We Happy Few Review

By Rebecca Smith, 8 months ago
Two years ago, We Happy Few was released into Xbox Game Preview. The title is set on an alternative timeline where the events of World War II turned out differently. After an interesting five minutes that set the scene for protagonist Arthur and built up a lot of potential for what was to come, players were unable to experience any of remaining storyline in the early alpha version of the title, instead being challenged to survive as long as they could in a sandbox world where most of its residents could be hostile. The full release of the game now gives players access to the entire storyline with the previous survival mode set to follow at a later date. The thing is, a myriad of technical issues and design decisions means it feels like the game is still trying to find that potential.

Logo

Wellington Wells is a city with a shady past. When the Germans won the war, they requested all children under the age of 13 be removed from the area, and the villagers complied. To protect themselves from further repercussions, the city isolated itself from the rest of the country. It's 1964 and the city is still struggling to recover, its residents choosing to blank out all memories of the past and escape from the shame of their actions by taking a drug called Joy. We begin the story with Arthur, who's leaving the area in search of his autistic brother Percy, one of those taken away. His story is followed by those of Sally and Ollie. They're three very different characters, each of whom have stopped taking their Joy for different personal reasons, but this makes them outcasts in a society whose attitude towards them can change in a second.

One of the things the game does well is to create a damning depiction of the perils of taking hallucinogenic drugs. Joy may well provide a temporary feeling of happiness where everything takes on a multicoloured hue, you see clouds of butterflies, and you forget how miserable life can be, but the immediate come down makes you feel rotten. Despite your best efforts, the immediate symptoms of withdrawal are noticeable to everyone around you. Drugs affect people differently too — some become immune to its effects, some descend into madness, and others forget how to function properly; none of the effects are positive. Either way, if you're off your Joy or it isn't having the desired effect, all of those who are still taking Joy will happily resort to murder if it means they can stop you from taking away their false idyll. As the game often asks, "wouldn't it be easier to just take your joy and forget everything?"

Quite...Quite...

For some people, that might be a tempting offer because the rest of the game doesn't quite work so well. Each character's journey takes them through a series of missions that often means trying to locate an object of interest or find someone to help you leave the area. While there's not much variation in the end goal, each takes place in a uniquely designed building that presents its own challenges and stops these missions from overstaying their welcome. This is more than can be said for the rest of the play area, which is procedurally generated with each playthrough and, bizarrely, with each separate character, meaning that players have to learn the lay of the land three times in each playthrough.

Aside from the old London-esque administrative Park District, each of the sizeable Holm areas has one of two themes. Psychedelic colours abound in the 60s-themed suburbs where there are some empty buildings, but most are occupied by those still on their Joy. On the contrary, those off their Joy are confined to the largely abandoned and derelict Garden District areas where the residents live in squalor, vegetation is taking over, and colour was seemingly prevented from entering the area. All of the Garden District areas are very similar in appearance, as are the suburbs, with only a handful of distinct buildings to tell each area apart. After a while, you can't shake the feeling that you've seen everything already.


Some of the few distinct buildings are the shelters. As well as acting as a safe house once activated, players can fast travel between them, removing the need for backtracking across areas between missions and avoiding most of the technical issues, such as frequent pop up, especially with buildings although also with some of the street furniture such as waste bins and trees. Some textures fail to load in completely. As you walk through the streets (running is forbidden), the frame rate can drop to the point of stuttering and this happens more often in areas with a larger amount of background activity. Then there are the not-too-uncommon mid-area loading screens, the most annoying being the ones that cut the characters off in mid-sentence. Fast travelling still doesn't mean players avoid some of the game's technical issues, though, as area status effects such as toxic clouds can continue to affect players even when they've left the area.

