99 (Gamestop US) / $99.95 (EB Games Australia)
Genre: First Person Stealth
We Happy Few features three different playable characters, which affects the prologue of the story. Arthur Hastings, who was available since the game’s initial alpha release, works as a censor to remove offending stories in newspaper archives of Wellington Wells. After coming across a story about him and his younger brother, he decides to forgo taking his Joy pill, which causes him to see the state of Wellington Wells for what it truly is, and becomes hunted as a “downer”. Another character is Sally Boyle, an assistant to one of the doctors that created Joy, and now works as an “experimental chemist” for the General, both which are trying to take back Wellington Wells. Ollie Starkey is the third character, a former soldier that has refused to take Joy for years, revolting against the system, but otherwise tries to stay hidden from the other citizens. Each character has unique skill sets to work their way through the game: Arthur is proficient with melee weapons like a cricket bat, Sally can sneak around and inject guards to put them to sleep, and Ollie is an explosives expert.
We Happy Few’s universe takes place within an alternative timeline, stemming from an alternative version of World War II in which the Final Solution occurred much earlier, but with catastrophic consequences for both Nazis and Jews. As a result Germany establishes a second German Empire that successfully invades and occupies Great Britain, gaining control over the British Empire, while continuing its war across Europe. During the country’s occupation, Britain is contaminated as the result of a chemical-warfare experiment gone wrong, forcing the inhabitants of the fictional island city of Wellington Wells to do something terrible in order to survive. Although this succeeds, it subsequently fills the inhabitants with immense anguish and guilt over their actions, leading to the invention of a new hallucinogenic drug called “Joy” – a drug that suppresses all unhappy memories, leaving its user to exhibit immense joy and happiness, but subjects them to decreased recognition of moral and long-term consequences, and leaves them easily manipulable.
Widespread use of Joy led to the transformation of the city into a dystopian society, in which its inhabitants, referred to as “Wellies”, wear white “Happy Face” masks as a sign of their continued jollity, and are subjected to regular use of the drug within their food and water. In addition, dispensers of the drug were also established across the city within “Joy Booths” – telephone box-like booths. The city’s isolation from the rest of the world, after the end of the German occupation, led to resounding advances in technology, including Tesla-styled weapon systems, mobile power cells, and home security systems. While those immune to the drug were forced out into the waste and left to subsequently go insane after being unable to forget what they did, becoming known as “Wastrels”, those who stop taking Joy are dubbed as “Downers” upon being discovered to be off the drug, and become pursued by locals and the city’s police. Any Downer that is captured is then either force-fed the drug, or given a liquid administration by a “Joy Doctor”, in order to reintegrate them into society.
As We Happy Few’s story takes place within the city during the mid 1960s, much of the aesthetics, clothing, furniture, technology, and most interior architecture used in the game, are influenced by 60s British culture. Such examples include cobblestone streets being painted with psychedelic colors, and trash bins featuring a design resembling that of Doctor Who’s Daleks. Other elements of Britain incorporated in the design include specially designed takes on traditional red telephone boxes and mailboxes, and building exteriors retaining their “quaint English” architecture.
Gameplay in We Happy Few is very straight forward for the basics of it anyway. You’re either stealthing your way through areas, going from one form of cover to another and taking people down; to taking people on directly with whatever manner of weapon you’ve either picked up or crafted along the way. Outside of that, there is the much talked about “Joy” mechanic. By taking this happy drug, you blend in with some of the main populations of the game and are free to walk about anywhere and do anything (outside of the view of the Police and other people). However the issue is that Joy’s effects run down quickly and it’s hard to find more in a pinch, so you’ll end up with a whole town of people chasing you down relentlessly till you are beaten to death and have to start over. And this brings about one of the main issues I’ve had with the game play in We Happy Few, and it’s that it is too easy to upset a whole town’s worth of people and there is no way to recover once that happens.
For example, I went up to a mystery box in the middle of one town and thought it was something that would begin a quest. But once I opened the box, then whole town became alarmed and started chasing me down till I was long outside of the borders of the town itself, almost into a second town. Another situation was that I had accidentally placed the suit I was wearing into a storage box along with the spares I had collected. I then did a scripted sequence that welcomed me into a new town… only to have the same people turn against me seconds after the scripted sequence was over since I had no clothes on. There was no indication that I had no clothes on till I was spotted, and I had no way to get out of the area to find new clothes or even get my old ones from the storage box. Finally, after my first experience using Joy wore off, the whole town noticed in 2 seconds after it wore off that I was no longer on the drug and started chasing me. Problem with that one was there was no place I could find to get another dose of the drug to continue the quest I was on. So I was doomed to die and restart again.
