I have a lot of mixed feelings about We Happy Few, from my initial impression of the game when it first hit Early Access, to spending over 30 hours in the final build on my PS4 Pro – my emotions went up and down more than my character’s reaction to taking Joy! From Compulsion Games and Gearbox Publishing, We Happy Few takes you on a surreal journey through the eyes of three very different characters as they set out to escape the rather bizarre city of Wellington Wells and its surrounding outskirts.
Originally a successful Kickstarter campaign, where it raised over CA$300k, We Happy Few has gone through many changes over the years with the game shutting down sales on Steam and the Xbox Store earlier this year in order to prepare the game for its major 1.0 overhaul. There was also a lot of controversy over the price hike from $30 to $60 as the team joined forces with Gearbox Publishing and declared We Happy Few much bigger in scope than it was within Early Access.
As a PS4 owner, we were also worried the recent acquisition of Compulsion Games by Microsoft would have meant the PS4 version would cease to be – luckily that wasn’t the case and it seems we are still in line to receive all of the updates and planned DLC for We Happy Few, regardless of their new parent company. So, I guess the questions are; how much has the game changed from its Early Access outing? Is We Happy Few a ‘joy’ to play? and most importantly, Is the game actually worth $60 now? Let’s find out…
We Happy Few is set in the fictional city of Wellington Wells, here in the UK, during the 1960’s. However, it’s not your usual period setting as it’s a ‘retro-futuristic’ style with all of the glamour and charm of the 60’s combined with some rather elaborate devices which probably wouldn’t look amiss in a TV show about the ‘future’ back in the 80’s. World War II has been over for about 15 years now yet the people of Wellington Wells didn’t want to remember all of the pain and agony of what happened in the past. They had to send their children away in order to keep them safe, many people died in the war and families were torn apart by the tragic events.
The residents decided that there is only one way to deal with this depression, drugs and lots of them! They invented a drug called Joy which would, clearly, cheer you up and bring you joy and happiness. The main side effect of the pleasure pill was memory loss – not unintentionally but it was implanted within the drug as one of its core features. After all, a happy city is the one which doesn’t remember it’s past! As such, all of the residents of the main city live in an ignorant bliss, ‘living’ from day to day as they continually remain on a high as they forget everything which happened before. However, you’re only happy and compliant if you continue to take your pills if you don’t then you’re deemed a ‘downer’.
Why would people stop taking their pills? Some were rebels and didn’t believe in taking the drug, some triggered an old memory and wished to know more, but the majority of the downers had been given a bad batch of Joy. A batch which forced them to regurgitate the medication which made them show signs of being a ‘downer’ and thus being banished from the city. That’s right, if you’re not beaten to a pulp and killed, you’re thrown out into the baron outskirts where everything is old and derelict – quite a contrast from the bright, colourful city. So, from the manic, crazy citizens of the town to the depressed, suicidal downers, We Happy Few is very original and is sure to keep you interested – as long as you can put up with its bugs and issues…
We Happy Few is made up of three ‘acts’ or ‘chapters’, each one placing you in the shoes of a new protagonist who all interweave together at some point. Arthur is our main protagonist, and the character you will most likely spend most of your time with, followed by Sally and Ollie. Each character has their own 10-20 hour story filled with the main story-line as well as many new and interesting side-missions (and a few which are used in all pathways). Let’s take a deeper look at each of the character, starting with…
Arthur is about as plain as you can get in Wellington Wells. He’s your regular ‘suit’ who goes to work in his 9-5 job without any aspirations or dreams of becoming bigger (even if he wasn’t taking Joy he’d probably be the same). His occupation is a ‘redactor’ at the Department of Printing, Recycling and Archives – this involves him reading through the various news articles and choosing which ones should be allowed to print and which need to be redacted.
Our story with Arthur begins with him seeing an image in one of the papers from the archives of his brother, who was taken away on a train when they were both younger. This flashback triggers him to refuse his Joy supplement and subsequently, he is chased out into the abandoned Garden District outside of the city walls. With this newly uncovered memory and the Joy flushed out of his system, Arthur is now on a mission to escape Wellington Wells by any means necessary as he remembers more and more about his brother Percy and sets off to try and find him.