These issues might make players want to rush through each area quickly, but to do so would mean players avoid the numerous side missions the game offers, as well as many opportunities to scavenge for supplies, and it's up to the player to find these opportunities as they explore the world. Like the main missions, these also take the form of fetch quests or collecting items, but without the buildings that make most of the main missions unique, these can become repetitive. They're also not immune to their own issues. Mission objectives are never removed from the map upon completion unless the game is saved and reloaded. One of Arthur's side missions currently can't be completed due to a missing objective prompt. In one main mission, an important character failed to advance the objective when he didn't respond correctly to Arthur's outfit. Once again, this was solved by saving and reloading... in fact, saving and reloading can solve a lot of issues.

Humour him and become a Special Operations Executive for a whileHumour him and become a Special Operations Executive for a while

One of the benefits of completing all of the missions is the skill points awarded at the end, which can be used to upgrade each of the characters. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, meaning each has their own playstyle to which players need to adapt. Aside from the Tireless trait that doesn't work, the skill tree is one of the few areas of the game that mostly works as it should. There's the opportunity to build each character to your own specification — stealth players can focus on stealth traits first rather than combat, for example. However, stealth is incredibly effective in the game, almost to the point where combat is best avoided, and especially so in situations with multiple opponents where it's easy to get overwhelmed.

Players can choose a lethal or non-lethal approach. The only difference between these two approaches is the weapon you use; a final blow with a lethal weapon will kill enemies, whereas a final blow with a non-lethal weapon will render all of your enemies unconscious instead. Unfortunately, combat can also be a bit hit or miss. Sometimes hits don't register any damage, and some enemies forget they're supposed to be attacking you. Blocking takes too long to register meaning the enemy will hit you before the character reacts to your prompt, and sometimes enemy blows will spin your character around so they're facing away from combat, meaning more damage is taken while trying to get back into the action. Then there are the enemies (and other NPCs) that teleport away when they get too far from their programmed pathing.

Your cloth covered weapon can still put him to sleep. His pipe will kill you.Your cloth covered weapon can still put him to sleep. His pipe will kill you.

There is an extensive weapon and crafting system that allows players to make their own supplies. You'll need to scrounge materials from places like abandoned properties, bins, postboxes, and even toilets. You can only carry so many supplies at any one time or risk becoming overburdened, but there's the infinite pneumatic stash that can be accessed at any shelter and becomes a great dumping ground for all of the rubbish you don't need but don't want to get rid of just in case. How useful you find the gadgets depends on your playstyle, but most people will likely ignore the majority in favour of stealth takedowns. In something that likely won't shock you, there were issues here with disappearing inventory items and the annoying tendency for the stash to rearrange itself every time you took an item out.

The vast majority of the game's issues were annoying at most. None of them were game breaking and even the numerous game crashes failed to cause too much damage. Luckily, the achievements mostly seem to have gotten away with it, with only one not unlocking when expected and that likely being due to player error. There are a few story based achievements, some that require completing side missions, and some that require one-off actions. There are also plenty of collectibles, some of which add lore to the world and some of which are seemingly there just because they can. Unfortunately, you'll need to collect all of them for a series of achievements. None of the achievements are difficult and all can be done in a single playthrough.

Summary

If We Happy Few had all of these problems while in Xbox Game Preview and a pre-release state, you'd be more likely to excuse it, but it's rare to encounter so many issues in a full game release. While none were game breaking, they spoil what can be a decent game, with a unique world, interesting characters, and a convincingly damning depiction of the perils of taking hallucinogenic drugs. It's a world to which you want to return, but it's also a world that throws up a new problem with every visit. With several patches, this game could be a fun experience, but right now it can often be an exercise in frustration.
3 / 5
We Happy Few
Positives
  • Convincing depiction of the perils of taking hallucinogenic drugs
  • Great story based missions
  • Extensive crafting system
Negatives
  • So many bugs in just about every area of the game
  • Repetitive and similarly designed areas
  • Combat can behave unpredictably
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 30 hours watching buildings disappear, items seemingly vanish from existence, and characters teleport across the room, and that was without taking any hallucinogenic drugs. She unlocked 22 of the game's 40 achievements for 520 Gamescore. An Xbox One version of the game was provided for the purposes of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.