We Happy Few – Drug-Induced Banality
PC, PS4, Xbox One
- enter a world that at first seems a combination of BioShock (indeed, there’s even a cheeky achievement nod, tasking you with killing one Ryan Andrews) and Dishonored, with a little Fallout thrown in. It’s not long, though, until the shallow depth of We Happy Few’s systems become apparent. Combat is dull, comprised of only block and attack and almost impossible against multiple foes, which the game likes to throw at you at regularly-scripted intervals. Crafting is arduous and you’ll amass far more junk than useful components. There doesn’t seem to be a way to choose which things to loot from a single desk/cabinet/fridge. You just have to “take all” and worry about inventory management later. In a game where loot is essential for survival, the actual desire to seek out loot is muted within the first hour. You’re simply better off to just follow main mission markers because there’s nothing worthwhile waiting inside the game’s derelict (though admittedly atmospheric) buildings.
- traipse across randomly-generated, sparsely-populated islands, undertaking tasks that rarely extend beyond following checkpoints, talking to someone or getting something, then dutifully heading off to the next checkpoint. Repeat for 30 hours!. The story just isn’t strong enough to bind all this mindless legwork together, so you’ll grow extremely bored of We Happy Few before you’ve even completed one of the three playable character’s arcs.
- encounter creepy policemen with pasty-grin makeup who will chase you in the countryside but say hello if you’re wearing a nice suit in town, or something. I dunno, there’s a camouflage system of some kind at play, but it only seems to matter during certain beats when the game forces you to change your appearance to blend in as either a good citizen or a hard-done-by one. The main thing you need to know is that at no point does it feel like the NPCs share an iota of intelligence between them. They will stand stiff-backed for eternity or walk set guard patterns and if you piss them off, well, just breaking line-of-site and hiding for a little bit does the trick. In fact, that’s the tactic I’d suggest for every bad situation because you will get thoroughly owned in combat and then have to spend precious resources on healing yourself. You’ll likely also lose/break any decent weapons by being overly pugilistic, so just leg it, duck down into some long grass or sit on a park bench and read a newspaper. They’ll forget about you in no time.
- find little incentive to explore or pursue side quests because the rewards are rarely worthwhile and none of the perks that you can unlock seem at all enticing. You often spend more than you gain investigating things, having to craft lock-picks and jimmies to get into locked doors and drawers – not to mention the use of precious healing items should you get spotted or ambushed. It becomes too costly to take an interest in anything other than the main quest
- with the general aesthetic, which paints a dystopian alternative history where an exiled British populace turn to the chemical wipeout that the drug Joy offers, painting across reality, shrouding pain and violence, replacing it with a buoyant gait and carefree greetings between fellow doped-up citizens.
- to explore the generally atmospheric environments, which do manage to tell a story just by mise en scène. The empty environments are more interesting than those with people in them.
- to listen to the voice performances and script, which are actually very good and provide the only hooks in this dirge of a game. They are very British, so when Arthur incredulously says “Papier-mâché” you can’t help but smile at the performance. This glue, though strong, is sadly not enough to bind you to the grinding campaign, so you’ll likely never hear all the effort that went into characterisation.
- will find their way to the end of this, as mission frustrations often extend to long periods of walking between locations (if you run inside certain areas, citizens will crack the shits and turn on you, somehow psychically communicating your social disobedience to every other NPC clone that sees you – seriously, the lack of NPC variety is a real worry) or, in the case of one mission, waiting around for hours in-game for night to fall and starting to question the value of your time as you check Twitter for about thirty minutes while the in-game clock ticks through to 9pm so you can bloody continue the quest. If there is a way to, like, sleep in the game to fast-forward time, it wasn’t clear to me.
- Xbox One players will write home about awesome loading times or decent frame rates, as We Happy Few’s performance is quite dire. I’m no tech head, but my eyes definitely noticed regular frame dips below acceptability, the game approaching slide-show territory for no discernible reason. Perhaps patches will smooth this out, but for now, it just adds to the general sense of We Happy Few being an unfinished game pushed out too early.
WE CRAPPY FEW?
I knew nothing about We Happy Few other than that it was apparently a survival game or something. The first hour or so really grabbed me and I started to look forward to a stealth-heavy, BioShocky adventure. The alternative history storyline is quite smart and the idea of an entire city kept “happy” by a drug just to forget the horrors of their past defeat/deeds is ripe territory to tell some truly emotional stories.
Sadly, the attached gameplay fails to align with the concept, instead landing with flaccid stealth sections, woeful AI, frustrating forced combat, an unexciting loot system, and just downright boring missions. I wanted to like it, I wanted to push through, but as the hours built up, playing We Happy Few started to feel like wading through deepening mud, the muck building up against me and forcing me to stop. With no incentive to keep going apart from the game’s truly impressive voice recordings, it became clear that We Happy Few is not worth the effort. Perhaps time will iron out many of the issues as this still feels like a living document being tweaked by the creators. But as a paid game at retail, it’s just not good enough to recommend.