Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4 Pro
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: We Happy Few
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (18.21 GB)
Release Date: August 10, 2018
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Developer: Compulsion Games
Original MSRP: $59.99 (US), £54.99 (UK)
ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 18
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 587 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
In the course my research for my review or We Happy Few I came across something that genuinely surprised me.

Back in January 2018, Compulsion Games stated that the game was “content complete” and that they were pushing back the release date to add continue to polish things up.

The game released on August 10, 2018, and if you want to factor in about of month of lead time for the game to go gold and the code to be sent for pressing on discs and such, that gave them about seven months of time to clean things up.

Based on what was released, I’m almost afraid to ask what the game looked like back in January, because the current content, including the patches bringing it up to version 1.02, is somewhat troubling. Even more interesting is the fact that I can’t seem to stop playing it, bugs and all. What a conundrum. Let’s get into it.

When We Happy Few was first shown off in early 2015 the response was tremendous. This dystopian nightmare world is set in 1960s Great Britain where people wore white happy-faced masks and were drugged up to avoid the horrors of everyday life caught people’s attention in a big way.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

A number of gameplay ideas changed over the intervening years, but the core setting and weirdness remained. You’ll play as three different characters during the game each with their own story. The basic premise is that Germany successfully invaded England during World War II and the people of Wellington Wells did something horrible that they’re trying to forget.

This is where Joy comes in. It’s a drug taken by all the citizens that allows them to forget the past entirely and see the world through drug addled rose colored glasses. Now years later, some people have started to have bad reactions to Joy and can no longer take it. These “downers” have been cast out of the main villages to live out their miserable existence remembering the past and avoiding the plague ravaging the countryside.

Your first character, Arthur, starts to remember fragments of the past and stops taking his Joy. Eventually he’s chased out of the village and you’re then on a mission to help him find his long lost brother. The gameplay and art style of the world itself is reminiscent of BioShock, which may go a long way in explaining why I can’t stop playing despite the bugs.

Honestly, they weren’t very noticeable at first, though I suspect that’s because the beginning section of the game is what we saw back in 2015 and there’s been a lot of work and polish put into that section to show it off at game conferences and festivals over the past few years.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Once you get out into the countryside however, things start to break down. The world is filled with texture pop-in and populated by around four or five different character models total. And unfortunately, the deeper I got into the game, the worse things became.

AI characters will walk up to doors you’ve already opened and knock on thin air, sound effects included. They’ll sit on phantom chairs while the real ones are a few feet away, they’ll get too close to a wall and suddenly be standing four feet off the ground, and the list of problems goes on and on. This is the game with seven months of polish?

On the flipside, the procedurally generated world is filled with side quests to keep you busy for hours, and many of them are quite fun. Each of them so far has been pretty unique which is refreshing when stacked up against other games that are filled with just a few variations on a theme.

You’ll stumble across these quests while moving between the main missions and while they are skippable, I’d recommend doing as many as you can. Each one adds a little bit more to the lore and can help immerse you into the world even more.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

One good reason to do these is the valuable experience points you’ll gain for completing each quest. These can be put to good use in a skill tree allowing you to carry more items, move with more stealth, talk your way out of sticky situations, take down enemies easier, and more.

All that being said, I have run across one side quest that appears to be broken as the character I’m supposed to help never appears at the appointed spot on the map. This is the only broken one out of the dozens I’ve played so far, so take that for what it’s worth.

You’ll also be collecting anything and everything you can find along the way to take it back to your closest underground base to craft new and useful items. The base also includes a pneumatic storage bin allowing you to access your entire stash from any base on the map. There’s also a bed which will allow you to rest and regain your stamina.

You can craft basic supplies while out in the world but you’ll need the two crafting tables at your bases for more complex items. One is a Workbench and the other a Chemistry set and they’re both upgradeable, allowing you to make more complex items. Each base also contains a special hatch allowing for fast travel between any of the bases you’ve found, which can be quite useful as the map is really large.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Food and drinks are somewhat necessary but you won’t ever starve to death, they just put a small penalty on your stamina bar which might make getting away from enraged citizens a little harder. This is important because minor transgressions can turn into a deadly struggle as the entire village will come and attack you.

When you do fight, the combat feels almost like a bad PS2 game, clunky and not entirely satisfying. Hit, hit, maybe block… hit, hit, maybe block… hit, hit, maybe block… oh they’re down, yay. Most of the time I don’t even bother to block and I get out of it fine.

If you’re cornered and you have half the village coming for you, you’re probably going to die. However, if you can duck into hiding somewhere for a minute or so, say in a trash can or dumpster, everyone quickly forgets who you are and what you did – and this includes people who aren’t on Joy.

The story behind what they’re all trying to forget, which I won’t go into here, is quite compelling, and I want to see this through to the end with all three characters, despite the bugs and insanity of around five unique NPC models that you see over and over again.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Visuals:
We Happy Few is a nice looking game considering what it’s portraying but there are too many problems with texture pop-ins, characters floating around or disappearing entirely, and targeting problems when trying to pick items up or search through things.

I love the oddly dystopian 60s vibe but again, five different character models in a game this big is almost criminal. I can’t quite fathom how the game went this far, and I understand a lot of tweaks were made to gameplay mechanics over the past few years, but how do you not find the time in three years to add more character models???

Audio:
Clearly the team at Compulsion Games includes some serious Beatles fans. We Happy Few is littered with references to the group and their song catalog. The music in the game, which obviously isn’t from The Beatles ($$), fits the mood and style of the setting.

The voice work, while quite good, is undercut by bad programming. There’s a lot of repetition in the dialogue if you bother to talk to the NPCs and you’ll find instances of dialogue from multiple characters triggering at the same time which makes a general mess of things.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Review: We Happy Few (PS4) Review: We Happy Few (PS4)

Conclusion:
Despite the messiness and general problems with We Happy Few, I can’t stop playing it. I tend to be a sucker for a good setting and story though, and this is at least compelling in that regard.

I understand that Compulsion Games is a small studio but the game has been in Early Access for several years and they publicly stated that the seven months leading up to the release were for polish. Everything I’ve played so far leads me to believe that it could have used at least another eight to twelve months of work.

I haven’t come across anything game breaking yet, broken side quest notwithstanding, but there are so many problems in the game that the overall package comes across a bit shoddy and unfinished. It’s not game breaking, just mood breaking, taking you out of the world and story and reminding you over and over that it’s a (somewhat broken) game. Perhaps a bit of Joy would fix that right up.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 26 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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