Genre: Action, Adventure
Release date: July 26, 2016
Review Platform: PC
We Happy Few is the latest title from Compulsion Games, a small independent development studio based in Montreal, Canada. In 2013, they released the platform/puzzle adventure Contrast which received favorable reviews on Steam. Their current project, We Happy Few, was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign and has continued development with a community of players fully engaged as the game moves towards a final release. A few weeks ago, the Alpha version became available for purchase. All gamers can now gain access to the game as a work-in-progress, receiving updates as We Happy Few is completed over the coming months.
The Alpha version is described by Compulsion as including about 50% of the procedural world but only a brief prologue/introductory story for the main characters. The procedural world will be expanded, over time, and the full narrative story will be added. Playing the Alpha gives one a chance to experience the evolving landscape of We Happy Few, to learn how to interact with the game world, and to provide valuable feedback to the development team.
We Happy Few is a first person action/adventure game that begins through the eyes of Arthur Hastings. While working as a redactor, he's busy rewriting history by censoring news archives and musing on the value of seeing life through a chemical haze. We learn that England was at war with Communism in 1945, and ended up on the losing side. As of 1947, the town was controlled by an occupation army which created “melancholy and despondence” in the general population. This problem was solved in the early 1950’s by the introduction of a mood elevating drug known as Joy. More than a decade later, Joy is a mainstay in the lives of the privileged and the social order depends on all being happy.
Arthur’s first decision point is whether or not to continue taking Joy. Not doing so puts him at odds with social norms and he is banished to the ‘outside’ – a bombed out, wasteland section of town populated by chemical free "Downers" who have a more pragmatic view of the world. Your initial objective is survival and escape.
Built with the Unreal Engine, We Happy Few uses a handful of keys and the mouse to navigate and interact with the environment. Combat is straight forward and initially, a "pointy stick" was my weapon of choice. Objects are scattered throughout the environment and, when found, can be taken and stored in an inventory with limited space. You have access to a Safe House which can be used for respite and sleeping. Within the Safe House is a personal safe that is available for offloading extra inventory in a secure location.
The game includes "Crafting," which is the ability to create new objects when your inventory contains the proper quantities of specific components. Blueprints and Formulas for crafting are added as you proceed through your adventure. Crafted objects are categorized as basic, mechanical, and chemical.
A log of primary and secondary quests is maintained and expanded as you progress. It provides details of what is needed to accomplish each objective and indicates which tasks have been completed.
Finally, there's a map that documents your current location and any places of interest that you've discovered. This is an extremely useful feature, as it has a true N-E-W-S orientation and can be used in combination with the on-screen compass that identifies the direction in which you're facing.
When entering the Wasteland, my biggest challenge was staying alive. We Happy Few is a complex game that requires constant management of health, hunger, thirst, and sleep. While sleep deprivation is a hindrance, hunger and thirst are potentially fatal. Exploration to get the "lay of the land" must be balanced with meeting your need for food, water, and rest. After several false starts, I discovered that foraging at night yielded the best results and that many areas were "restocked" as time passed.
During the day, there are numerous crazed residents to be encountered. You have the option of talking with them (which is not fully functional in the Alpha version), giving them items, or taking their stuff. You can choose to render them unconscious or just kill them outright. I tended to take the compassionate approach but am not sure if good karma has any impact on the storyline. I also learned to be a predator. Like a lion circling a herd of gazelles, I only took down lone individuals. Attacking someone when other people were present was usually fatal (for me).
Speaking of fatalities, there are two settings available for the combat novice. Setting "Permadeath" OFF allows you to continue your game after getting killed. Setting "Second Wind" ON provides a recovery window when you are about to die. These two options can only be set when starting a new game but are handy as one is learning to live in a world without Joy.There's also a number of interface options which can be toggled on or off during game play and provide invaluable assistance as you get started. These include in game tips, the compass, status indicators, etc.
I truly enjoyed my first encounter with We Happy Few. You step into a richly drawn 3D world that is a blend of stark wasteland and rich color with a diverse cast of characters. The graphics are beautiful and the sound track is immersive. Put on a good set of headphones, turn down the lights, and you are there!
Even though this is an Alpha version, I did not experience any significant bugs or crashes. The game world is big enough and contains adequate quests to keep one entertained for quite a few days.
There are a couple of items that I would hope are addressed in the final release. The first is to relax the requirement for food and water. At times, the fun of the game is overshadowed by the constant need to monitor and manage your level of hunger and thirst. I would also like to see a different Save system. Currently, you cannot exit the game without saving and there is only a single save slot. Although you can save your current game on demand, this is not terribly useful as it’s overwritten by the auto-save on exit. This meant that, as I became familiar with the game and learned how NOT to play it, I ended up restarting from the beginning multiple times in lieu of being able to return to a save point of my choice.
I will watch with enthusiasm as We Happy Few evolves into a fully functional adventure. The Alpha shows promise of a game that will be interesting and fun to play, even if there is no Joy involved!