Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We Happy Few Preview (XONE)

After a stunning showing at Microsoft’s 2016 E3 press conference, Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few was suddenly on everyone’s radar.  The trailer made it look like the second coming of BioShock in 1960’s England, so our excitement was pretty much through the roof.  What the trailer showed, and what the game actually seems to be, however, are two vastly different things, which is somewhat disappointing.  What do we mean?  Read our full We Happy Few preview for details.

We Happy Few is currently available as part of the Xbox GamePreview program for $29.99.  Keep in mind that this is not a finished product and has bugs and issues and the content can change before the final release.  This particular build also doesn’t have any story elements outside of the initial sequence that was shown in the Xbox E3 trailer.  It only focuses on gameplay.

After playing the Xbox Game Preview release of We Happy Few our expectations are lowered a bit.  It turns out that the game, or at least this build of the game, isn’t really anything like most people thought it would be.  It isn’t a trippy jaunt through a creepy dystopian world and is, instead, a fairly clumsy and clunky survival game. 

The story concept of an alternate reality 1960’s England where the masses are kept happy through a drug called Joy, and those that don’t take their Joy are booted out of town to live in the slums, is absolutely fascinating.  With the government censoring anything that might agitate the people or make them unhappy and also secretly eliminating anyone that steps out of line, We Happy Few is a fresh take on an Orwellian dystopia that has a ton of potential.  It is a shame you don’t actually get to see any of that story outside of the opening sequence in the Xbox Game Preview version. 

Instead, you’re just unceremoniously dumped into an open world survival sim.  You have to eat, drink, sleep, and otherwise maintain your health while exploring an open world and avoiding conflicts with the residents – known as Downers because, like you, they stopped taking their Joy – and the police.  Act too happy and the Downers attack you.  Act too suspicious and the police come after you.  Or just sneak around so no one notices you instead, which is what the game really wants you to do.  So, quick check up – We Happy Few is an open world survival sim stealth game and not a BioShock clone. 

While the stealth actually isn’t too strict or too hard and isn’t that big of a problem - and you can just fight your way out of situations if you want -, the survival aspect of the game seems really, really, really weird and out of place and wholly unnecessary.  Your meters for hunger and thirst and sleep deplete ridiculously fast, so it is a constant struggle to scrounge up food and water and other items.  The day / night cycle is also stupidly fast, to the point you can barely walk down the street before you have to run back to your base and sleep again.  On top of the annoyance of having to constantly monitor the survival aspects, We Happy Few also has an extensive crafting system where you craft new items out of the crap you find all over.  Honestly, it is a mess.

We Happy Few just has too many mechanics and systems and fluff all crammed together at this point and could really benefit from being simplified a bit.  Ditching the survival aspect entirely would be a start because I don't understand why it is here in the first place.

You have to keep in mind that this is just a preview version of a game many months away from a final release, but I think that is also part of the problem.  I honestly feel like We Happy Few was a poor choice for Xbox Game Preview and it was particularly unwise to not include any story features in this version especially after the E3 trailer showed something totally different from what the game actually is.  Perhaps the gameplay mechanics make more sense when you have the story to give them context, but in this preview build the game is just mundane and bland and not very fun.  Even if it turns out to be great, this Xbox Game Preview release may have done irreparable damage to the public perception of the game, and that’s a shame.  I’ll say it again; We Happy Few was probably a poor choice to be part of the Game Preview program. 

On a happier note, the presentation is actually quite good even now in We Happy Few.  The game looks fantastic and the outdoor areas are lush and bright and colorful and pretty great.   

There is still a long way to go in the development of We Happy Few, thankfully, so things can change.  Part of the fun of the Xbox Game Preview program is being able to see first hand how games can change and improve during development, so I’m not going to count We Happy Few out just yet.   You can also, of course, buy the Xbox Game Preview version and try it out yourself as well, though we don't really recommend it.  At least not yet.  We’ll try to keep this article updated over the course of development. 

Disclosure: A preview code  was provided by the game publisher.