We Happy Few In-Depth Xbox One Preview
Publisher: Compulsion Games Developer: Compulsion Games Genre: Survival
Players: 1 Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: N/A
We already know quite a bit about We Happy Few; a Kickstarter-funded game, the overall gameplay and design is impressive, with a lot of detail and a unique style. The final release is set to have procedural environments, permadeaths, and we know that the final game will have at least three playable characters, including Arthur Hastings, the main protagonist of this preview.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, you take control of Arthur; the place in which he resides is the utopian town of Wellingtons Wells, where people are put in denial on a pill known as Joy. The backstory for this is that something happened in Wellington Wells that the people want to forget about in order to keep the peace. Downers are people who don’t take Joy and reside in the reality – that Wellington Wells looks like a dilapidated council estate and is anything but utopian. This is because the game takes place after World War 2 – an alternate WW2 where the Germans have won – and so the area the game takes place in has suffered in light of the bombings, with some buildings looking old and crumbly and with resources sparse. To keep the peace, Arthur’s job is to redact newspapers of any unhappy news. His Joy pill starts to wear off just as he sees a story involving his brother and then it is up to you to choose whether or not you want to take a Joy pill, in turn enabling Arthur to remember or forget what happened. In hindsight it is a rather redundant choice as if you choose not to take the pill, the game ends; you do get to see the bad ending, but if you want any gameplay then really you have no choice but to choose not take the Joy pill. Things go awry for Arthur as he suddenly finds himself branded a Downer and he’s chased out of the office, through the sewers and into the Garden District of Wellington Wells.
The opening of the game sets up a very interesting story and visuals; there’s a lot of action as Arthur is chased down, more mystery is set up as to where certain characters have disappeared to, the colours are bright and eye-catching and it makes you want to know just what has happened in Wellington Wells, and why the people are taking Joy; everything pulls together and grips you, getting off to a promising start. However, the game takes a bit of a downturn when you reach the Garden District and start playing the actual game how it is. The developers probably shouldn’t have shown the video of We Happy Few at E3 in the way they did as the game is completely different from what people might come to expect; I myself was expecting something much more linear when it is, in fact, open-world. The developers have generously given quite a lot of gameplay time for you to play around with, with your mission being to escape the Garden District.
It took me a while to grasp exactly what I was supposed to be doing gameplay-wise, though even when I did understand what I was doing, the game can be rather frustrating to say the least. As with any open-world game, you have your main missions and your side missions and it is your job to complete them. However, you also have to take yourself into consideration here, with added survival elements including satisfying your thirst and hunger, and sleeping to recharge your energy. This is important as it does affect how Arthur handles when facing certain obstacles.
To complete missions you explore and explore and explore, collecting everything and anything in the same vain as Dying Light and this is where the frustration started for me. Arthur is able to craft his own useful items though it felt as though I was collecting so much and rarely using anything at all. You can take items you don’t need to a Safe House and keep them locked up in a safe, though there really isn’t enough room in the safe for everything you’ll be carrying. There is also the option to drop items on the floor a la Resident Evil Zero, though this is also frustrating as when you drop an item among lots of others, you will then struggle to find it again when you need it, maybe even forgetting where it is. Arthur can craft items including health kits and bandages that will help when you are injured, though unfortunately it is rare that you will be crafting anything of real use, collecting all of these items that aren’t put to any use for a good while. It’s like the game wanted the same inventory idea as Dead Island or Dying Light, though in those games you do actually use the items that you find consistently, and can sell the ones that you don’t need. There does seem to be currency in We Happy Few, though I never found any tradesmen that you could sell your unwanted items to and this would be a very helpful inclusion to offload some of the stuff. So for the most part you are exploring and collecting and it does become very tedious to say the least, with not a lot happening at all, a stark contrast to the opening.
There are townsfolk milling about who you can chat to, but they aren’t the most pleasant of people, being Downers, so it is to be expected. They are wary of your presence, but they do have a part to play in the gameplay. As well as going to them for some side missions, for the most part you’ll probably want to stay on their good side as We Happy Few also has combat elements and getting on the wrong side of the townsfolk will cause you a whole lot of trouble. At the moment the combat is rather clunky; you can use your bare hands to fight people, or use a weapon, such as a branch or pointed stick, and either knock them unconscious or kill them. I found that there badly needed to be some type of dodge manoeuvre – or the ability to jump backwards, as your opponent does – as blocking an incoming blow can be hit or miss. The reaction time to attack and react is a bit delayed and you’ll find yourself on the floor in a matter of seconds. The combat is also unfair – if you get on the wrong side of one townsfolk, it can escalate quickly in that anyone who is nearby will also come to join the fight, meaning there’s no set number of people who you can go up against. In this case it is better to retreat back to the Safe House and let everything cool down, though it can be difficult to even get away when you are outnumbered. Even when you run away, if you are still in ‘combat mode’, people who are nowhere near the fighting area will suddenly whip out their weapon at you. It is probably best to avoid combat, though there are times you won’t have a choice but to fight, and the fact that you can’t craft heavy duty weapons, despite having a ton of items back in your safe, gives you an unfair advantage.
