We Happy Few, from Compulsion Games, has been in early access since 2016. It’s a game I’ve been following the development of rather eagerly as the setting of a groovy, psychedelic 1960s English town with a dark secret is one that really tickled my fancy. Now, the full game is finally out, so how does it measure up?
In the early access version, players were simply dumped in an open world with the goal of surviving. This meant a lot of different things. Crafting weapons and tools, eating and drinking, getting enough sleep, surviving various encounters and helping others, and even fitting in to avoid having the ever loving crap beaten out of you by angry villagers. Beyond that, all it really had was vague hints about the setting and what had lead to this place.
The full game, however, features a full and detailed story mode allowing you to play through the stories of multiple characters to uncover the dark secrets of Wellington Wells. For the unaware, let me walk you through the basic premise.
Wellington Wells is a town in England. Around the 1940s, history began to diverge with Germany taking the winning side. As a result, this particular town committed a few horrific acts to survive before promptly developing the wonder-drug ‘Joy’ to forget all about it. Joy is basically what the name suggests, a drug that the user takes to feel… Well. Joy! Everyone in town is on this drug. It’s literally the law, along with never bringing up the horrific acts or… Anything about the past.
So, what happens when the drug stops working, or you stop taking it? You’re immediately banished to the outskirts of the town with the other ‘wastrels’, haggard souls who eat rotting food to survive and are slowly going mad from the flood of horrific memories coming back to them.
You begin the game as Arthur, a man who works in a department dedicated to censoring old newspapers for public consumption. You promptly decide not to take your joy as you begin to remember certain things, you’re found out when you refuse to participate in hitting the pinata (a dead rat), and are forced to escape into the outskirts of town.
The game does an excellent job of introducing every concept to you one at a time, from fitting in with the locals through to crafting and consuming food and drink. Though you can decide just how much of any of this you want to do, with there being a customization difficulty level along with the standard easy/medium/hard, allowing players to, for example, tone down the survival aspects while ramping up the difficulty of fitting in.
And the custom difficulty setting really portrays the spirit of the game, with quests being able to be completed in a variety of ways. In theory, at least. This is where the game begins to break down a little bit.
Unfortunately, the game is still rife with bugs. These range from small, graphical glitches like NPC’s floating or your weapon disappearing from view despite being equipped, to more serious glitches, such as story based NPC’s disappearing or not responding in the ways they should, meaning certain quests can’t be completed. Some users have even reported story based locations and NPC’s not even spawning to begin with, due to the way the game proceduraly generates the world.
The game can also become repetitive, with a very limited pool of NPC’s and world models and resources to pull from, meaning you’ll encounter similar settings a lot. Even though there’s a map, I’d occasionally find myself getting lost for this very reason, with there being very few landmarks to use as a guide.
Though all of this can be tolerated if you’re the kind of person that loves a compelling story. The game is filled with interesting people and sidequests, and the setting is full of intrigue. At one point, for example, I had to steal the identity of a rock star, break into a church and force everyone into a game of Simon Says, with the losers being electrocuted. It’s a weird little game with a lot of quirks that way.
Though whether the good quirks are enough to allow you to forgive the bad ones, will really depend on the type of person you are, and just how bad the glitches you encounter can be. While a lot of the games messages are interesting ones, it also has an underlying current of ‘taking medication to feel happy is a problem’ which, as someone taking medication myself, is something I simply can’t condone.
All in all, I have to say I’m pretty disappointed with the end result. It’s a charming game I’ll see through to the end, as I’ve watched it grow and evolve, but until a lot of these glitches are fixed it’s hard to recommend it to new players. Unless you’re really, really into the premise.
We Happy Few is out now for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One.