As with all Early Access game previews, before we get down to it, the usual disclaimer: We Happy Few is in very Early Access, with an estimated release somewhere 6-12 months from now. Obviously, that is a lot of time and things may change, evolve or outright disappear between now and then. This is just a preview to get a feel for the game in its current unfinished state.
We Happy Few is a game about the happy little town of Wellington Wells, where everyone is always happy. That happiness is maintained through a copious abuse of pharmaceuticals, namely a pink little pill called simply “Joy”. Everyone takes their Joy to stay happy, and whoever doesn’t take the pill is dubbed a “Downer” and is promptly ejected from civilized society to a run-down outskirt of town. Rather forcefully, I might add.
You play as one such Downer – a fellow named Arthur. Arthur works as a censor, reading newspapers and either approving or redacting articles. On a day like any other, Arthur comes across an article from his childhood – he then refuses to take his Joy and a quick tutorial later he wakes up in some dank bunker outside of town where the game truly begins. If you think Arthur should have been named Winston, award yourself an extra point – We Happy Few borrows more than a little from Orwell’s work to the point of cliche. To add insult to injury, later during the game Arthur shoots off one-liners like a 1680’s action hero, too – quoting Hamlet as you go to bed or choke the life out of an innocent bystander.
Judging by the opening segment alone, We Happy Few is a game I would love to play. It was off to a very good start – but that’s all there really is to it. Once unleashed into the game proper, We Happy Few becomes a mindless and boring slog rife with random acts of violence and repetition. As a survival game, We Happy Few innovates little. You need to eat, drink, sleep and craft. The world is quite mean to you so violence is an ever-present option, and while you can be nice to people and give them gifts, it’s generally far easier to follow them until there are no witnesses around and then strangle them for the contents of their pockets. Stealth is basically non-existent at this point, although there are telltale signs it will be added in the future.
Violence in We Happy Few is another unsatisfying feature. Once you figure out the “swing, swing, backstep” tactic, you’ve pretty much mastered combat and have become death, the destroyer of Joy. Both the civilians and cops are completely incompetent and pose no challenge whatsoever, which makes large parts of the game boring and dull instead of suspenseful. If I knew I could potentially die I doubt I’d set out to murder 3 cops just like that, instead of at least investigating an alternative approach.
The crafting system is quite unimaginative, with items you can handcraft and those requiring various crafting stations to produce. All the basics can be made by hand, though, so as long as you have the required parts you’ll always be able to stop and make yourself a lockpick or a basic health balm. Inventory management is completely manual with no sorting or automation whatsoever so the entire experience just becomes a tedious chore of crafting, finding and using all the while you’re getting hungrier and thirstier.
While the crafting system is just plain unimaginative, the needs system is outright awful. I’ve played my share of survival games and having to consider my character’s hunger, hydration and fatigue is nothing new. But the current state of the system is just too overbearing. Having to return to home base every 10-15 minutes of gameplay is not a gameplay mechanic; it’s a tedious chore. There’s no fast-travel, of course, so it’s all manual slogging during which you’ll get hungry and thirsty as well. It’s a catch-22 where the game is preventing you from experiencing the game and no matter what you do, you are not getting ahead.
In its current state, We Happy Few simply isn’t fun. Everything is too much of a chore. The needs system has to be fine-tuned, the inventory needs at least a few crucial ease-of-use changes, AI needs to be overhauled entirely… there isn’t really a single aspect of the game that justifies playing it in its current state. Of course, being an Early Access title, I don’t expect much right now – the fact I did manage to play the game and enjoy it for quite a few hours is a testament to the potential hidden away deep down, but I won’t be coming back to it any time soon.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.