Arthur is your all around ‘normal’ guy – he doesn’t really have any strengths or weaknesses, he’s just Arthur. He can craft new weapons and gear, make potions or health items, operate in stealth or even get disguised as a worker and a gimp.
Sally is Wellington Wells’ ‘It Girl’. Everyone knows Sally, including Arthur. She’s a brilliant chemist who not only tends to the needs of the common folk but she also devises secret concoctions for the police force and the higher-ups in the form of more advanced versions of Joy to keep them happy. Sally has a dark and gritty past which nobody knows about, a past which changed her way of looking at the world.
Sally’s story begins shortly before she meets Arthur in his storyline. One night she has a rather abrupt encounter with an angry ‘customer’ who demands more Joy from her, ultimately he ends up smashing her only batch before she knocks him out and stuffs him in the bin. This wouldn’t be so bad but the police force is now on her back as they demand their regular top-up from her. Not only must Sally seek out all the ingredients from all over Wellington Wells, but she must also repair the damaged machinery and indirectly help out Arthur in his cause as well.
The big issue I had with Sally, and the first new mechanic we got, was her child. That’s right, she is hiding away a child from the world, something which could have her killed if it was found out about. The only one who knows about it is the father, who just so happens to be quite high up the food chain of this crazy land. As a mother, you’re forced to continuously come back to your lab to feed the baby, keep them entertained and change their nappy. This results in a lot of backtracking and finding water (which is actually quite hard). At first, I couldn’t be bothered and I didn’t go back to look after the kid – however, the ‘weight’ of knowing you aren’t looking after your child literally weighs you down as your inventory space is replaced with thoughts of your child – making you over encumbered and slow!
Sally is you’re stereotypical ‘girl’. She’s weak, fast, agile, smart and witty, yet she can’t build anything or attack very well. She is all about creating potions and pills in order to take down her opponents quietly.
Ollie is a crazy Scotsman. Originally he was Arthurs childhood neighbour, but these days he’s a little looney with only his imaginary friend for company. He lives in the almost destroyed train station on his lonesome as literally, nobody in the whole of Wellington Wells likes him – I don’t even think he likes himself! He’s a retired soldier who’s lost his memory of a lot of previous events, not through taking Joy but just because of his mental instability.
Ollies story begins as soon as Arthur returns from his mission to the army camp. After hearing about the revelation Arthur uncovered, he couldn’t just let it slide – he has to go and confront the general and find out why he didn’t know about it and why it wasn’t made clear before he sent off his daughter to be killed. That’s right, his imaginary friend, who you see a lot in We Happy Few, is actually the manifestation of his daughter. After this encounter and the destruction of his home due to quite a lot of TNT from recent invaders, Ollie sets out to uncover the full truth and reveal it to the world.
Just like with Sally, Ollie has a really annoying secondary mechanic – but in Ollie’s case, it’s a mechanic which has ultimately stopped me from playing We Happy Few. Ollie is diabetic and must inject himself every so often. This wouldn’t be that bad, but finding the syringes and honey is a pain! Not only that, when he has run out of his top-up, he’ll start shouting at random people as you walk past, thus making them instantly attack you, and his health will be instantly halved and you’re unable to increase it until he has had another needle. It’s a really annoying requirement and it’s basically broke the game for me. Not only that but because everyone hates him and he has no nice clothes, you can’t go into the main city without being involved in a fight every two minutes. Sure, you can make a boiler suit – but the materials to make it are in the city, the city you can’t move in without the suit…
Ollie is the polar opposite of Sally. He can make things on the workbench but he refuses to use the chemical bench to make any kind of potion or herbal-based item other than your standard health balm. He’s also very slow at attacking yet very powerful – a charged attack with Ollie is sure to take almost anyone down.
We Happy Few was a hard game to play through and come up with a definitive feeling on how I felt whilst playing it as it was a rollercoaster of emotions the more I played. Initially, when I first stepped foot outside of the city and into the baron Garden Districts, I felt overwhelmed with everything I could do – the possibilities were endless and graphically the game didn’t look that bad. However, my first 3-4 hours within the game we a drag and almost put me right off wanting to continue playing the game. Not only had I encountered a lot of visual and non-game breaking bugs/glitches which left a bad impression on me, but the story was almost non-existent, the overall feeling of the game was cheap and still Early Access (a problem I’ve had with Hello Neighbour as well), and upon returning back into town I seriously hated the Joy mechanic as I was getting spotted as being a downer every three minutes.
