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We Happy Few Review

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A lot has changed since the first time I played We Happy Few last year in early access. Back when it first released, the game was basically a survival game set in the mid-1960s set in a world where a drug called "Joy" controlled the masses making things seem a lot more pleasant than they actually were. It was sort of a mixture of ARK meets a post-World War 2 dystopian city. We Happy Few changed drastically when Gearbox Publishing came on board and took control of the project. The game had such an imaginative setting that one thing that had to happen was giving it a fleshed-out story mode. 

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Fast forward into 2018 and we have the final release of We Happy Few. Set after the events of World War 2, the game is set in an alternate timeline where a British town of Wellington Wells has been turned into a sort of communist state thanks to a drug called Joy. This drug is used to suppress the unpleasant memories of the people and make them "forget" about tragedy and loss during the world's darkest times. In a way, everything is controlled now from the media to the people as the world walks around in a controlled haze confronting anyone who does not conform to their views of society. 

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The entire premise of We Happy Few revolves around this drug called Joy but there is a lot more going on that you can read into throughout the game's campaign and as you take on all three of the playable characters and their intertwining storylines, the game touches on the war, horrific acts committed by the government and the people and how this world came to be now. The game is set across various islands of Wellington Wells where the story of Arthur Hastings is told.

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Arthur works as a Redactor who is responsible for censoring the country's bad news articles from history. Arthur has a flashback of his brother on the way to war and realizes that this Joy keeps him from knowing the truth. This causes Arthur to see the world as it really is, dark and miserable and sets off to escape the city.  

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We Happy Few is mainly a stealth game as you spend most of your time getting around by creeping in the shadows and staying lawful around people and the police force. Arthur needs to wear specific outfits in specific areas to fit into society and pretend that he is well "joyed" up and living his best life. We Happy Few takes much of its original survival and crafting mechanics and implements them into the main game at a steady pace. Crafting weapons to fight enemies if caught, making healing items to refill your health and even making tea to stop you from throwing up after eating a rotten apple. 

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All these mechanics work well to a point where you start to feel as if they are more a chore than anything else. The game works fine as it is, and although repetitive in terms of the stealth mechanics and a linear storyline, the crafting mechanics just weigh down the overall flow of the experience. We Happy Few shines in moments where the game's madness comes through. Set missions see you take on a sanity questionnaire to see if you are fit to re-enter the city, play Simon Says or just get to know some of the great supporting cast in the game. It all comes crashing down during the in-between when you are dealing with crafting weapons on the go because your Joy ran out and the entire city is now after you to beat your face in. 

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Arthur needs food and water, healing and new weapons on a constant basis. His inventory is also limited to specific weight so while you search and raid every single cabinet available to you, you need to sort things out and drop items that exceed your carrying space. This all while sneaking through an army base trying to avoid spotlights and crazed ex-vets. That is to say, these systems are not a train smash, rather they are not as fleshed-out as I hoped they would be to demand enough attention from me throughout the game. They act as a distraction and that is all they are really, an annoying distraction from the game's somewhat decent story and gameplay. 

Sure, staying well-fed will let you sprint for longer and take more hits from enemies but it all feels like an afterthought. This is sad given that these mechanics came before a publisher came on board and demanded a fleshed-out storyline. 

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We Happy Few also suffers from some questionable A.I which brings down the overall gameplay experience to a halt. Many times, sneaking through an area was a breeze as I could just toss a glass bottle at a wall and all six of the polis patrolling the area would swarm there and stand in the corner, all in the same animation pose, while trying to figure out what in the world made that noise. It seems very copy-and-paste and the threat of being seen becomes more of a laughable matter than anything else. 

The same goes for when you are exploring the town. You need to wear specific clothes to blend in and stay on your Joy for the most part of the later game. The minute you are off your Joy and you need to find more from the various dispensers across the city while the entire population chases you with frying pans. I just ran into an alley and hid in a dumpster and everyone stood next to it trying to find me. It all becomes too easy and predictable. 


Combat is also simple. A smack with a cricket bat here and a shove with a shovel there. Nothing to write home about nor get excited about either. Each character has a set list of skills that you can unlock to enhance combat, stealth and survival but I found myself just powering through the game as the overall impact of these skills felt unwanted. The ability to search a dead body faster did not feel like something I needed as the stealth system is so unbalanced that even if I got seen while searching I could vanish in plain sight.

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Most of the game is set across these village-like areas which look the same and have the same four different civilians copied across it a dozen times but it is the interiors in the game that offer some great variety. Every now and then you would be taken through an area be it a local police station, train station or even some government building and truly experience the world's best. Dialogue, hidden propaganda and the overall immersion of these areas were the highlight of the game for me as you do things outside of the traditional sneaking around and meet people so high on Joy that all you want to do is sit next to them and hear them speak the whole day. 

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We then get the issue with save states. You cannot save your game at any time and often I had to restart an entire checkpoint because I died by a gang of people while trying to find my damn Joy. The game needs a better save system as its current one is extremely inconvenient. But it is not all doom and gloom as We Happy Few has some great moments. While the story plays out you meet some good people, experience some strange occurrences and dive deeper into the madness of the world. Sure, everything else it offers feels like an afterthought but Compulsion Games managed to bring this world to life better than I thought they would. 

The world, the people and the story layered underneath it all offers an incentive to carry on pushing forward through the broken save issues, crafting system and the repetitive gameplay. Arthur's story takes well over 20 hours to complete with Sally and Ollie's chapters being around 10 hours too. This is great value as each character feels diverse enough from the others to offer a unique take on the world and gameplay to a specific point. 

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Sure, the survival mechanics of We Happy Few don't work in its current state but the world and story do which makes it something worth exploring. It will take you through some intense madness as you experience one of the most unique stories told in a video game in a while. While I cannot recommend this at its R1000 price tag on PS4, I do suggest you look at this on another platform where it could be cheaper. 

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This review was conducted based on a review copy sent to us by Gearbox Publishing

Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PC | Release Date: 10 August 2018 

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