There are secondary items that you can use, such as darts and a duck that will tear-gas people, though they are nothing compared to having an actual defensive weapon to use. You can collect the weapons from townsfolk, though this is also unfair as the weapon doesn’t last very long at all when it is in your hands; the townsfolk can land several hits without the weapon even cracking. The hit detection at this point is also rather clunky; sometimes you’ll strike a person who is in point blank range and won’t cause them any damage, instead your weapon going straight through them.
It can also be rather vague how you complete missions; I played for a number of hours before completing a mission and in some ways it doesn’t even feel like you are completing missions, rather you are solving events. There’s nothing that separates one mission from another – in games such as Dying Light, you select a mission and then it will begin once you arrive at the location. In We Happy Few, the missions – the side missions at least – are always active, even when you are not around. So you could be walking around and something will be happening nearby that requires you to intervene, though you can choose to walk right past while whatever is happening continues. They don’t wait around for you to arrive before starting, they are there for you to find, so the way in which missions are incorporated into the game is somewhat different.
As mentioned you also need to keep an eye on your physical needs as if you aren’t in top condition, this can also affect the gameplay, and especially combat. Fighting will deplete your needs quickly, as will just walking around. Running will deplete your needs quicker and taking Joy pills can also impact your vitals, especially when you are in withdrawal mode. Eating rotten food will cause you to become ill and you can even catch the Plague. We Happy Few definitely tries to be more realistic in the way that games like Dying Light aren’t by taking the health of the main character into account also. You can’t really die in the game though, at least in the preview you couldn’t. In the preview, if you fail to heal yourself and die, a newspaper article about Arthur dying will appear on-screen, but you’ll just end up back in the Safe House, albeit with a few less items in your inventory. Not really much of a penalty considering you’ll have plenty more items tucked away anyway. However, in the full release of the game, as mentioned earlier there will be the option for permadeaths.
The graphics also take a bit of a downturn once you reach the town. As mentioned the visuals start out bright and colourful, though in the Garden District everything becomes rather bleak. This is to reflect the fact that the townsfolk are Downers, and in certain images and videos of the game, the graphics do seem to improve again later on, though initially you’ll be spending quite a bit of your time running around a rather grey environment. The design of the town and townspeople is certainly quirky; everything is made to look long and lean and the characters have a nightmarish, puppet-like appearance, with some even wearing creepy white masks; definitely a nightmare for automatonophobia sufferers. The voice acting is equally chipper, though some of the English accents do seem rather exaggerated.
Arthur can also take Joy pills once you find them, making that initial choice at the start of the game even more pointless. When you do take a pill, it does actually add a bit of colour to the environment, though it doesn’t completely change your reality to the way it was at the start of the game. Everything is brighter and there are rainbows in the sky and you are more positive towards others, though I didn’t really see how taking a pill effects the gameplay. Everything seems the same, just with a dash of colour. I found only one area where the Joy pill was beneficial and a mission in which a Joy pill is used, though it didn’t completely change the reality Arthur is in. It would have looked a lot more visually interesting to see the world changing back to a more pleasant state. I was expecting buildings to repair themselves and the townsfolk to look less scruffy, though nothing like that happens; it’s just Arthur in a bit of an exaggerated environment and in a better mood. In the full release you will be able to take varying dosages of Joy, with each having various effects.
So a lot has been showcased in the preview gameplay of We Happy Few and, despite the frustrations, I am still curious to see how the game will expand. What has been shown does look intriguing and there is a lot of smaller details in the game that I haven’t even touched on, such as the fact you can knock people out Hitman-style and plunder their bodies for useful items, you can give people gifts and receive an item in return, the townspeople spout utter nonsense (which can become repetitive very quickly), you can use different clothing to blend in with the crowds. There are areas you can dig and traps to dismantle. It also seems as though there is going to be some stealth, with one mission available in the preview that has you sneaking around a house without being spotted by townsfolk. To help with this you can make yourself a pair of sneakers – yes, they are called sneakers here even though this is a game set in England, where they are called trainers – allowing you to sneak about quietly. You can also enter homes and will get attacked if the residents find you snooping or stealing. Story-wise there is also a subtle message about drug abuse, mental health and conformity, to add a bit of depth. What has been showcased though has been a bit of a mixed bag for me; the gameplay can be rather tedious, not much happens, the townsfolk become rather repetitive. However, with the addition of extra stories for other playable characters and the thought-provoking story, it is a game that will be on my gaming shopping list. We Happy Few is a very detailed game and there is still time for some elements to change or improve, with the game not being released until 2017.