However, after a few days break and a chat with my friend about my experiences so far, I realised I had been playing the whole game wrong within the town! I thought that whilst you’re in the town you had to constantly remain high on Joy in order to walk around unnoticed, as every time I wasn’t taking Joy I was instantly called out, chased down, and beaten to a pulp. What I didn’t realise is, that was only because I was taking Joy and then going into withdrawal as soon as it ran out! If you wait a little while longer – in a dustbin for cover, then you can walk around freely without having ingested any Joy as long as you don’t stare, jump or run! This meant I could explore the town more freely and actually experience everything We Happy Few had to offer.
This newfound discovery of ‘how to actually play the game’ truly opened my eyes to what the game was really like. I began to have fun as I walked or fast travelled all over Wellington Wells, solved side-missions which varied from the mundane to the downright insane, and really got stuck into the story to a point where I refused to play anything else for a number of days in a row. Arthurs campaign took me just over 15 hours to complete and I actually really enjoyed it, the glitching and bugs could be forgiven as the overall game was special and unique in a way which really drew me in and made me feel fully immersed within this rather bizarre universe.
One thing which really couldn’t be forgiven though is the number of crashes I encountered towards the end of Arthurs story. I have a theory on this. We Happy Few has quite short loading times, outside of the painfully long initial load when you start up the game, and the game (unlike its citizens) remembers everything. What do I mean by this? Say you killed someone as soon as you exited the city and then came across a Mad Hatters tea party event (like I did). Let’s say you then spent about ten minutes trying to throw the dead body into an amusing position on the display so that you can have a chuckle at what you’ve just done. If you return to this same spot 20 hours into the game, everything will be exactly how you left it!
Usually, bodies will vanish or items will return to their originating position so that’s fewer things for the game to think about – but in the case of We Happy Few, everything is kept how you left it, thus the longer you play and mess with things, the more info on your world it has to store; and eventually the more crashes you’ll experience. It’s only a theory but I didn’t have any issues until I got further into the game and this is true with both Arthur and Sally for me so far. The crashing was more of an annoyance than anything else though as the game has a very generous autosave which takes you back to almost the same point you were at upon load – plus any enemies you had taken down usually stay down upon load. The issue is waiting another 5+ minutes from boot to actually load you your game so you can try again!
Okay, so putting my issues and complaints about the game to one side for a moment, what’s We Happy Few actually like to play?
I’ve seen a lot of people compare We Happy Few to Bioshock but I don’t really see it. Even the developers are in that mindset as there is a trophy for killing a guy called ‘Andrew Ryan’ as a nod to the game. I can see a vague similarity in that you’re within a walled environment which has locked itself out from the world in order to live with their own ideals and rules so that they can hopefully have a decent chance of remaining happy and free from the world’s troubles. However, as a game, I would say it’s more akin to any of the numerous open world survival games out there as the emphasis on survival both damages and enhances the overall atmosphere of the game.
Personally, I really don’t like survival games as I always get annoyed when the game is telling me what I ‘need’ just when I can’t find said object in order to satisfy myself – We Happy Few is no different. All character suffer from Food, Water and Sleep issues which (depending on your difficulty) can lead to slower movement, less health, being easier to detect among the Joy-induced citizens and other such side-effects. On Easy, the needs are cosmetic and nothing actually affects your stats, Normal they do affect you a bit and on Hard, they’ll severely cripple you. I was playing the game on normal and I was fine until Ollie’s story – at this point, I wished I had put it on Easy (no way to adjust it once you start) as his extra survival mechanics have now put me off wanting to play the game anymore on my current save file.
When you break down all of the various gameplay mechanics, it’s a formula which should work really well.
