Like everyone else who saw We Happy Few’s announcement and Gamescom trailers in 2015, I was instantly enamoured with the title. That feeling of anticipation only increased when I got my hands on the game through Xbox Game Preview.
That is, until I finished its five-minute tutorial and was then thrown into an aimless, rather directionless procedurally-generated mess.
It’s not that the gameplay or story – in which a lowly English office worker goes rogue and decides to stop taking a magical drug that makes things “right” and helps you fit in with your other drugged-out friends and family – wasn’t enjoyable, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. That tutorial sequence was captivating, well-structured and teased a mystery I was more than eager to start solving. We Happy Few’s animation style, combined with Bioshock-like UI, made me think I was getting something in the vein of an Irrational Games title, and I was crestfallen when that didn’t happen.
Now, I have something to confess: for most of this week, I mucked up my Steam client’s beta tab and was playing We Happy Few’s ‘Life in Technicolour’ update, one issued one full year ago.
“This update changes both the stealth and social conformity gameplay of We Happy Few, and contains fundamental changes to our AI,” Compulsion wrote about the update back in 2017. “The AI is rewritten to the point that this is basically a new game, and it sets the stage for significant changes to gameplay we’ll be making going forward.”
Compared to the initial Xbox Game Preview release I’d played, We Happy Few was like night and day – upon exiting the game’s tutorial and entering Wellington Wells, I had purpose and direction… even if I still found myself wandering aimlessly, clubbing citizens unfortunate enough to be on their own because I was desperate for a last bit of cloth to make a Padded Suit. While I appreciated the amount of change the game had undergone, I was still disappointed — I expected far more direction and guidance so I could figure out what was happening in this alternate version of Great Britain.
It took me most of the week to realise I wasn’t playing the game’s release version, and I’m very stupid for that. That’s because the full release has truly lived up – at least so far – to what I wanted it to be. I had an inkling of that before I left the “new” tutorial, seeing newspaper articles that provided more backstory than I’d previously experienced. I definitely knew it when I was about to leave for Wellington Wells and found a collectible mask that then played a flashback from protagonist Arthur’s past when picked up.
Getting to the surface and seeing “Quest Complete” was the icing on the cake (and the Steam Achievements sure didn’t hurt either). And to think, all this happened before I was able to follow the game’s questline and then enter a tutorial all about combat, showing me how to shove people effectively. That same ‘night and day’ feeling applies to the changes made between Technicolour and this retail release.
This is by no means a full review of We Happy Few – that’ll come soon enough now that I’m critiquing the game I’m supposed to be – but this is a whole-hearted endorsement. We Happy Few looks promising; I’m very much looking forward to continuing my journey with Arthur (and the game’s two additional protagonists). That said, I can’t help but think that early access has potentially soured the experience for those who were as excited for this game years and years ago as I was. If you’re in that group, I implore you to give the game another try — it’s certainly worth reconsidering.
Update: Having spent more time with We Happy Few, I couldn’t be happier. Arthur’s story is clearly the longest, though the game’s additional two parts — with a different protagonist in each — are equally as enjoyable. They’re thankfully unique in that each part doesn’t merely feel like your character has been reskinned.
We Happy Few is about trying to fit in when you clearly don’t; about conforming when you really shouldn’t. It’s a necessary evil to progress in the game but it’s equally as unnerving — especially as you learn more about this alternate version of Britain and what its citizens did to wind up in this mess.
The procedurally-generated nature of We Happy Few means you’ll see the same people (and hear the same nonsense) over and over again, but that’s something those of us looking for a Bioshock-like experience will happily ignore. As a protip, Normal difficulty seems to fit the world the best; go higher than that and you may find yourself in something that’s a little too close to a survival simulator.
We Happy Few was reviewed using a promotional code on PC via Steam as well as an Xbox Play Anywhere code across PC and Xbox One, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.