We Happy Few Release Review: A Stealth Survival Diamond In The Rough
An entire book could probably be written on the winding road that was the development path for We Happy Few -- a game that at one point was hilariously on our list of most anticipated titles of 2016.
Now, finally seeing full release in the summer of 2018, the game's launch version is a drastically different experience from our early alpha impressions two years back -- and that's actually a very good thing.
With refined stealth mechanics, a bigger emphasis on story, and a huge, lush world to explore, We Happy Few offers a little bit of everything.
What Should You Expect?
We Happy Few began life as a crowdfunded and proudly indie title without any corporate overlords, and then suddenly, things shifted gears as Gearbox entered the picture as publisher late in the game's development cycle.
There have been price changes and DLC additions that saw fan outcry, along with major UI and game mechanic overhauls to smooth things over with that same playerbase. The game was banned in Australia and then re-approved in Australia. First it was horror-focused, then survival-focused, then story-focused, then a mixture of all three.
In short, it was anybody's guess as to what we would be getting with the end product. Those who took part in the Early Access betas have seen the game change radically from its earliest stages, and there are still more changes in store with the launch version.
What we're getting now is a game with an incredibly distinctive and unique art style, coupled with a world you won't find in any other title out there right now.
Here's the TL;DR on the story: bad batches of the happiness-inducing drug Joy have been shipped out, and anyone who takes the tainted pharmaceuticals can no longer experience the effects of normal Joy. They become Downers forever, no matter how much Joy they take, and this plague of sorrow is actively destroying a society that was already decaying from within.
The core of the game involves switching between stealth, combat, and problem solving as you seek out different ways to fit in or sneak around depending on what area you are exploring.
You can slum it with the dregs of society eking out a sad and hungry existence, or try to fit in with the "proper" folk in the city, who may actually have it worse.
Different core abilities distinguish the three main characters as they traverse this dystopian world. Arthur, for instance, is sarcastic and repressed -- like a proper Englishman -- but he's also very unassuming so no one notices him if he just sits down and reads the paper (which is quite helpful for escaping angry mobs).
A free roaming mode is slated to arrive not long after launch, so you'll have a reason to keep playing after finishing the story segments for each character.
Like in games such as Dishonored, you will frequently be tasked with finding different ways to approach an area, from disguising yourself to creating distractions, helping out local residents, or just simply busting in and swinging your deadly umbrella with wild abandon.
Wait... a deadly umbrella? You better believe it. The developers absolutely nailed the right atmosphere here, balancing British humor with horrifying dystopian ideals.
Much of the open world exploration feels like a new twist on Far Cry with a big dash of Fallout, from the decaying landscape to the item crafting. I have to wonder just how much the impending Fallout 76 is going to end up feeling like a re-tread of We Happy Few's survival mechanics, especially with this game arriving a few months ahead of time and having been in development for so long.
Some Rough Spots To Iron Out
Despite an extended development time and the addition of AAA publisher oversight, We Happy Few's original indie nature does stand out in some ways, like an extremely long load time to initially generate the open world.
As has become expected at this point with major new releases, the game's Steam achievements are also bugged all to hell, popping at random when you haven't actually unlocked them yet or failing to pop when they should.
Some of the animations could also use additional smoothing. Remember back in the Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 days when the main character skinned an animal, but sometimes the knife and hands weren't quite lined up with the creature's stomach? That's how most of the animations end up here, from picking locks on the ground (where you somehow sink five feet into the dirt momentarily) to using a jimmy bar on open air five feet from your target and somehow the box still magically opens.
The Bottom Line
Those rough spots shouldn't deter you from We Happy Few, however, because this is frankly one of the most satisfying blends of game styles to arrive in a long time.
This was originally supposed to be a horror game, but that aspect didn't get as much press as all the survival elements were added in. I'm very pleased to report the darker elements have made a roaring return, and there are some incredibly creepy moments here in the finished product.
From suicides to mad doctors to a pervasive dread as you realize there are very few children anywhere, WHF doesn't skimp on the more messed up story content.
The exploration and survival elements easily take front and center, however. What you end up with is the open world exploration of something like Fallout or Far Cry, a simplified and refined version of the survival mechanics from Ark, and the creepy, distinctive style of a game like Alice: Madness Returns.
Simply put, We Happy Few is dreary, grim, darkly humorous -- and a hell of a good time.