I had high hopes for “We Happy Few” when its announcement trailer debuted in February 2015, and I and many other gamers were justified in getting hyped for a game set in a 1960s Britain-esque world where everyone is a slave to an emotion-controlling drug.
To my great disappointment, “We Happy Few” doesn’t come close to living up to its promising premise. The buggy, unfocused, overly ambitious game wastes its own potential by failing to deliver a gaming experience worthy of its intriguing setting.
“We Happy Few” is set in a world where the government forces everyone to take Joy, a drug that blocks all other emotions and almost literally causes you to see the world through rose-colored glasses. People roam rainbow-colored streets and eat candy from bright piñatas, but when the drug wears off, the ugly truth becomes apparent: The world is drab and gray, and it’s rats, not piñatas, the country’s inhabitants are eating.
It’s clear “We Happy Few” takes inspiration from “BioShock” and “Dishonored.” All are first-person games set in creepy dystopian futures with a focus on player choice and searching open levels for materials. But unlike the games it tries to imitate, “We Happy Few” is a sloppy mess.
In the first of three narratives the game takes you through, player character Arthur becomes a “downer”--someone who stops taking Joy--and tries to escape the government agents and everyday civilians who want to hook him back on the drug. It’s a solid idea for a game, but nothing about the experience lives up to the fascinating concept.
“We Happy Few” suffers from severe design flaws and glitches that needlessly complicate the gameplay and rob the experience of fun.
For instance, during one mandatory mission, I had to use a lock pick to break into an area. But without the materials on me to craft one, I had to backtrack through the game to find what I needed. Most games would provide what players need whenever it forces them to use a specific mechanic to progress, but not “We Happy Few,” apparently.
At another point, I had to find a certain outfit to get past a guard to continue the story, but the game provided no hint as to how to find it. After searching the web, I learned I had to roam around town until a vendor randomly appeared to sell the outfit to me. I gave up after walking around for 30 minutes with no luck. It’s a ludicrous way to design a mission, and the fact the game provides no clues as to how to accomplish the task makes it even worse.
Other glitches mar the experience. After completing one early objective in the game, a cutscene began and, as it played out, my character was attacked. Because I was in an unskippable cutscene, I couldn’t control my character, so I was forced to helplessly watch as I died to the attackers' blows with no way to stop them. Talk about frustrating.
The game has several loading screens that can last a minute or more, and they appear at random. You could be minding your own business, roaming an open field, and a loading screen will pop up to disrupt your gameplay. Even more irritating is the fact that many missions force you to cross these loading thresholds back and forth several times.
The game lags severely, textures appear muddy until you get close, and objects such as buildings sometimes don’t pop into view until you’re already walking through them. From a technical standpoint, “We Happy Few” is a disaster.
On top of the glaring design problems, “We Happy Few” seems to have trouble focusing on what it wants to be. The story-driven experience is slowed by survival elements that feel completely out of place. Players must eat, drink, sleep, recover from illnesses and more, and it just feels like a distraction from the game’s true calling as an action-adventure game with RPG elements mixed in.
The gameplay itself leaves much to be desired. Combat is wonky and loose, and residents will attack you seemingly at random, forcing you to hide until they leave. Unfortunately, hiding in a city that consists of little more than wide, straight streets is next to impossible, leading to many instances of me running around a block several times and eventually succumbing to mobs’ attacks. Nothing about the combat or stealth is fun, except for the occasional times I managed to sneak up behind someone and whack them in the back of the head with a shovel.
The times you have to take Joy to blend in with your surroundings are interesting, but the effects of the drug last mere seconds. Afterward, you go through withdrawals for what seems twice as long, making you an easily identifiable downer for residents and police to target. This leads to the frustrating, endless loop of trying to escape and hide from violent crowds.
“We Happy Few” tries to be several things at once and fails at making any of them fun. While the story and setting are both solid ideas, “We Happy Few” fails at being an engaging game. Survival elements feel out of place, stealth hardly works, combat is boring, and the game overall is full of glitches and design flaws that ruin the experience. It’s a shame, considering the game’s high potential.
Final score: 4/10
“We Happy Few” was reviewed on the Xbox One with a digital copy provided by the publisher’s PR agency, Evolve PR.