We Happy Few early access first impressions

There's some surprising twists to be found in this dystopian survival game that balances dark humor with outright horror.

One of the more odd combinations of gaming conventions in recent memory, We Happy Few is such a bizarrely awesome mashup of styles that it couldn't help but hit our list of most anticipated horror games of the year.

The game is now available in early access after a successful crowd funding campaign (the ethics of double dipping for continued monetary support without a full release is up in the air – especially after surpassing its Kickstarter goal - but that's a different article entirely).

It's unclear whether full release will actually land by December or not at this point, as plenty of games stay in early access longer than five months, but there's still hope for a 2016 release based on what we're seeing in our first We Happy Few impressions.

We Happy Few's Setting

Maybe it's just because I'm not used to the UK speech pattern, but subtitles were a life saver, as I couldn't understand a bloody word any one of those wankers were saying.

Once that was out of the way, what you've got with We Happy Few is essentially 1984 meets Wallace And Gromit with a horror twist and a psychedelic '60s color scheme.

Forgetting is the key to happiness!

The single player campaign starts off in truly dystopian fashion, with a busy worker bee redacting unpleasant info from newspapers. When main character Arthur Hastings reads an article that reminds him of an unhappy past, he decides to skip his regular dose of Joy to remember more... despite the potentially unpleasant consequences of doing so.

The color drains out of the world if you don't take Joy – a strong visual reminder of why everyone's addicted in the first place – and Arthur starts to see things as they are rather than as people wish they were.

That idea comes across very strongly when watching a constable beating an employee through some half-open blinds, which are quickly slammed shut. The imagery is clear: the world is awful just beneath the surface, but the drug lets you shut it all out and not notice.

A perfect metaphor for the world of We Happy Few

Things get out of control when Arthur realizes a pinata filled with candy is actually a dead animal, and suddenly the cat's out of the bag: everyone knows he's “a Downer” who isn't taking his Joy.

From there it's a mad dash to escape before the cudgels start raining down and the real game play picks up. Arthur is thrown into a city filled with people who don't want their painful memories, and will fight viciously to maintain their happy lies.

The world's not a pleasant place when you're off Joy

We Happy Few's Play Style

Although the trailers in the past made it seem like this would be a straight-forward horror adventure like Outlast, SOMA, etc. there's actually a really intriguing mixing of styles going on here.

The game is more of a procedural survival experience than a linear horror tale. Arthur's environs are rearranged and procedurally generated on each go through, and death is permanent (thankfully you can turn off the prologue segment so you don't have to play it each time).

A crafting system forces you to scavenge for parts to rig together lock picks, weapons, and even food, and there's plenty of zany or tongue-in-cheek item descriptions for a little dark humor.

There's a level of careful inventory management required as you have to decide: eat this rotten food and get sick, or die of starvation?

Down the old hatch...

Two different factions of potential enemies will get suspicious and attack you if you don't meet their expectations. First there's the happy go lucky, upstanding folks in town who don't want any Downer activity ruining their buzz.

Besides those potentially homicidal folks, there's the even worse “wrong sort” - the wastrels who come out at night or live outside town and are frequently insane. Both will quickly notice if you are doing anything out of the ordinary, and both have different conditions for getting upset with you.

Oh dear, I've angried up the locals

With either group, its surprisingly easy to get in situations where large mobs of people are surrounding an outmatched and overwhelmed Arthur. There's almost a Left 4 Dead feel in that respect, with having to push people away and desperately seek an opening to get to safety, although We Happy Few is very much not a shooter.

All along the way there's equal measures of horror and zaniness, complete with very dark quippy one liners, like when Arthur mumbles “looks like she's gone off her rocker” upon discovering an old woman who hung herself from a rocking chair.

Not everyone can handle a world without Joy

Glitches And Issues

Clearly an early access game isn't going to perfect, and there's some smoothing out to do still. Overall the graphical style really works, but some of the environments do look a bit flat and could use more pop.

There's of course optimization still to be done as well (even with the graphics at medium I still got some stutters and slow downs). A handful of bugs also need to be squashed before the game hits full release, which may make We Happy Few not worth trying yet if you want a more feature complete experience.

I experienced two major glitches in my playthroughs: the first was when I sat down a body to craft a lock pick and was unable to pick the corpse back up again. It was annoying and nerfed a quest, but not the end of the world.

The second bug was significantly more game breaking, however. After playing through that twisted prologue I decided to try it a second while choosing different options. Following the pinata scene, I unfortunately found myself stuck in place on a jagged edge in the filing room and had to entirely restart yet again. That one was much more frustrating.

Finally, there are some tweaks to the gameplay that would lead to a more satisfying experience, primarily with the hunger/thirst mechanics, which at this point seem to be out of control.

Arthur's various meters drop at an alarming rate, so get ready to always be seeking out food and drink at all times. It adds a level of desperation and makes sense in the setting (as no one is going to interact with a Downer), but it gets more frustrating than fun before long.

What a fun euphemism for death!

Bottom Line

Although final release is still months off at least, We Happy Few in its current state is already looking very promising, and the procedural generation-meets-permadeath aspect is both unexpected and unexpectedly fun.

The specifics of the campaign story are still a bit shrouded in mystery, so I'm hoping for more horror twists, but what's on display now is already a great mix of twisted humor with more dark and horrific elements.

If I were to give the game a rating based on the early access first impressions, I'd go with a solid 7 / 10 or even 8 / 10, and I'm eagerly looking forward to new content updates potentially bumping that score upward.

If you get in on the early access, be sure to let us know what you think so far and what you hope gets changed before the final release date!

Published Aug. 2nd 2016
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