Friday, August 17, 2018

We Happy Few Review (XONE)

Early access games are like being in a slow motion car crash you can't escape from. You know the hit is coming, but nothing can prepare you for the impact when it finally happens. You see, the problem with early access, at least on consoles through the Xbox Game Preview program, is that the game you're presented with during early access is pretty much the same game you end up with when the devs consider it "done". Sure, they add content and "stuff" to it, but the core game is pretty much set in stone when it hits early access and if that core sucks it probably isn't ever going to get much better. You still naively hold out hope that they have lots of time to change things and fix things only to be disappointed years later when it releases as pretty much the same game. It turns out that being invested in a game for years and years and getting your hands on the final version just to be like "Yep, it still sucks" is far more devastatingly disappointing than when a normal bad game comes out of nowhere and surprises you.

Today's review is We Happy Few and it's a disappointing hot mess. Continue reading for all of the details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Gearbox
  • Developer: Compulsion Games
  • ESRB Rating: "M" for Mature
  • Genre: FPS
  • Pros: Interesting story and world; you can turn survival aspects off
  • Cons: Shoddy stealth; survival stuff sucks; boring quests; glitches
  • MSRP: $60
We Happy Few
We Happy Few made its grand debut at Microsoft's E3 2016 press conference with a slick trailer that had an undeniable BioShock feel to it and a great art style. When it hit Xbox Game Preview a couple of months later, let's just say expectations were high. It turned out, however, that instead of a linear story driven game in a stylish alternate reality 1960's England, it turns out that We Happy Few was actually aiming to be an open world survival game. And it was freaking terrible. I straight up hated the early access version and had less than nice things to say in my preview back in August 2016.

Now it's August 2018 and We Happy Few has seen a final release (and a huge jump in price to a full $60 MSRP thanks to publisher Gearbox) so has anything changed? Not really. Actually, it honestly seems worse than ever now that the whole package - story + gameplay - has come together. The story is still cool - Germany won WWII and the game takes place in a UK town where the rich people take drugs to forget how horrible the world actually is while anyone who doesn't take the drugs is kicked out of town to suffer and die - and it is a world you want to explore and immerse yourself in, but the gameplay is just absolutely not fun at all. It doesn't matter how neat some of the story is or that there are three playable characters because you won't want to actually play enough of it to see much of it.

One piece of good news to start with, though, is that the survival aspects that were such a problem in the preview version - the need to sleep, eat, drink water, and take drugs to battle a myriad of illnesses - have been re-balanced to be a little more fair and you can actually also turn the survival stuff off entirely if you want. This was a wise decision as it makes the game much more playable without worrying about the survival aspects, but the game world is still full of crap to collect that you have no use for anymore. Turning off survival stuff doesn't affect achievements, so feel free to turn it off with no worries.

While the survival stuff is no longer much of a problem, We Happy Few's other gameplay troubles didn't just magically go away. The quest design is repetitive and mind-numbingly boring as every mission is a fetch quest where you run across the map to collect some item or deliver some thing and then run all the way back to get a pat on the head for your good deed. Quests often also revolve around singular specific items you need to complete them (that the game never alerts you to) and it is totally possible to get to the end of a quest only to find you didn't pick up the thing you needed so you have to backtrack to fetch it.

Another downer is that We Happy Few is actually really meant to be played as a stealth game, but the stealth gameplay is hampered by being very simplistic while also having shoddy A.I. that has no rules or logic to it. When you fail to blend in and be stealthy - and you will absolutely fail - and have to fight your way out, another problem crops up in the fact that We Happy Few's melee-based gameplay is freaking boring and totally unsatisfying and it's also nearly impossible to win a fight with more than one or two enemies at a time. The combat is a simple affair of holding block until you have an opening and then swinging your weapon (sticks or shovels and other stuff) until the enemies get knocked out and you carry along on your way.

So the quests are boring, the stealth is bad, and the combat is repetitive and also boring. What else can go wrong? How about tons and tons of glitches. Quests that glitch and can't be completed. Key items that you can't pick up or, worse, can't put down where you're supposed to. NPCs that aren't where they're supposed to be or don't trigger quests like they're supposed to. NPCs floating in the air or falling through the geometry or sliding around all over with no animation or, most hilariously, just straight up dying for no reason when you talk to them. You can get stuck sitting on a bench or in any other number of animations and not be able to move. And this isn't even nearly all of them. We Happy Few is a glitchy mess.

The presentation is generally fine, at least, with a consistently fantastic unique (slightly twisted) art style that works wonderfully. The game is also surprisingly colorful, particularly when you're taking Joy pills and the world is filled with rainbows and happiness. There are some framerate issues, however, and it's also impossible not to notice the same small handful of character models that got copy/pasted freaking everywhere. The sound, on the other hand, is excellent throughout with solid voice acting all around and a great soundtrack.

When you put it all together, We Happy Few is a massive disappointment. Even as cool as the setting may be, the gameplay is so glitchy and broken and just plain not fun that it isn't remotely worth suffering through to see the handful of interesting bits. It just seems like it was all too ambitious for a small indie studio to pull off and Gearbox was probably not the best choice of publisher to expect to actually nurture the development and help polish the final product. Complusion Games definitely has fantastic art and story chops, so hopefully Microsoft (which bought the studio earlier this year) can help shore up the gameplay side of the studio's next game, whatever and whenever that may be. For now, though, We Happy Few is disappointing and forgettable and not worth your time. Skip it.
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.