We Happy Few is the tale of a plucky bunch of moderately terrible people trying to escape from a lifetime of cheerful denial. Set in a drug-fueled, retrofuturistic city in an alternative 1960s England, you’ll have to blend in with its other inhabitants, who have their own set of not-so-normal rules.
We Happy Few is currently in Alpha, which contains approximately 50% of the procedurally generated world, but no story except for a brief introduction.
In the world of We Happy Few, something terrible has happened that everyone would like to forget. Those without means wander around searching for scraps, while those more well to do self-medicate with a drug called Joy, and paint their faces a clown-like white frozen in a rigor mortis smile.
As the player, you must blend in to the various strata of society, and not be spotted as a “downer” off your Joy. You do this by crafting different sets of clothes and creating tools like lockpicks crafted from items randomly generated in the world every time you start the game.
Unfortunately, the game in its current state will not make this easy for you. After the short story introduction (more on that later), you are dumped into a destroyed village without much instruction or direction.
Exploring your surroundings, you will find a drab, bombed out village laid out in approximately a seven by three block grid. Most buildings cannot be entered, and those that can will yield a few crafting items that may be protected by traps or hostile villagers. As you find various items, crafting recipes will unlock and you can build useful items. For example, you can build stealthy sneakers by combining duct tape and cloth.
In the streets, villagers you meet will not actually talk to you, but rather just exchange crazy sayings with you, or express hostility. After a while, you’ll probably end up not even trying to talk with them, just sneaking behind them to knock them out and get their stuff. In certain areas, a specific character will actually speak with you to start a side quest, but these conversations are more or less, “I need this thing, get it for me.”
I found this lack of NPC characterization very disappointing, as it basically turns people into walking item boxes that you just have to sneak up on before you search. And you will knock everyone out like a sociopath, because as soon as you emerge from your safe house, you will have to deal with the survival element of the game.
Besides a health bar, you have a thirst, hunger, and sleep bar. These deplete over time, and in my opinion, deplete far too rapidly. Instead of exploring the environment, or completing a side quest, I found myself backtracking to a bed or a water pump far too often. Food seems to be very scarce, and this may be compounded by the game’s random asset generation. I had to quit one game because the area I was in seemed to be out of food, and I was dying of hunger constantly. If you haven’t guessed yet, I did not enjoy the survival aspect of the game.
You might be asking, besides surviving and crafting shoes, what are you doing in this game? Well, interspersed and randomly generated for each playthrough are little “islands” in the village that generate side quests. This may look like a tree fort with a guy that needs something, or a beehive that will get you honey to get past a guard, or several other predetermined little scenes. Although randomly placed, there are a limited number of these sidequest islands, and you’ll soon recognize them after playing for a few hours.
These specially crafted little scenes only seemed to accentuate the blasted, dull environment all around them, and I constantly found myself wishing for an environment more like the opening story area.
After playing the procedurally generated survival game for several hours, I found myself missing the scripted, linear story introduction. The brightly decorated office with its retrofuture tech, curved walls, and creepy mime-faced characters actually conversing with you seem like a completely different experience, and one that I wanted more of.
Because of its a first person action game in dystopian society, and Downers being a lot like Splicers, this game has been compared to Bioshock. The biggest difference between the games besides the crafting/survival aspect is that Bioshock created a new surprise to find around every corner, big set piece environments that delighted the player to explore.
I know it isn’t fair to compare a game that was crowdfunded and in Alpha to a big budget release from a major publisher, but the game is clearly drawing from inspirations like Bioshock, and like it or not, the player will find themselves wishing for a more joyful experience.
That’s what it comes down to, really. I didn’t find any Joy in this game unless it came in a pill bottle. Scrambling through dreary ruins looking for the next rotten apple surrounded by empty eyed downers telling me to “fuck off” just isn’t my idea of fun.
Until the game adds the story mode, the video below is my ending.
Happiness is a choice.
We Happy Few became available on Microsoft Game Preview and Steam Early Access on July 26 2016. A Steam copy of We Happy Few was provided for review. If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on other games, check out the weekly Plug and Play podcast.