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*Disclaimer time: We Happy Few is early access, and so it’s not a complete game. Compulsion Games has said that it is “feature complete” but the story has been held back so that players can get a feel for the game in early access. *
We Happy Few, is one of those games that was destined to be disappointing right out of the gate. After a stellar showing at E3, and a whole lot of media hype, the early access quietly launched in July of this year. From the first showing at E3, you would not be remiss to think this is a game with a strong story, about a repressed 1960s England full of censorship and happy pills. You might, however, be disappointed with the story. Under that happy cherry opening segment lies a fairly robust survival game backed up with solid mechanics and an amply stimulating sandbox world, but the story will have to be really strong to stand up on its own. Permadeath can make things frustrating when you get a run of bad luck, but you can always turn it off. Based on the Beta, this isn’t a story driven game in any sense of the word. To be fair, the game may have story at some point, and the developers have put the bones of a story in, but as of now We Happy Few is just missing reasons for its objectives, something I’m sure can be added later on.
So what do you get with this game? A robust survival-based game, set in a fun world of 1960s England full of interesting things to explore and find and craft. If you haven’t seen the intro video from E3, here. That should give you a pretty feeling for what the game looks like. Visually, it accurately captures the atmosphere of the 60s. Bright colors and plastic things abound, and the early bright environments in the beginning of the game stand in stark contrast to the first game play area, which is mostly gritty and a muted earth tone.
I was surprised to find this was a survival game, as the E3 trailer made it look like more of a story driven sort of game narrative based action. The game has plenty of action, but as of now, there is no story beyond that introduction you see in that video. That doesn’t mean there isn’t more to understand about the world, just that in terms of narration and other story based elements, the developers are holding that back for now. What you get for story is a whole lot of flavor. if you stop to read the text in the intro section for example, you get an understanding of the happiness drug, as well as a frame narrative and some story background. In case you don’t want to read it, I’ll summarize: WWII is over, the allies lost, Britain is a colony of Germany. To combat sadness, a drug has been invented to keep people happy. This pill is the “joy” we heard about in the trailer, and seems to be a main plot point of the game. Those who refuse to take their joy are called “downers” and exiled to a rundown part of the city.
Story stuff aside what this game really is a great survival game. After playing the game’s intro section I was set off into the open world to explore. Basically, you wake up in an old tube tunnel and go from there. This brief second tutorial has us collecting a few raw materials, doing a bit of crafting, and finishing your first “mission”. Then it’s out of the tunnel and on your own. Exiting the tunnel takes you to the dreary surface world, where other burned out “downers” like you make their home.
Like most survival games, you will need to pay attention to various meters in this game. In this case we manage 3 resources for living and a stamina meter. Yes there is combat in this game, but let’s talk about those meters first. Just like most survival games, We Happy Few starts you out with very few raw materials, so you have to immediately start looking for clean water, food, and weapons.
My biggest problem was finding a place to sleep. Sleep is a real resource here, and needs to be managed. After a short time, if you don’t sleep you end up not able to run or fight in an efficient manner. I had no trouble finding food and water, but finding a safe place to sleep was a serious issue. Food was pretty common, but a lot of it was spoiled, and could cause sickness. When sick, the player would not get anything on their hunger meter, and vomit the food up. Sickness can be countered by precious pills that are sprinkled throughout the map. These rare resources tend to only come with combat, so sadly being a peaceful gatherer doesn’t seem to be an option.
Let’s talk about that combat: It’s all Melee based (from what I could see), and it’s a very basic system. Weapons are primitive, like you might find in a destroyed town. The most powerful weapon I was able to find was a cricket bat, which was a one hit kill on most enemies. Other weapons included sticks, rocks, and a few other random items found around. Later, crafting can get you traps and other things to use for combat.
I found the crafting to be quite fun, and very in-depth. I hope they will add more recipes and more cooking later on, but for now it has enough to keep it interesting. You can craft a lot of basic things right now using simple base materials and this is important to surviving in the world you’re dropped into. The game’s starter area is quite well populated, and most people are docile until provoked. I did find a few hostile folks early on, and in some cases found myself straight-up murdered. Did I mention this game features Permadeath? Yeah, it does. So when you die, you gotta start all over again.
Timewise, folks should have no issue with the value they get for their game. I was able to map about 40% of the first map in my longest play through. Two hours of play and that was just 40% of the first area. This is going to be a large game, with many NPC’s and quests to do, in addition to the simple survival objectives.
The game creates a dilemma between wanting to explore and find raw resources, and wanting to stay close enough to home to not die. There are other games that have nailed this in the past, but as far as I can tell,We Happy Few is doing it in a vastly different way. The combat feels fast and fresh, the crafting isn’t cumbersome, and the permadeath keeps things interesting. If Compulsion can get a story shoehorned into this game without hurting the broad open world feel, this one is going to be a big hit.
We Happy Few is available in the steam early access program right now, and in the eshop from Microsoft and Sony.