We Happy Few is one of the games I was most excited about playing this year. I didn’t have a chance to dig into it during its early access, but from what I’ve read, this final release of the game is what developer Compulsion Games wanted all along.
After a complete playthrough of the game (and by complete, I mean I went through most of the side missions, as well as the main missions), I now have seriously mixed feelings about this game. On one hand, it’s almost perfect: it’s unique, creative and a lot of fun. On the other hand, it needed a lot more developmental work before its release. But I’ll get to that later. Let’s start with the actual review, shall we?
In We Happy Few, players step into the shoes of three characters. Their stories are told in three separate chapters. These characters are not only well-fleshed out, but their stories connect in a way that works, although each chapter is its own separate entity. It’s WWII and the Germans won: the Brits gave up all their children and now the adults are all high on Joy, a drug that makes them forget that there was ever a war (or children) in the first place. Arthur, Sally and Ollie are off of their Joy, though. And they are doing their best to escape from the town of Wellington Wells to go out into the world with their memories and lives intact.
Wellington Wells is both amusing and creepy. It’s 1960s mod Britain, complete with the music and fashion that defined that era. Folks walking around happily on their Joy with masks that keep smiles on their faces permanently are disturbing. But there are still moments of that classic British-style humor. It works on pretty much all levels and sets up the game as something that is not just entertaining, but a lot of fun. Learning more about the world through found items and missions is all part of that journey. And I loved that journey immensely. At times, I got emotional (especially towards the end of each character’s chapter).
Each character has their own set of skills, so learning how to play each character as effectively as possible requires learning what they can do and what their limitations are at the beginning of each chapter. It almost makes this feel like three games in one, and that, too, is a joy (pun intended) to play.
Visuals and Sound
We Happy Few is beautifully rendered and the various areas of the wide world of Wellington Wells are beautifully-thought out. You’ve got the rainbow streets of the main urban areas, which positively shine when the main character gets forced to take their Joy. Then you’ve got the darker areas of the Garden District, where plague victims roam around and even the regular people look forlorn and lost.
The game also has some really good original music that sounds like it came straight out of the 1960s. The score is pretty awesome and it’s likely that you’ll be humming those tunes after you hear them. The voice acting is also really good and at times, you’ll find yourself emotionally connecting to the characters because of it.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect in the world of We Happy Few. Gameplay is pretty standard and anyone who has ever played a first-person action adventure will have no problems figuring out what to do. Items that can be interacted with glow when you look at them: you click on them and they do whatever it is they do, or you collect them for your inventory.
There’s also a very robust crafting system that allows for the creation of tools, healing balms, suits and the like. Experience points allow players to customize their skill trees (although the trees for each character differ). Everything is pretty standard for these kinds of games, and that’s good: the learning curve is low.
Resources throughout the environment are important, and here is where the game starts to break. Every game is different: items are randomly generated within the game, so you might not always get what you need. For example, Sally’s unique skills allows her to use a syringe of chemicals to knock out opponents from behind. But you need very specific chemicals to craft that syringe. In my playthrough, I didn’t find most of those components until almost the very end of her chapter, which meant that I had to have Sally fight her way through almost every encounter. And she’s not a very good fighter (which is the point of her having the knockout juice). This happened often with each character: I had a lot of problems finding the items I needed to progress through missions.
But that’s not the only problem with gameplay. The real problem is that this game needed more development time. It has more bugs than a garden in July. Some of those bugs can keep you from completing missions. Fortunately, those bugs only seemed to affect side missions, but for those of you who are like me and like 100% completion on a game, that’s going to get frustrating. There are also countless times when NPCs get stuck in walls and floors or end up floating in the air.
Another huge problem with the game is its loading times. Upon starting the game, it takes over five minutes to get to the actual game itself (that’s loading the intro screen, clicking on “x” to go to the main menu and then clicking on “continue” to load the last saved game). There are also a lot of loading screens within the game itself: traveling from one fast travel hatch to another requires a loading screen. Sometimes, just walking through an area brings up a loading screen.
The largest problem, though, is that this game crashes. And I’m not saying that it crashes a few times while you’re playing it. This game crashes at least once per hour of play time, sometimes more. And when it crashes, you have to restart it from the very beginning with that five-minute loading time to get back to the game. Also, the crashing often corrupts saves and makes continuing a saved game crash. Yes, there are crashes within the crashes.
We Happy Few could have been the perfect game. I would have happily given it 5 stars based on its unique premise and setting. I also really enjoyed the title while I played it. I don’t often sit down and play games for hours on end, but this one sucked me in, in spite of its problems.
But those problems are huge. The crashes, along with the insanely long loading times, makes me wish that Compulsion had spent another month or two testing the game out and making sure that it worked properly. Those issues are frustrating for players.
There is so much to love about We Happy Few, and I only wish I could take some Joy and forget the gameplay-related things that I hated about it. But it’s hard to really enjoy any kind of game when you’re waiting for it to load (again) after it has crashed for the third time in an hour.
Rating: (3 / 5)
Note: FanGirlConfessions.com received a review copy of episode one of We Happy Few for PlayStation 4.