I remember the announcement for We Happy Few and the first few images posted online. I thought it was creepy and exciting. I’m a big fan of dystopian settings, even more so when the people in them think of society as being utopic overall. The juxtaposition between how clearly horrible the world is and how people perceive it is fascinating for me, particularly when done right.
This weekend I got my hands on the Early Access version of We Happy Few—no, I didn’t buy it, the developers sent me the code—and I got to play for a little while, exploring this alpha version dystopian world.
Before I go into the experience, let me tell you a bit about the world of We Happy Few. The game takes place in an alternate and completely messed up version of 1960s England, where ‘normal’ people are all under the influence of a drug called Joy, which not only makes them feel happy but also blocks all painful memories. In essence, everyone ‘productive’ in society is a doped up creepy happy drone.
If you’re not on Joy or refuse to take it then you’re a “Downer” and a target for prosecution and exile into the bad part of town, where buildings are in ruins and people live in squalor. This is the place for the downtrodden, the outcasts, those who preferred to have their memories, thoughts and opinions instead of simply conforming to the blissful mindlessness.
In fact, now that I think about it, the phrase “ignorance is bliss” is at the heart of We Happy Few’s society…and I love it.
I love how the game looks and the sheer contrast between ‘society’ and where the Downers live. Society is full of colour, straight out of the hippest films and TV series of the era, with warm tones and lovely music. The Downers live in a harsh gray town, with disease, distrust and corruption as their only companion. They find solace wherever they can, but their lives are decidedly gloomy.
Right now there isn’t much in the game save the prologue, where you lose everything and the cops toss you out into the Downer zone for not being a happy little drone. I still don’t understand how you get from capture to waking up in a bunker aka safe house, but I’m betting it’s all part of a sequence that isn’t there yet.
As soon as you start you immediately come to grips with the two major mechanics and where We Happy Few starts losing me: crafting and survival. Yes, We Happy Few is yet another survival game with crafting, where you pick up random bits from the floor to create other random bobs to keep you healthy. You also need to watch your weariness, hunger and thirst and dear me does this character never stop being hungry? I gave him water and some jerky and five minutes later he was starving and dying of thirst all over again. In fact, my playthrough ended with the poor sap dying of hunger.
Compulsion Games stated they would address the balance of the survival elements but to be honest I dislike them at their core. I hate gathering materials to create a tool or weapon that will break in a couple of uses. I hated it in Cornerstone, where weapons last a couple of whacks before they break and I hate it here. Have you ever swung a bat, even a cricket one, at something hard? Have you ever broken a bat? I haven’t and I have swung one before with some considerable strength. Now imagine swinging one at the squishy face of some poor bastard.
I’ll say it slowly: the…bat…will…not…break. And even less so the stuff you make with metal. Do you know why people made spears out of sticks and wood and kept using them? Because they’re generally quite sturdy things and they don’t shatter easily if you’re just putting the pointy bit into something else. But in We Happy Few, you create spears using spaghetti for all they last.
I also hate interrupting my mission objectives, my progression in the story, to go looking for random bits of food and making sure I eat the right ones so my character doesn’t get even more penalties on him.
Again, the game is in alpha and they’re going to address this, but it bears mention because to be honest, all survival games are freaking identical in this regard. I spend more time feeding the character and making sure he sleeps properly than actually advance the game.
I honestly hope they patch some story into their game soon, because if not, then there’s very little reason to come back for me. If you’ve read my stuff before, my views on games and reviews, you know storytelling is very important to me. Right now, there’s a lot of faffing about and taking on secondary missions but little in the way of a story.
And despite its flaws, particularly the survival bits, I do see the game’s potential. I want to like it. I want to see what this creepy happy world can offer me. I want to see what moral dilemmas it’ll present me with, and I want to see how I respond to it.