A little over two years ago, We Happy Few arrived in Game Preview, with its brightly coloured images adorning press releases and various internet sites, showing a depraved and drug induced population with a sinister undertone. It captured the imaginations of many people, myself included, as we let our imaginations run wild as to what the plan was for the inhabitants of the fictional British town of Wellington Wells. Now, We Happy Few has finally been given its official release and is available as a full product. Was it worth the wait? Has Compulsion Games delivered what we had hoped for? Time to read on and find out.
Canadian developer, Compulsion Games has previously released quirky adventure game, Contrast on last generation consoles back in November 2013 and re-released it for current generation consoles in mid 2014. Since then, Compulsion has been busy beavering away working on We Happy Few. A game that oozes character, conformity and control of the population through fictional drug, Joy. Nothing better than being controlled via a drug that’s enforced on you, unless of course you’d rather not imbibe and be labelled a “downer”, and henceforth banished to the lower reaches of society, where you face the struggles of the poor and destitute. No one is safe there, everything is sacred, and god forbid you wear a snazzy suit that helps you stand out in the crowd, lest you want to be ganged up on and beaten to a pulp. An alternate 1969 isn’t the place to be on either side, but you’re now there, and it’s time to make a go of it. The dark undertones that lurk beneath the surface are highly reminiscent of one of the most popular games of last generation, Bioshock. Society is not well, people will go to extraordinary lenghts to get their addiction subdued, and all hell breaks loose once someone or something inevitable goes awry. That is a quick summary of Bioshock, and it applies to We Happy Few also, which si by no means a bad thing, as taking influence from a game of that stature is certainly in respect. Another nod towards Bioshock comes in the form of the Shocking Biology achievement, but I will not divulge further, save spoiling it.
Since it’s initial release, We Happy Few has come on in leaps and bounds, primarily being a game that saw crafting and survival being the main feature of the game. Sure it looked nice, but it felt devoid of any real content or end goal to work towards, which is a problem for many games of this mashed up pair of genres. I’ve played a few in the last few years, and the only title to succeed in not having a true story to keep you occupied is the little known Minecraft. But early adopters of We Happy Few cried out to Compulsion Games for a story, and let’s be honest, it was totally justified as there was a world out there that was deserving of something tangible to dive headfirst into, people to interact with, places to discover and a a tale to unravel. Compulsion listened and turned the game around and now Arthur, Sally and Ollie now feature with their own stories to tell in Wellington Wells.
The original game mechanics are still in place, but they’ve taken a backseat to a degree, although there is still a need to eat and sleep lest you want to lose stamina quicker, or health. Drinking water to quench your thirst is still an important factor for an added bonus, but you can no longer die of thirst. Instead, the journey from your cozy office and co-workers high on Joy, to the run down ruins of the streets now allows you to follow the story, meeting people, completing quests, and unravelling the story. Which is where the stealth mechanics come in to play should you wish to stay out of the line of sight of potential aggressors, and they are not perfect by any means, especially if you just want to render someone unconscious. Then like me wondering why the NPC suddenly died instead during a non-lethal takedown, ruining your chance of a no-kill run. An annoying bug for sure, and one that certainly needs to be looked at.
Visually, We Happy Few can be pretty to look at from a distance even in the slums, until you wander up close to see just how washed out the textures are when they finally pop in at their own discretion. I was wandering through the field near the beginning, trying to work out what was trying to spawn in, when I finally walked into a tree that was temporarily rendered invisible. A vending machine looked part of the background with the words so badly smudged it was difficult to tel what it said from distance, to the point it looked like scenery from a PlayStation 2 game had sneaked in. A shame that it looks so rough visually upon release, as there has been huge potential from the very start of development and resulting release into Game Preview.
Voice acting however, is top notch with many familiar British accents on show, all helping bring the game to life with an eccentric cast making up the town’s inhabitants. Including Amelia Tyler, who has had previous work on Divinty, and more recently, Indie title The Spectrum Retreat. One of many talents that has helped bring characters to life, in a believable albeit fictional British town where all is not as it would initially appear. Each and every voice actor and actress has made the character their own, usually in a sinister manner due to the addiction of Joy or it's withdrawal symptoms.
Although this is let down by animation and the above mentioned textures not looking that great. I feel that the game is fighting itself here, with good points and bad, liking to drag the game in different directions in terms of quality and overall score.
Do I feel let down by We Happy Few? Not at all. Is it a ground breaking title? Not quite. It does something different than other games, and that’s noticeable from the very start. But I do feel as though something is missing from the game, and at the beginning is where I found this to be more of a problem what with there being a lack of a population of “downers” living there, and homes for them to dwell in. Only a small handful of buildings were accessible to search and loot, which was baffling to say the least. Especially as many games these days allow you to enter most of not all buildings in games. In a weird twist though, having fewer people around you from the beginning makes combat all the more bearable as it just feels clunky due to the controls not feeling as tight as they could have been. One more area that is faultless, is the audio. Fitting the era perfectly, and offering creepy and sometimes sinister moments for you to enjoy. Along with voice acting, it hard not to like what’s been implemented.
Finally, I’d like to address something that caused a stir in the community not so long back, and that was Gearbox becoming the publisher on behalf of Compulsion Games. With a track record that’s raised questions in the past for various reasons, this would have been enough. But what made many people furious was the fact that the price doubled once this acquisition had taken place. Do I feel that it’s worth double the price? Short answer is a no. In its current state, it’s definitely a no from me. It needs tighter controls, better attention paid to animation and textures that seemingly decide when they make an appearance. I’m not saying don’t buy it, but if these features are a deciding factor for you when it comes to parting with your hard earned cash, maybe waiting for a sale or some patches to clean things up first would be preferable. Gearbox as a publisher doesn't bother me in the slightest, as they obviously saw potential in We Happy Few as did I, but given the current state, I would hold off for now, as I am certain that these issue will be addressed as soon as Compulsion Games can fix these issues.
We Happy Few has failed to deliver in a few areas, which for me personally is a shame, as it does drop the final score somewhat. However, that said, visiting Wellington Wells is certainly advisable. Just be sure to take your Joy or stay out of sight. It’s not going to be plain sailing, and that price may be a cause for concern.
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Release Date: 10th August 2018
Price: £44.74 - Standard & £65.24 - Digital Deluxe & $59.99
Xbox One copy provided for review purpose.
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