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We Happy Few Review

You ever lose your keys and spend hours and hours looking for them? What a wonderful feeling, right? Sometimes, I wish I could just lose things and look for them all day — and now I can! We Happy Few is a game about finding things: scraps to craft tools, food and water, and even items to make you throw up when the food you found is poison. Joking aside, some people love survival games (I mean, why would so many exist if that wasn’t true?), and as far as survival games go, We Happy Few is pretty decent. There are just a few issues with this title.

It’s not quite done yet.

We Happy Few is a work in progress, and that’s forgivable. For an indie title, there is a ton of content already — three character stories and a sandbox mode. With all this content, there are of course a few known issues, yet we can assume these bugs will be ironed out soon.

Being funded partially through Kickstarter, We Happy Few has some difficulties rooted in not being developed by a huge studio. For example, Skyrim, which shares scavenging and quest elements with this title, both looks better and performs better. We Happy Few isn’t on the cutting edge of graphics (which is okay because the aesthetics fit the gameplay really well), yet it still eats up a relatively large amount of system resources. But don’t let these issues scare you away. Unless you have an ancient computer or a netbook (do they still make those?) you shouldn’t notice any problems.

The gameplay is simultaneously streamlined and unbalanced.

On first impression, We Happy Few is doing a lot of good things. It’s easy to craft items, which is great because you’re supposed to be doing a lot of crafting. I was a little suspicious when I saw that you need to collect bobby pins to craft such simple items as lockpicks, but I was relieved to see locked doors prompting me with “Hold V to craft and use lockpick” so I didn’t have to manually do it every time. There are also some decent hotkeys that make things a lot easier once you get to know them.

This is also a stealth game, and the stealth is fairly streamlined. By default, you sneak realistically without any help, but you also have settings for icons that tell you how welcome you are in certain areas, how visible you are, and how much noise you’re making. It makes things simpler that these are pretty binary (while sneaking, you’re either partially visible or you’re concealed). It’s also a nice, thematic touch that your cover takes the form of tall yellow flowers instead of shadows. If you’ve been waiting since the original two Thief games for a stealth system with true depth, you’ll have to keep waiting, but this system’s simplicity is appreciated. Unfortunately, the menus are neither straightforward nor quick to navigate, so if you’re caught, you may find yourself in an impossible encounter where you need to reload but won’t be able to fast enough.

MISSING SOMETHING

Then there’s the issue of constantly searching for that missing something. A sense of creeping frustration might wash over you as you realize you need a lockpick to advance and you’ve used all your lockpicks because, well, you need them to get anywhere. No matter — you just need to find some bobby pins and make some new lockpicks. But not in this open field of flowers. Where did you last see bobby pins? It seems like you only saw them at the very beginning, when you picked up a ton of them. That made it seem like there were bobby pins just lying around everywhere, which would make sense, because you need them all the time. Okay, well, it’s frustrating, but you’ll just have to give up and try another quest where you’ll hopefully find bobby pins. Only, what’s this? That other quest leads to a building that potentially has treasure troves of bobby pins, but you need a lockpick to get in! (At this point, you might throw your keyboard through a window.)

This issue applies not just to crafting items, but also to the quests throughout the game. We Happy Few seems to take thematic and gameplay inspiration from a wide variety of RPGs and dystopian titles like the Fallout franchise, Bioshock, and of course survival crafting games like This War of Mine. But while We Happy Few has streamlined some of the annoying elements of these other titles, it also misses a handful of the things they did right. So, for example, where This War of Mine made it challenging to find certain things, you could get by without them if you were creative. There aren’t so many workarounds in We Happy Few. Where even Skyrim’s sidequests are sometimes masterfully-written narratives with a variety of goals, We Happy Few often takes the tedious MMO route of “Go fetch me a sprocket, and I’ll let you through this door.”

Don’t get me wrong though, the plot is unique and intriguing.

While some of the quests might not be all that interesting, the bits of plot you get along the way are satisfying. We Happy Few is a story about the government telling you to forget the past. In the first character’s storyline, you play as Arthur, who uses a machine to redact news articles in the alternate history of the 1960s. When he sees an article about him and his brother, he is torn whether to take his Joy pills to forget, or rebel against the rules and remember. This starts a storyline recalled in pieces, where one brother boards the train to Germany and the other has to stay behind. Why are the Germans taking children away from Britain? This is something you have to figure out.

This dystopian setting and its symbolism are pretty on the nose: Everyone wears masks and takes happy pills that are literally called Joy. But it all fits together in a simultaneously comical and depressing way through the use of cartoonish characters that, for example, call you a “Downer” as they try to kill you. In this sense, it’s a bit like the movie Brazil, and the setting leaves you just as hungry for answers. Exploring the map provides snippets of these answers as you stumble upon brief plot scenes.

The game mechanics also serve the story well. You’re meant to explore, so the incentive of finding crafting items is fitting. The survival aspect also conveys the desperation (and determination) of someone that rebels against the system, and reveals the dystopian cracks in this supposed utopia. You can even take Joy to make it easier to get through some parts of the game. That’s why it’s a shame when such an interesting plot and setting are interrupted by — wait, I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh no. Where are my keys? Have you seen my keys?

7

The Verdict: Great

We Happy Few seems to take inspiration from a number of great titles and builds on them. The multiple character plots and settings are entertaining as well as fascinating. For this reason alone, it’s worth a look. As far as survival crafting games go, it’s pretty average, with some good ideas and some flaws. If you enjoy the genre, definitely give it a play. If not, the same annoying old pitfalls will slow down your gameplay and leave you frustrated.

Nicholas Barkdull
Written by
August 10, 2018
Published in Adventure

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Nic is a freelance writer, doctoral student, and devout PC gamer. He says he's not a hipster but still insists that the best games are either decades old or made by one guy in a basement. This includes things like Undertale or any Final Fantasy that was released on Super Nintendo. He is also an RTS fanatic.

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