On 26th July, We Happy Few was released in alpha. The gameplay mechanics are together enough so that it’s technically possible to get to the end, but the plot won’t be expounded upon until next year. At E3, We Happy Few was described as a psychedelic survival game. It has randomly generated environments, which offers the player more replay value, and there’s also the option to play with permadeath on. However, between catching the plague and quests bugging out to the point they made the game impossible to finish, I chose to play without it.
When I watched the somewhat disturbing intro to the game and considered how mental illness and personality disorders are used in horror, I originally thought the experience was going to be scarier. The intro scenes clearly demonstrate how far society has decayed, as well as the effects of the drug called Joy. This is what everyone is forced to take to forget their bad memories from before and during the recent war. These scenes also establish that your goal is to escape before the Joy runs out and society collapses entirely. However, once I got into the meat of the game, it quickly became apparent that my assumption was wrong. The dark and dry humour conveyed through the main character’s speech made me feel a bit like I was reading a Lemony Snicket novel.
“And it looks like she’s gone off her rocker.” Hey, the game said it, not me!
To me, the most interesting part of the game is needing to change your play style depending on which area you’re in, even though I feel not everything about this has been implemented properly yet. In the starting area, The Wastes, no one is very fond of you, and you have to steal what little scraps are available just to survive. Everything is in decay here, and there’s mostly only rotten food that has the potential to make you sick. Running away and learning the combat system are both important in this area. It is also where you stock up on raw materials for crafting supplies.
Generally the next area you’ll get into is The Gardens, which is very similar, but some of the people who live here have the plague. Yes, you can catch it from them, and no, it isn’t easy to cure. Another challenge is that people are more territorial here, and they don’t tolerate stealing, so it can be hard to get by if you aren’t prepared. Successfully entering new areas can also depend on how lucky you are, because if you don’t find the safe house quickly, you’ll have trouble finding somewhere to sleep. Lack of sleep affects your ability to fight and run away. I’m not sure if it’s possible to die from sleep deprivation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it is!
Loading times between areas are currently very long…
You generally get into Wellington Wells next. This is the upper-class area, where everyone is tripped out on Joy at all times, and downers are hated by policemen and citizens alike. Joy is in some of the food (I’m assuming that “victory meat” is from 1984) and in the tap water, so it’s difficult to avoid taking it. But if you’re not on Joy and you linger around police officers for too long, they will chase you down while threatening to take you to see a “doctor”.
There is an unpopulated area after Wellington Wells, and I believe at least one more playable area beyond that, which is the main character’s hometown. Some of the quests are necessary to move between areas, while others mostly just give you better items or items you need to complete the key quests. Unfortunately, some of them haven’t been programmed properly yet, and the map showing you where incomplete objectives are is, well, also incomplete. This is probably the main reason I haven’t been able to get all the way to the end yet.
Too many menus, not enough time!
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of procedural generation in general, and I honestly found it quite irritating in the context of this game. However, I’m glad there is the option to switch off permadeath. There are many ways to die, some of them less obvious than others, and it does take a long time to play through when you go in knowing nothing. And when the story has been padded out more, I can only assume it’s going to take even longer, so playing with permadeath means you’re risking losing a lot of progress very suddenly. I wonder whether having a default world for the first play through, while the player is learning the ropes (and later, trying to get through the story), might provide a nicer first experience. Then in future playthroughs, the game can be randomly generated to add some extra challenge and to let the player experience more of the quests.
It would also be nice if time paused when you opened the menu. I’ve nearly died of starvation because it took me a few minutes to find the food I was keeping in my incredibly full inventory. I’ve nearly gotten caught by angry, murderous people because I’m really bad at reading maps quickly, and I’d forgotten which direction my safe house was in. It also makes reading the journal entries and world building information an actual waste of time, which is unfortunate because the writing is interesting and entertaining. I hope this is changed in the final release because none of the other mechanics suggest We Happy Few is supposed to be an entirely realistic survival game.
A casual in-game reminder that we’re still in alpha?
Overall, We Happy Few looks very promising. The crafting system is interesting, the world is great, and I love that fun and convenience to the player has largely been prioritised over realism. The game is challenging without being annoying, except for the numerous bugs, but obviously, those only exist because this is the alpha version. I’m looking forward to learning more about the characters and the world, and while it’s difficult to tell if it’s what the developers intend at this stage, I think it has the potential to make criticisms about the pursuit of happiness and self-gratification at the expense of all else. There’s already dialogue programmed into the game about questioning what happiness really is, but I guess we’ll have to wait until next year to find out more.