The opening sequence of We Happy Few is startling, unsettling, and enthralling. With no introduction, you are placed behind a machine and tasked with redacting information from newspapers; think Winston Smith from 1984. The world you are in thrives on an antidepressant called “Joy”, a small pill that not only suppresses sadness, but actually causes you to hallucinate, essentially changing your perception of reality from terrifying oppression, to blissful happiness. But you are not taking your Joy today, today you will see how horrible the world really is, today you are a Downer.
You have to be concerned with your well being when you first exit your underground safe house and enter The Garden District. Hunger, thirst, sickness, exhaustion, and health are all meters you must keep from emptying, and some of them are easier to refill than others. I found copious amounts of water facets placed around the world, so thirst was never really an issue. Hunger was a different story. Early on, all I found was rotten and moldy food. Sometimes I’d eat this rotten food and be fine, other times I would get sick with food poisoning. One sickness I had caused my character to vomit everything he ate, so I was slowly starving to death. Luckily I found some pills that cured the food poisoning, so I survived to live another day. I actually found it rather easy to survive despite being constantly under threat. While it seemed daunting at first, I eventually got the hang of managing my well being. Keep in mind though, this is a roguelite, so even a single misstep that leads to death means you have to restart from the beginning. Sort of. You can actually turn off permadeath at the start of the game. You can also choose to turn on a “second wind” mechanic which means you simply pass out, instead of dying, if you are beat to death. You then wake up a little while later at the same spot you fell.
From a world standpoint, the one presented here is bland and in stark contrast to the vibrant, complex world on display in the introduction. It is procedurally generated, so the architecture is often repeated and every city block looks similar as a result. Even the NPCs that populate the streets and houses all look the same. The only way to really get around is to use your map because there are very few unique landmarks to guide you around. Your map has mission markers and points of interest marked on it. However, many of those markings don’t translate to any type of minimap on your HUD, so you have to constantly reopen the menu to make sure you are going the right way.
As far as crafting goes, recipes that you can fulfill are highlighted and those you cannot make are red, but hovering over them shows you what you need to create them. Most of the recipes I found appeared in my list by picking up key components. Others seemed to be known right from the start. I did pick up a few recipes strewn about the world, but that doesn’t seem to be an absolute requirement in order to learn all the recipes.
I am disappointed with the current early access version of We Happy Few on two fronts. I do not feel as though the game lives up to the narrative spectacle I, and I imagine others, hoped for after seeing the E3 trailer. I also don’t think it is a particularly good roguelite survival game. The bland world and clunky inventory leave a lot to be desired. Combine that with an overall lack of challenge and no intriguing reason to push forward, I’m left wondering where they will take the game. Considering the stark contrast between the story heavy intro sequence and the bare-bones gameplay, it’s hard for me to envision a game where these two completely different elements form a cohesive whole.
Compulsion Games has stated that they want to keep the game in early access for at least six months. What they will add in that six months is unknown. What are the narrative secrets they are keeping under wraps? Can they take the somewhat basic survival mechanics and transform them into something unique? I guess time will tell. I do not recommend spending $30 on this game right now as I do not think it earns that price tag. However, if you have an Xbox One I do recommend you download the one hour free Game Preview if you are at all interested in the game. Also, keep an eye on updates because there is a chance We Happy Few will turn into a great, story driven survival game, something the genre is missing in my opinion.