Graphics in We Happy Few range from cool and interesting to looking like Skyrim on Ps3 with bad mods on it. Pop in and bad textures are all over the place, nothing look polished at all, and the best part of the game (when you are tripping on Joy) look good for a few moments before they begin transitioning back to the bad textures and effort that “reality” had put into it. Then there are the player models themselves. I know this is meant to be an unsettling almost cartoon style of character that is meant to keep you on edge all the time, but honestly this was just too much. The over reliance on the white face masks really pulls away from people actually having personality, which I understand the game makes a message of, but when some of the people you are interacting with in the rebellion still have the same faces on, it still removes all personality from them. Heck, because of the weird proportions of the faces and bodies, you can’t even take the characters who escape this world of mind control seriously as they just don’t look serious enough to make you feel the dread that you should in a game like this.
Sound wise, We Happy Few is just so fucking British! I swear if I have to hear one more line about tea and crumpets, or “blimey” every again I’m going to stab someone! I know this is meant to be some weird 1960s version of England after World War II, but god damn it doesn’t have to be so British about it! Hell, I didn’t even notice the soundtrack because all I could hear was the screeching of English vocabulary over every fucking thing around me. God forbid they shut up when in a group either… But nooooo, instead they repeat the same 4 lines over and over in numbers of 10 plus people talking over each other that I thought my ears were never going to recover once I shut the game off.
Now if there is one big, big issue with We Happy Few it’s the bugs. I’m not talking insects in game that you have to fight (at least not from what I saw in the game), but game breaking bugs that cause things to disappear, appear non-interactive, or complete crash the game. Hell, I’m not even going to talk about it, I’m just going to reference a friend of mine from her experience with the game via twitter.
Really enjoying #WeHappyFew, I'm desperate know the story but there's so many small things wrong with this game. Like not being able to climb when carrying too much. Then place I need to get to to store all this crap is inside there! Just let me climb in the damn window!!
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 18, 2018
#WeHappyFew has crashed for the second time. I wouldnt mind so much but it takes forever to reload and get back into the game.
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 19, 2018
And there's crash number 3 for #WeHappyFew. Really? Really? I'm not even mad anymore, I'm just disappointed & a little miffed I paid so much for a game with so many bugs and glitches. This story better be awesome. I'm talking #BioShock "Would you kindly?" levels of shock & awe.
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 19, 2018
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 19, 2018
Another annoying thing about #WeHappyFew that I dont understand is why do I have to exit out and reload a save for the map to get cleared of completed quests and dig spots? Why arent they removed as soon as I complete the quest? Please fix this @CompulsionGames. Its ridiculous.
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 21, 2018
And in tonight’s adventure of how much #WeHappyFew is broken, we get stuck in a banister! No amount of button mashing can save you from this. No no. Time to quit and hope your last save wasn’t too long ago. I am *this* far away from returning this broken mess. Fuck this game. pic.twitter.com/OBLsXxY0rV
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 22, 2018
I paid almost $100 for this game. Almost 100 freaking dollars. It’s not worth that price. If you even want to bother with this broken game, wait until it’s in @EBGamesAus bargain bin. #WeHappyFew pic.twitter.com/F1vCWjdtLv
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 24, 2018
I think this is crash number 7? How many times does a game have to crash before I can ask @CompulsionGames for compensation? This is bullshit. So many games are released broken now. It's a fucking scam. #WeHappyFew
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 25, 2018
— Primakat 🏳️🌈 (@primakat) August 25, 2018
So there you have it. Glitches from NPC characters not responding, game constantly crashing, visual and sound issues. I wish I was making this shit up but every single problem I’ve had with the game, my friend has had too. Frankly this is absolutely shocking from and game that has had years in development and then was delayed in order to make it playable only to end up with a copy that doesn’t work at all mostly. Then there is the issue of getting back to the point where you were before. Unlike my friend PrimaKat, I had access to saves from every main point in the game that I could download and use for my review, god only knows what it was like having to do all this without the developers helping me out as much as they did with those saves. For the normal player I don’t disagree when they start asking for refunds.
We happy Few is a great story. The whole use of a drug to keep people in the dark about the outcome of an alternate World War II is a great framing device and the whole breaking away from the drug fueled life to discover what really went on is a great trip. However bad gameplay mechanics mixed with some of the worst game breaking bugs I have ever seen in a video game ever keeps We Happy Few from being a real proper joy to play.
Review Disclosure Statement: We Happy Few was provided to us by Terminal (on behalf of Gearbox Software) for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
A colorful joyless romp
We Happy Few is a game that promises to be one hell of a good story drive ride from start to finish, but what we got was something that is so full of bugs and crash issues that it completely ruin the experience. Frankly We Happy Few needed to spend more time in development than it does being played. When something like this starts on Kickstarter, sometimes it just need to stay there. We Happy Few’s story is a highlight and should be an animated film more than a less-then-playable video game.
- A story that the world needs to see at least once
- Good mechanics, when they work
- Shifts in tone work well for the medium
- Your enemies are strong, you are weaker than a box of kittens
- No indicator that you’re running low on Joy and no directions to find more in a fix.
- More crashes and bugs than any other game ever made.