Compulsion Games released its latest title into the world this week through Steam’s Early Access program and Microsoft’s Xbox Game Preview program, and while We Happy Few shows boatloads of promise, its current Alpha state is a bit rough, at least on the Xbox One. Therefore, this preview is solely based on the game’s current state, and not what it should ultimately be once it releases in full, because there is plenty of potential for it to be a special experience.
The We Happy Few Alpha preview kicks off with the prologue mission you probably saw during E3, so I’m not going to spend much time on that segment, but it does do a fantastic job of setting up the mysterious world and strange characters that Compulsion cooked up. There’s definitely something not right about the world the main character lives in, which feels a bit like BioShock’s Rapture, right down to the mask-wearing nuts you pass by who want to know if you’re still taking Joy. The world is creepy, but compelling, and I definitely want to explore its narrative in a deeper fashion once the full game releases, because the Xbox Game Preview version doesn’t offer any sort of narrative outside of the prologue.
Once the prologue is completed you’re treated to the proper game, which sees you waking up in an underground safe house without a hint as to what you should do next. We Happy Few is all about the unknown, which is true about its narrative and the tasks you are to complete as the player. The HUD is very minimalistic, and the mission objectives once you get them are a bit vague, so right from the get go you feel just as lost and confused as the main character. This is by design, because after all this game is all about survival and using your wits and items throughout the world to do so.
In terms of gameplay this means that you must micromanage your sleep, food intake, as well as water intake to keep your character in tip-top shape. This isn’t as easy as it sounds though, because once you leave the comfy confines of the safe house bunker you’re exposed to a world that looks a bit more stable than one of Fallout’s wastelands. NPCs are dressed in rags and appear delusional, buildings are bombed out and decrepit looking, and most of the food you find is either rotten or rancid so you get sick when you eat it. Just managing your needs is a chore in We Happy Few, but that’s what survival games are all about.
The gameplay and how you embrace it really comes down to what you deem to be the most important aspect to focus on. If you always want to stay in an optimal health state you will constantly need to be mindful of where your next meal and drink of water will come from, as well as when you should take your next catnap. If you fail to stay on top of these you’ll feel your character get slower, weaker, and eventually exhausted to the point of near death. Now if you want to work towards the main quest line you’ll also have to balance your health, but at that same time you’ll have to extend yourself to find clues and items that will help you proceed past the latest puzzle thrown your way, so you truly do have to internally balance nearly every move you make.
I found this out the hard way on more than a few occasions, which led to some pretty early permadeaths (can be turned off) due to bee stings from trying to get some dude honey to unlock a door blocking me from my main objective, or sleeping in a bed that didn’t belong to me. Once I got my bearings straight, which is a bit tough in this version of the game because the map glitches out making it impossible to scroll through it to find objective markers that appear on it, I set out in search of my main objective. I found this to be a huge problem because there are no waypoints to follow for the main missions, markers only show for bombed out houses and Encounters, which are basically side quests that usually yield items needed for the main quest. The main mission markers only appear in the map when you pause the game to pull it up, so I found myself heading off in the general direction of a main objective and then having to pull the map out every so often to ensure I was still going the right way. This is definitely a frustrating practice, but I think it’s a glitch, so it shouldn’t appear in the finished game.
I was also foiled by a few side quest glitches that wouldn’t let me complete a mission, which in turn prevented me from getting the materials I needed for the main quest. I’d do all of the requirements of the mission, but to turn it in the NPC wouldn’t respond to me so I couldn’t complete the mission no matter how many times I tried to initiate dialogue (physical violence didn’t help either). This in turn would send me on another blind journey towards an area of the map that I hoped would have some items to pick up to craft a more protective suit to prevent the death by bees I mentioned earlier, or another quest that required multiple objectives. Unfortunately, just aimlessly walking around became a bit frustrating, because I would be burning my rest, food, and water meters, so I’d have to hunt down more items to maintain my health, or backtrack to the safe house for a nap.
We Happy Few, even in this unfinished state, does show promise. The mysterious world and even stranger characters are enough to intrigue me and suck me into the experience even though most of the game is unfinished. I have a need to find out more about what is going on, but at the same time I’m not so thrilled about some of the glitches, which definitely suck some of the fun out of the game. I’m just not sure if this version of the game is one that gamers should look to as examples for why they should play the final version. There are enough bugs to bog it down at this point, but if they’re squashed in a timely manner I do think We Happy Few has potential to be a gaming industry darling.
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