• Each time you play a new game/Character, the map is procedurally generated – it’s similar but places are in different locations and items are never the same
• You have your outcasts living in the slums who hate everything to do with the upper-class (you even have to rip your clothes so they don’t jump you)
• The city folk hate the depressed looking downers and are constantly high on Joy as they live out their blissfully ignorant lives by embracing the memory loss of the pills
• The police and higher ups maintain this order and work on a ‘one strike, you’re out’ mentality
• There is a solid crafting and survival mechanism in place, even if I don’t agree with the later ones introduced
• The story gets more interesting as we see how all three characters interweave through their own perspectives and stories
• The game is pure British comedy – from it’s fully British cast (or very good accented actors) to the perfectly written script which emphasise how we used to talk back in the sixties – as well as our love of tea!
If you take each aspect above, the game does it really well – it even looks visually stunning in certain places as well, even though there are many moments of ‘Early Access’ fever which plagues all games which have gone through that process. However, the framerate drops as you get further into the game and have more going on in the city, the frequent crashing as you get further into the Acts, the forced implementation of the survival mechanics when playing the campaign (not the survival sandbox mode), the inability to alter difficulty if said mechanics aren’t working for you, and above all the sheer amount of graphical and mechanical bugs and glitches really does pull the game down.
Throughout the game, you’re given very little in terms of backstory from interacting with the various NPCs. All your backstory and exposition is delivered through various collectables (88 in total) which shows you brief flashbacks of what happened many years ago for each of the three characters. If you set out and uncover these then you’ll enjoy the game much more – I found a bunch of them but I’ve not got them all yet!
The high point for me was playing as Arthur with all my abilities maxed out, as I was technically a god – I didn’t need Joy as I could overcome all obstacles in various ways and it actually felt really good in doing so. You can really tell that the majority of the work in We Happy Few went into Arthurs playthrough. Sally was okay – I didn’t really tend to her new mechanic that often as I couldn’t be bothered and I only became affected by doing that once in the whole act. So her playthrough was still enjoyable as she also had the means to play stealthy or loud as well as enough skills to progress fairly.
Ollie is just a depressing and annoying character/act which I wish never existed. Honestly, take out Ollie and I would have ended on a high – or at least give him an ability to stop shouting at random people and causing fights without me asking him too. It’s like the difficulty is cranked right up once you enter his act – it’s not a great way to end the game off. I’m genuinely disappointed at the game and I hope we get some rebalancing and/or new abilities so we can adjust the game accordingly – or an option to change the difficulty level post starting a game.
Visually, We Happy Few is a mixed bag. As you can see from my screenshots above (the one directly above is a slideshow, click the edges or swipe to see more), there are times where the game can look really good in-game, even though it’s only 1080p on both the PS4 and the Pro, but at other times it can look like it’s still in Early Access. The effort which has gone into the overall level design and artistic style is very cool though – I love the 60’s feeling as you walk around the town with its rainbow road and very colourful interiors. Similarly, the Garden Districts outside of the city also look great, with their half-bombed buildings and tonnes of lore and backstory for you to uncover for yourself scribbled on the walls of various houses.
As you’re probably aware though, there are a vast amount of bugs and glitches within the game. Some impact on performance, as I mentioned above, but most of them are visual and can be quite amusing. For example, I’ve seen people stuck in the floor, dead people melt into objects, people vanish and teleport around, items floating around, I’ve climbed through the floor into the vast abyss of nothingness, and the funniest of all is peoples necks break and grow strangely long if you catch their neck on something as you throw them. For me, other than the crashing and slowdown, I didn’t have issues with the glitches but it does beg the question, is the game worth AAA prices?
Audiowise I loved We Happy Few. The music in each location really fits in with what you were doing – all of the voice acting was perfect and very, very British. The overall sound effects sounded great and I really can’t falter anything – when it worked. Oh yeah… Just like the graphics, there are a few moments where the audio decides to crackle and break up. At one point my character even stopped talking and I had to save, quit, and reload in order to hear voices again. In my 25-30 hours of gameplay this only happened twice though, so take that as you wish.
What to do next?
