We Happy Few and Surviving in the 1960s Dystopia

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Yesterday We Happy Few was launched into Early Access status for the public, both on PC and Xbox One. Despite the fact that the game itself warns you about the Alpha status, and that there’s still more to come before the formal 2017 release – some people seem to be upset. Yes, it’s true that the game’s prologue sequence seems to raise people’s expectations a bit. That’s a sign in itself that the first section was very well done. Why I liked it was because I always wanted the type of game that took place in a 1984 (actually it’s more like Brave New World) setting.  There’s a few noticeable bugs and the occasional glitch here and there, but that’s part of the reason We Happy Few chose Early Access. If you aren’t ready for technical hiccups, don’t play the game yet. It’s that simple. Everyone would understand.

Much of the main story isn’t in the game yet, but there are a few basic quests already set-up in this early access build. You play Arthur, the guy from the E3 video. The main antagonist as far as it seems, is Uncle Jack. He broadcasts to the citizens of Wellington Wells day and night, pushing the Orwellian propaganda to the far reaches of their society. From what Uncle Jack talks about in his speeches, it becomes abundantly clear that the Joy drug people take is responsible for suppressing their long term memories. Taking Joy is strictly enforced, going as far as putting Joy Detector checkpoints between the city districts.

You start out in the Garden District, after being cast out of your previous life after becoming a “Downer” (someone who doesn’t take their joy). The game gives you a safehouse where you can sleep and stash any extra items you come across in a personal safe. When you climb out the safehouse hatch for the first time and step out into the district proper, what you see is a somewhat random design. In We Happy Few, the world is procedurally generated. Every new playthrough, the arrangement of the city is going to vary. What does stay the same however, are the game’s quests and the interior setup inside the houses and buildings. It’s where these key features of the area are placed, is what’s random.

What many people might not realize about the game is that there’s multiple districts you can access right now. It’s just a bit of a challenge to do so. You’ll need to find the blueprints to repair a water pump, and repair the actual pump that’s in the same proximity as the blueprints. To do that, you’ll need to scavenge metal bits and duct tape from the Garden District. Your success at this part of the task may vary, as you’re beholden to the luck of procedural generation placement and the resulting Garden District layout you get. But if you manage to figure out what you need to do with those blueprints, you can open up the way to other districts. With some of the quests, it’s dependent on whether or not it’s day or night. It’s easier to break into people’s houses when they’re asleep, for sure. But you have to be more focused on your stealth, because police patrol the streets fairly regularly. Combat will knock you on your butt, you aren’t Superman. Taking on multiple enemies at a time will end up with a quick and clean game over.

Eating, drinking, and sleeping are the main pillars of the survival aspect of the game. It also appears to be the source of a lot of criticism being leveled against We Happy Few right now. In general, it’s not a terrible idea for the game to use these things. It makes the items and supplies you collect have more of a meaningful purpose. But if they wanted to satisfy the complaints about this, they could always make the progression of the needs happen slower. How do they do that very easily, you may ask? Simple. Make longer days. Right now, We Happy Few‘s time system makes 24 hours go by somewhat fast. You barely have time to explore the world properly before you need to make your way back to the safehouse for a good nap. While there’s a chance to sleep in other beds in the game world, you best not go that route due to the fact whoever owns that particular bed will be ready to attack you the moment you wake up. I got the plague early on in my first run, and freaked out because there didn’t seem to be any sort of cure (there is, but the game doesn’t exactly tell you about that). If I had the permadeath feature turned on, I feel like I would’ve had a worse time with the game overall.

The silliest bug I found was when I broke into someone’s house at night, and tried to kill them in their sleep. The game thought I was coming at the person from the other direction, and I ended up in a wall.

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I enjoyed the We Happy Few Early Access version because I kept my expectations in check. Yes, the game has a bit of a rough start. But I managed to enjoy the rest of it after I learned my way past it and see the bigger picture they had to offer. But I can see what trips people up.  It’s not a Bioshock style game or strictly a Fallout type of experience. There’s hints of that here and there, but what We Happy Few is about is waking up to the twisted reality around you, and trying to understand it and master it, rather than escape it.

As an Early Access build, there’ll be more to the game when it releases to Xbox One and PC in 2017. To watch the development of it progress, check out Compulsion Games on their website, Twitter, and Facebook.