Before we begin this review in earnest, we should take the time to stress that this game is still in active development. As such this review should be taken as an exploration of how the game is now, which might not resemble what it will become as Compulsion Games continues to refine it.
We Happy Few takes place in a world in which sadness has become a crime. The population is kept in a state of eternal bliss by taking a drug known as Joy. Those who refuse to take their joy are known as downers. Downers are shunned by society and forced to live in a slum. In We Happy Few you play as a downer and it is your mission to escape the city.
The first thing that you will notice about Wellington Wells is that it is an inhospitable place. You are truly without friends and this city, and learning to navigate the people around you, is as essential as navigating the terrain. Everything that you need to progress through the game will need to be made, found, stolen or bartered for. This even extends to the things that you will need to stay alive. This is one of the aspects with the most potential to divide people on the game. If you are a fan of survival games then having to keep stocked with food, water, and medicine will reinforce the game’s theme of forced joviality masking a population of citizens who are greatly isolated from one another. If this aspect is not to your taste, you will be frustrated by having to keep track of various resources and meters. Compulsion Games has done a good job of tweaking this element as they continue to develop the game though, and there is no doubt that this aspect does not distract as much as it once did.
The other aspect that players will find most divisive is the current absence of much of a story. There is currently an intro to provide context but after that you are left to find your own way through the city. It is up to you to find the objectives and the means to complete them. How you will find this will depend on if you yearn for the freedom to explore in your games, or at least prefer some semblance of a set path to travel down. Regardless of which of these is the case, the game is not lacking in content, and there are missions to find, and be solved.
It can be tough to commit to buying an early access game. Much of the appeal is built on the promise of future gain. As it stands now We Happy Few is worth a look for those gamers who enjoy games that present them with a struggle at every step of the way. If the thought of this doesn't appeal to you, there are options (such as turning off permadeath), which will make the game less frustrating, and allow you to explore the city without fear of your journey stopping at some abrupt point.
Compulsion Games made the right choice in setting this game in the ‘60s (albeit an alternative one). The marriage of a decade known for exuberance and dystopian undertones creates a world that is worth giving a look.
WE HAPPY FEW / DEVELOPER: COMPULSION GAME / PUBLISHER: FUNDED VIA KICKSTARTER / PLATFORMS: MICROSOFT WINDOWS, XBOX ONE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (EARLY ACCESS)