So, you’ve managed to overcome what I couldn’t and you’ve completed the game – what can you dabble with next? There appears to be a sandbox mode coming soon (as mentioned on the menu screen) – this will most likely be what the game was in Early Access, less focus on the story and more about you trying to find a way out of Wellington Wells before you get killed for being a downer. I’m interested in trying this out once it’s live as I imagine it’s going to be a rogue-like mode which will probably be even more brutal than the main campaign!
Also coming soon is the Season Pass content – which I can’t wait to try out. We don’t have much info on this yet though.
Another cool thing you can do is customise your new game for the campaign. I’ve talked about having the option between Easy, Medium and Hard (which can’t be changed once you start), but you also have the option of ‘Custom’. Here, you can set the individual difficulties for things like the enemy combat, how much/if the survival aspects affect you, how alert the enemies are, and even if you wish to enable permadeath. That’s right – if you’re really sadistic, you can turn on permadeath mode which will disable all manual saves and once you die, you can’t load any of the autosaves.
Finally, if you have a PSVR headset, go grab the “We happy Few: Uncle Jack Live VR” free application game here:
I really enjoyed the VR content – it has you being in charge of the Uncle Jack news show as you feed him which stories to cover. You get to watch how he spins the suggested ‘news’ into ‘happy’ news rather than getting people depressed. There are over 80 videos in this application from game trailers and bloopers to all the in-game Uncle Jack segments, all presented in front of you on a virtual screen.
We Happy Few had me depressed, then filled with Joy, followed by withdrawal symptoms which led to me giving up and quitting – A bit like some of the characters within the game! I love the premise and the idea behind it, it’s built on a lot of really intriguing and fascinating scenarios combined with a great cast of voice actors and rather splendid looking locations. However, I can’t see this game through my Joy-tinted glasses anymore. I didn’t like the first four hours, I then loved the proceeding 11 though, as I wrapped up Arthurs story. Sally was another enjoyable eight hours which flew by so fast! But then, in came Ollie and ruined it for everyone! I’m not sure if, or when, I’ll come back to Wellington Wells in order to try and complete the game as I really don’t look forward to playing as him and his unforgiving survival mechanics. His mechanics basically make him really annoying and irritating to play and it’s not that fun.
I imagine that if I do come back to the game then I’ll most likely start a new game and pop it on Easy so I can fly through the first two acts and hopefully have an easier time with Ollie due to the needs only being cosmetic. However, even though my journey in the base game has somewhat come to an end, I’m actually really excited about the season pass content as it supposedly has us embarking on three new campaigns as a new set of characters. As I said, I actually really like the setting and the game as a whole, I just don’t like Ollie, so jumping into the consciousness of a new character sounds great to me and I’ll certainly be checking it out when the first DLC drops.
We Happy Few is a perfect example of a game with a great premise and setting yet it fails at the last hurdle. Technically, the game feels like it could have done with a few more months of polish here and there. It would have been better if the developers had ironed out some of the more serious memory issues which cause the framerate drops and occasional crashing the further into the Acts you get. That being said, if you can look past the issues, as most of them should hopefully get fixed anyway, you’re left with a really interesting and unique game which perfectly represents an alternative 1960’s British City.
If I’m being honest, I would say We Happy Few is more of a AA than a AAA, so a price point of around £30-35 would have suited it best, but either way – if you stick with it then you’ll easily get 25+ hours out of your first playthrough of the campaign. I’d recommend this to people who like survival games and games with dark humour surrounding them – If wearing a gimp suit in order to break into a club, beating up men and women up with a baseball bat (with nails in), or senselessly smacking people with a ‘tickle stick’ sounds fun to you, you’re bound to enjoy We Happy Few!
We Happy Few£54.99
- Very interesting setting and overall aesthetic of the game
- Great music and voice acting - even if some of the accents are a bit OTT
- The majority of the side missions felt unique and different - I loved the Butcher one!
- The game look really good in some areas
- Progression in the form of abilities and newly acquired items keeps the game fresh and exciting
- The survival aspects start off 'okay' and become a major turn off once you get to Act three
- Ollie is pointless as a character - nobody likes him and he pisses everyone off - it makes the game much harder than it should be
- Lots of non-game breaking bugs and glitches
- A few occasional crashes and slowdowns as you approach the end of an Act
- The game starts off slow and takes a while to really become fun