We Happy Few is, so far, the biggest gaming failure of 2018.
A broken, miserable, boring game, We Happy Few is so utterly joyless that playing it is nothing short of a chore. At first, I was somewhat enamoured by the 60’s psychedelic vibe, the narrative potential and the apparent similarities to some great games.
Unfortunately, after only a few hours in none of this mattered anymore. We Happy Few had become a slog. A slog through a mostly empty, cut and paste open world, a charmless, story of wasted potential and a game so buggy it never should have been released.
We Happy Few is not good and had it been marketed differently it may have been received more kindly. But it tried to stand alongside games like BioShock and in doing so set itself up to fail spectacularly.
We Happy Few Review
Let’s get that out of the way straight up. We Happy Few has nothing in common with BioShock aside from the first-person perspective and the wrench. The similarities begin and end there. BioShock was an engaging and thoughtful analysis of player agency and Ayn Randesque philosophy.
It had something to say and it gave players a reason to play. Rapture was a marvel and the gameplay, though heavy on shooting, was by and large unique for the time it was released.
We Happy Few, on the other hand, doesn’t have anything to say. Not anything of note at least. Somewhere in there seems to be an idea about the medication of society, depression, individuality and self-expression, but these are ideas that are applied only on the surface.
There is no actual thoughtful content in We Happy Few that analyses this on a deeper level. It’s basically like Compulsion Games chose the themes and then went “Hey! Look! It’s about depression!” The best example of this is some graffiti in the game that makes reference to the ‘Black Dog.’
Attributed to Winston Churchill, the term ‘Black Dog’ has been ascribed to depression and mental health for decades. In We Happy Few, instead of examining anything to do with mental health in a meaningful way, Compulsion Games has simply used it for set dressing.
It’s a shame as the core of We Happy Few does have the potential to provide an in-depth look at these ideas, but they’re simply wasted.
Take the idea of individuality and self-expression. Being an individual in Wellington Wells is unacceptable and anyone exhibiting signs of it is shunned and chased out into the Garden District to join the Wastrels. Wastrels are those who have become ‘Downers.’ Immune to the effects of the drug Joy, We Happy Few’s hamfisted stand-in for any number of anti-depressants, the Wastrels are forced to survive on scraps and with their memories fully intact.
Many of these Wastrels express happiness to be free of the cloud of Joy despite their living situation. However, instead of being welcoming, the Wastrels attack on sight, anyone who appears to be slightly different.
Not What It Seems
If you’re wearing nice clothes, the kind that would let you blend in inside Wellington Wells, the Wastrels won’t like you at all. The same goes for the gangs who occupy much of the open-world. Instead of you being able to revel in individuality after escaping from Joy, you’re forced to pretend to fit in in a different way.
And since every character you meet will only be friendly to you if you look and act like they do, there are simply no stakes. We Happy Few wants to create a dystopian world full of people struggling to break free or eke out a life. Instead, it’s populated by distinct groups that only react positively if you meet the correct requirements.
It’s cheap and it’s videogamey. What’s the point of trying to fit in with the Wastrels if they’re just going to batter you to death the moment you put the wrong suit on?
There’s so much wasted potential in We Happy Few that it’s honestly a bit sad. It could be forgiven if playing it was actually any good, but while the narrative is bad, the gameplay is worse.
We Happy Few is a survival game at its core, but it’s a survival game that should have been released about five years ago. The mechanics are dated and horribly so. Players need to manage hunger, thirst and tiredness. Doing so is pretty standard; eat, drink and sleep.
Survival Not Guaranteed
The problems begin once the management of these gauges becomes a chore. It’s not fun at all to constantly be trying to make sure you have the right items to keep yourself in peak condition. When you become hungry or thirsty or tired, you’re hit with some pretty significant debuffs and then everything kind of snowballs.
It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where you’re low on health, have no way to heal and are also tired so that you die more easily. It’s astonishingly frustrating. That’s to say nothing of the game’s combat and exploration.
All combat in We Happy Few is melee. You’re able to find /craft all manner of melee weapons including non-lethal and lethal varieties. But it doesn’t matter. They all feel the same, they all share similar janky animations and worst of all, anytime you’re in combat it suddenly becomes impossible to maintain control of your character.
Pressing the attack button is a roll of the dice. Sometimes you’ll connect with the enemy and sometimes you’ll inexplicably miss. There’s no way to know if you’re going to deal damage or just smack them with an ineffectual love tap.
That We Happy Few was released with this combat system in place is staggering. There’s no precision and therefore no enjoyment.
Empty, Open World
As for the open-world, it’s terrible. Largely procedurally generated, We Happy Few’s environments are dull, ugly and mostly empty. Exploring takes forever and you’re rarely rewarded for your efforts. Nine times out of 10, instead of finding any items of any value I’d pick up yet another roll of duct tape or teacup.
It’s not just the emptiness that’s a problem either. We Happy Few’s world looks like it’s been copied and pasted. There are so few building types, character models and environmental elements that it’s a visual snooze fest. That’s not even mentioning the bugginess that sees you clip through parts of the map or glide over certain sections as it doesn’t even have proper collision detection.
There’s so much wrong with We Happy Few that it’s hard to recommend it for anyone, for any reason.
We Happy Few is a bad indie game masquerading as an AAA title. It’s not worth your time, nor your money. Avoid at all costs.
We Happy Few was reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: We Happy Few