Pop a Meh-lly
We all sometimes just need an escape from the despair of modern days. Some of us immerse ourselves in virtual reality, others cozy up in an adventurous novel, while some choose to explore an entirely new universe with the aid of a mind-bending elixir. We Happy Few explores the idea of a universal elixir, blinding society from its own destruction and eventual demise. Though the premise presents some engaging moments, most of it is marred by the satisfactory gameplay mechanics, and frustrating technical troubles.
We Happy Few takes place in a post-World War II era where Germany reigns supreme. In this corner of the world within England, citizens habitually ingest “Joy”, a euphoric concoction that makes denizens content through hallucinogenic methods – all while the world around them (and themselves) are deteriorating. All is fine and good, with residents waving, smiling, and exchanging pleasantries, until you act out violently or refuse to take Joy. Citizens refusing to abide by the pleasantries or refuse to take Joy are ostracized outside the gated world and forced to survive in the much harsher and less forgiving environment.
Within this dystopia, players control three distinct characters throughout the three-act story within We Happy Few. Arthur, the first protagonist, suffers from extreme guilt resulting from choices made during the early years of the Germany control. Sally, a brilliant blackmarket chemist, harbors a deep secret that constantly puts her at risk. Ollie, a war-worn veteran, survives outside the gated communities and struggles with several mental ailments. The bulk of the storyline emerges from Arthur, creating a straight through line of what’s happening within this community, how the citizens are impacted, and what he needs to do for himself to survive. Within each act, more information is given about the world, its characters, and the protagonists’ motivations. Though it was a frustrating dribble of information within the first 4-6 hours, I couldn’t stop my innate urge to understand this dystopian world and how each character plays a part. The backstories of each character is further explored with optional collectible items. These offer dialogue flashbacks, gradually filling in the blanks a little bit and emphasizing the eventual twists that emerge through the story.
The environment also yields some collective storytelling throughout the journey. War-torn posters, radio broadcasts, and items foster a fuller understanding of the past actions and current proclivities in society. Even the score continues this psychedelic odyssey with trippy or even creepy music that heightens certain moments of the game to wonderfully high moments.
Unfortunately, We Happy Few beyond its story begins to take some severe downfalls. The visual fidelity of the game presents a nice artistic style, but framerate constantly dipped and continually sputtered. Loading screens were also excruciating between each area and would even occur mid-combat. Furthermore, so much of each section of the world is nearly identical to each other. Within Wellington Wells for example, nearly each two-story building from the outside is indistinguishable, forcing me to constantly look at the world map and navigate myself towards the specific location. In addition, the side-objectives were mostly fetch quests where one character would request an item, you subsequently obtain that item, then ultimately give them the item. Though some continued the world-building, the vast majority seemed unimportant and distracted from the premise of the main story. These, plus the same dozen or so roaming characters with identical voices broke the immersion and world for me.
The actual gameplay mechanics of the game also suffers. The essential premise within We Happy Few is for your character to survive at any cost. With sleep, hunger, and thirst meters (as well as a few character specific traits), these parameters can offer buffs or debuffs depending on how well you manage them. The crafting within We Happy Few quickly becomes relevant. Collecting various flowers and herbs can create items that raise your health and recover from sickness, while others also forge new weapons and traps. At first, I didn’t find this too troublesome and was able to quickly manage my resources well enough. However, with some of the later-game characters, it was infuriating to be unable to progress the story if I did not have the specific items to craft the items for my character. I’m always a packrat and collet a plethora of items for the eventual “just-in-case” mindset, but when I’m spending an hour painstakingly rehashing the same area hoping to find a crafting item to allow me to progress, I feel more and more that my time is wasted. Eventually, I ended up just refusing to craft new items until I was explicitly prompted by an in-game objective just so I didn’t have to get stuck like that again.
This frustration is compounded by the characters’ skill trees and abilities. After a few story objectives you’re showered with ability points that can be added towards better attacks, cheaper items at shops, or even removing certain gameplay mechanics entirely. For example, within Wellington Wells, you’re unable to run/jump/crouch without aggravating citizens nor explore at night. Putting some ability points into this will make you essentially invisible and above these rules – running around wherever and whenever without repercussions. This, adimitley made getting to the next objective less of a hassle, but removed key mechanics that were established previously.
Fighting enemies, though not required through gameplay was clunky and not super exciting. Most occur through melee weapons and blocking, but there are a few items found (or crafted) like (insert name) that can create damage from afar or distract enemies. Alternatively, stealth seemed almost broken. Hiding in certain spots should grant you invisibility towards enemies, but more often than not, they’d find me and inflict major damage. Most of the time, if there weren’t too many enemies, I’d just whack them a few times, collect any relevant items from their corpses, and be on my merry way. This wasn’t ultimately exciting, but did get the job done.
Sadly, my biggest gripe with We Happy Few is the technical fidelity of the actual game. Throughout my 25 hour adventure I had scores of game crashes, a plethora of loading screens that would prompt another loading screen, frustrations of being stuck in the world unable to move, and on few occasions glitches that were so severe that I had to go to a previous save file and losing precious hours of gaming (luckily I always save incremental alternate files). However, if I didn’t do this I would have started from the beginning, which is a catastrophic problem for any game. I can only hope that future updates and patches can resolves these issues, without a doubt they hindered my experience severely.
The Verdict: 5.0 out of 10
Though We Happy Few creates a psychedelic dystopian world with emotionally engaging characters, the dull gameplay mechanics and technical troubles really holds the experience back. If you can muddle through the game crashes and only focus on the story, then We Happy Few can give you a decent experience.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with the code provided by the publisher. For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.