We Happy Few PC Review

We Happy Few hides nuggets of narrative gold at the end of tiring sequences of gameplay.

By Woozie, Posted 13 Aug 2018

We Happy Few is a game of contrasts. Set in a Britain on the losing side of World War II, where enforced use of a drug named Joy makes people live in an artificial state of constant bliss, it follows three characters that seek a way out. Where most people choose to forget the past, the protagonists are willing to shed away the blissful veil and face the harsh realities underneath. While We Happy Few isn’t the first piece of media to focus on dissidents in what’s passed as a utopia on the surface but less so underneath, it does come with doses of good commentary and a world that, in certain instances feels unique. The further you get into the story, the more you learn about each of the three characters and watch as they become nuanced individuals whose deeds can end up making you both empathize with and despise their actions. The three stories overlap, filling significant gaps both past and present, as the protagonists leave the Joy-ous haze behind and face the demons that come with rememberance.

We Happy Few, PC, Review, Screenshot

These moments are genuinely impactful, but unfortunately, they’re always found at the end of long portions of tedious and frustrating gameplay. It’s not just story and characters that We Happy Few Gets right, as Wellington Wells’ aesthetic also stands out. From color infused cities where nothing seems wrong to the grim reality underneath once the effects of Joy wears off; from remains of bombed buildings to occasional retrofuturistic elements, the world has its impressive bits and bobs, at least until it becomes obvious that the models and assets used aren’t that numerous.

We Happy Few boasts an open world, in theory, although portions of it are often locked behind quests, which does make it feel like you’re always being, more or less, directed to where you need to go. Side quests pop up naturally while exploring, sometimes only at certain times of day. The problem is that exploration is a drawn out, tedious affair. Aside from the small stamina bar that has characters taking frequent breaks while sprinting, you’re really mostly going through towns that feel empty and fields that feel even emptier. This, in fact, is what you’ll do for most of your time spent with We Happy Few, even after unlocking fast travel points spread across the map.

We Happy Few, Screenshot, PC, Review

The survival elements in play are either frustrating or of no consequence. To exemplify, hunger and thirst were never an issue, food being plentiful and characters taking their time before growing hungry or thirsty. Despite getting in a fair share of brawls, I bled surprisingly little and only had infected wounds once or twice during my time with the game. The search for crafting ingredients, on the other hand, can have you running around looking for plants, or parts for a required device or suit, which doesn’t always work in your favor, especially in acts II and III. A certain quest suggested I wear a worker’s suit, although I hadn’t encountered a certain ingredient required for it in my playthrough at all. I had to resort to smashing the heads of innocent workers in and exploiting two guards’ narrow line of sight to lockpick the very door they were guarding. Luckily, they only noticed my misbehavior once the door was unlocked, after which moving to the other side and closing it made them quickly forget about my crime. All this happens to the point where even if the writing attached to the quest sets up emotional, witty, silly or otherwise great moments, the means of reaching them make it harder and harder to want to reach these points as time goes on.

Wellington Wells can be quite unwelcoming a place, too. Different islands require wearing appropriate clothing, which sounds like a great touch, but is ultimately reduced to a simple visit to the inventory screen. You can even change clothes after being spotted if you’re quick. Prior to unlocking the appropriate skills, people will get angry, and eventually turn hostile towards you for as little as sprinting or jumping in their presence. Something tells me that this was meant as a means of showcasing how repressive Wellington Wells is. Indeed, one rehabilitation video teaches that there’s no reason to hurry anywhere, since life is absolutely brilliant as long as you take your Joy. However, it really only manages to make one go straight for the skills that get rid of these absolutely annoying systems.

We Happy Few, PC, Screenshot, Review

Fighting and sneaking feel clunky and unpolished. A limited move set and having to manage a rather small stamina bar, means that combat involves repeating block-shove-hit motions while occasionally backing away from foes, regardless of which character you’re playing as. Even with the addition of different gadgets meant to debilitate or distract enemies, things never take a turn for the better. Then there are the bugs that came into play. Some enemies teleported around right before attacking or despawned suddenly. Hits would connect through solid objects, characters would get stuck inside tables, walls or fall through the ground and, most aggravatingly, certain quests ended up not registering progress.

Sneaking plays a significant role in We Happy Few’s missions and it can be quite unpredictable. The enemy AI isn’t the brightest and their line of sight tends to vary quite wildly. Sometimes you’re right in front of them and they won’t notice you, at other times they spot you from afar. Aside from that, it’s what you would expect, with the mention that you can see footsteps through walls, to get an idea of where enemies are. You avoid patrols, perform takedowns from behind, maybe hide bodies and navigate through lots of conveniently placed vents or side paths. When you’re caught, running around until you break line of sight with your pursuers and find a rubbish bin, bed, or bush to hide in is a handy solution. The main thing all these systems manage to do, however, is slow the game down while offering little to no satisfaction to the player.

We Happy Few, PC, Review, Screenshot

A strong feeling of artificiality also permeates We Happy Few’s world.  Sometimes, you’ll see several characters using the same model walking synchronously and not because the game wants to make a point about conforming in a dystopian society. You can talk to others while exploring, but there is a very small pool of lines. People seem to have fixed patrol paths, but sometimes you’ll see NPCs clumping in a random spot for no reason whatsoever. Pissing off someone from another corner of the town means that everyone else will turn hostile once they spot you, even if they’re from the opposite corner to which you ran without being spotted by anyone else. Luckily, outrunning them is rarely a problem, at least in open environments.

People, in general, turn hostile far too easily before you obtain a certain skill, after which navigating towns becomes an absolute breeze. In the rare cases where NPCs were attacking each other, things devolved into theatrical situations where the attackee would run away and occasionally stop to cower while the attacker tried and always failed to land as much as a single hit. The ultimate killer, however, is We Happy Few’s quest design. The very definition of repetitive, it sends you on fetch quest after fetch quest, completing a gameplay loop that tires and never rewards. It’s very much a case where most of the game’s systems work against its written and scripted parts, severely impeding what they try, and often succeed, to achieve.

We Happy Few, PC, Review, Screenshot

I’ll admit that I gave up on We Happy Few after the first quarter of the third character’s story and I genuinely felt bad about it, since he seems to be as troubled and interesting as the two before him, if not more. When it comes to story, characters and setting, We Happy Few frequently soars. All that is, however, squandered as soon as you realize they’re always found at the end of long sequences of slowly jogging from place to place, doing fetch quest after fetch quest while also dealing with clunky combat, unpredictable stealth and bugs. When these systems don’t feel tacked on, they bore or frustrate, and it’s a real pity because We Happy Few tells engaging stories about characters that feel genuine. These nuggets of narrative and situational gold are there for people with mountains of patience to spare, but even so, it’s hard to overlook how We Happy Few just isn’t that fun of a game.

Bogdan Robert, NoobFeed
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General Information

We Happy Few

60/100

Platform(s): Xbox One, PC
Publisher(s): Gearbox Publishing
Developer(s): Compulsion Games
Genres: Survival, Adventure
Themes: Dystopian
Release Date: 2018-08-10

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