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  • Final Review: We Happy Few

    We Happy Few review from Total Gaming Network
    A fleeting Joy.
    The other week, I put up a review in progress for We Happy Few. For the sake of simplicity, I left that intact below this "final" review section up top here.

    So, how did We Happy Few fare given the extra time I spent with it? Not well. Not well at all.

    As the hours continued on, the love affair I had with the game started to chip away. At first it was just a minor annoyance when I would run into issues like poor A.I., but it became harder and harder to ignore. There are only so many times where you could just write off seeing an NPC become stuck on world geometry and walk in place. There are only so many times where it stops being surprising to see NPCs appear and disappear on the exact second of sunrise and sunset. I lost track of how many NPCs I have seen "sitting" in the air, a ways away from any actual chair. Sadly, these were all experiences encountered after a massive patch for the game that came out shortly after release.

    A mechanic in the game finds you consuming Joy in order to blend in with other drugged-up citizens. The catch here is that if you take too much you will OD and suffer various consequences as a result. However, if you fail to take your joy, the citizens will turn on you in the blink of an eye. God help you if you are not near a Joy dispenser or out of sight, because this A.I. does a 180 from friendly to "GET HIM!" in the blink of an eye.

    Despite my hopes, combat never really became anything more interesting than attack, block, attack, block, regain stamina, and repeat until one of you is knocked out or dies. There is very little strategy involved in the combat. Plenty of other melee focused first-person games have come about and have managed to tackle combat with a fair bit of depth and variety. What we have here in We Happy Few may actually be more underwhelming than the melee combat in a modern Elder Scrolls title.

    The only real redeeming qualities for We Happy Few can be found in the setting, art style, and story, which were at least interesting enough to hold my attention from start to finish. The world building and the idea of this alternate post-WWII timeline is actually a really great concept. I just feel as though it was a massive disservice tie a story of this caliber with this dreadful A.I. and bog standard gameplay mechanics. It almost feels as though We Happy Few would have been better off with a smaller, more linear approach. Some of the open-world trappings like poorly structured quests or prying open pay phones for a few coins started to wear out their welcome. Creating pry bars and then prying open the phones was just a waste of time and resources as I never really bought anything with that accumulated money

    However, as a testament to the power of the concept, setting, story, and writing, I did manage to come away from We Happy Few generally pleased. Do not get me wrong though, a game cannot live on its story alone. Despite We Happy Few being a lengthy experience, it wears its flaws on its sleeve and makes the current $60 price tag a bit hard to justify completely. I would strongly suggest waiting for a sale to pick it up and maybe another patch or two.

    Score




    Just so you can get an idea of my thoughts on the game prior to sinking a number of additional hours into it, here is the first part of the review in progress from earlier this month. A number of story and gameplay details can be found here if you still need some more information on the game.

    Right about here would be the place you would find what should be a review for the Compulsion Games developed We Happy Few. I say that a review should have been here, but there isn't. This, the words that you are reading right now, are not the review. Instead, what they are is a bit of a review in progress.

    Why?

    Well, it is really quite simple: We Happy Few turned out to be a much larger and far more ambitious game than I anticipated. I do not enjoy rushing through games, especially ones that I understand to be several hours in length just for the main path story beats. I like to explore. I like to check out side-quests. I received my review key on August 3 in the evening. I did not get a chance to install it until August 4, and I then did not get a chance even to begin playing until August 5. Combined with my usual website work in the following days plus "real life" stuff, I just have not had enough time to give adequately to a game like this.

    tl;dr: I just haven't had the time to play the game much and I do not want to half-ass a review.

    Who cares? Is the game any good?
    What I can safely say here though is that We Happy Few has made some impressive changes since I played an alpha build back in July of 2016. Outside of a brief glimpse at what would ultimately become the opening to the narrative focused campaign, I felt as though the alpha build was nothing more than another open-world survival game. Those games were, and still are to a large degree, a dime a dozen. Ultimately, I was left disappointed by the alpha. I lost a huge amount of interest I had in the title and never actually played it again until this review build came in.

    Thankfully, the full game includes a beefy first-person action-RPG experience with a narrative that spans across three separate characters. The first character is Arthur Hastings, a censor at a company that archives newspapers. The second character is Sally Boyle, a doctor's assistant. The third character is Ollie Starkey, a former soldier. These characters all have unique dialogue, thoughts, voices, abilities, and end goals. As I have not finished the game yet, I really cannot say just how long the overall game will take you to complete. I can say that the provided walkthrough of the game (which I only very briefly looked at to get an idea of how long the game is) is 108 pages of mostly single-spaced 11-point text.

    Speaking of the story, the game does take place in the mid-1960s in an alternate timeline where the Holocaust happened much earlier than in reality. Because of this, Germany managed to invade and occupy Great Britain. Most of Britain becomes contaminated following a failed chemical warfare experiment by Germany. We Happy Few specifically takes place in the fictional city of Wellington Wells, where the citizens had to do a few really, really terrible things in order to survive. Because of these actions, a new drug that they call "Joy" was invented in order to suppress all unhappy memories.


    Continued use of Joy led to the city becoming the very model of a dystopia. Joy is forced constantly onto the citizens through pills, through their drinking water, and even in their food. Those on Joy are easily controlled. They are essentially sheep that will happily lead themselves to the slaughter without hesitation. Citizens that stop taking their Joy, for one reason or another, are called "Downers." Downers tend to be hunted down by those still on the drug and the police force found in and around the city.

    Our three playable characters all have their own reasons for their actions and motivations in the game. Arthur stops taking his Joy after he comes across a news story about him and his younger brother, which triggers a flashback to the life he once knew. Sally is trying to take back Wellington Wells. Ollie Starkey has been off Joy for years and is trying to take down the system. All of this is accomplished with melee weapons, explosives, and other makeshift weapons. The gameplay is largely free-form, allowing you to tackle most objectives however you see fit, even allowing for non-lethal encounters if you so desire.

    Stealth is always an option but has so far never been required. This is complimented nicely by the ability to pick up and throw various objects in order to shift an NPC's focus away from your location. Character skill trees further allow you to build towards your desired play style. For instance, Arthur has an ability that allows him to visually track an enemy's footsteps through nearby objects or walls. We Happy Few also includes a system called "Conformity." Conformity is a measure of how well you blend in to your environment. By this, I mean that if you are in a more affluential part of Wellington Wells, the citizens and the police will be much quicker to turn on you if you try to walk around with torn and battered clothing. In this case, it would be in your best interest to find some sewing materials to fix that suit before proceeding. Conformity also includes things like trespassing. Do not expect to be welcomed everywhere. Stealing will often lead to severe consequences if you are not careful.

    Some of the survival gameplay elements featured in the alpha is still present even in the story mode. However, it takes a backseat to the rest of the gameplay. You cannot die from running out of food or water, but your character will be weaker. For instance, a hungry character will not be able to sprint as long without getting tired. I feel as though this is a fair trade-off for those that may not care about those sorts of mechanics while still having some manner of adverse effects in play. Those looking for a challenge can also select from the usual easy, normal, or hard difficulty options. They can also select a "custom" difficulty that allows them to tweak individual aspects of the game to their liking. If you want to suffer greater penalties from not keeping up with their survival needs while keeping combat easy, they can do so. There is even a permadeath option if you are so inclined. For the sake of my impressions here and in the full review, when that comes around, I will state that I have been playing on the normal difficulty setting.


    I cannot say how the current sandbox style game mode plays in comparison to its alpha state because that option was unable to be selected when starting a new game. In fact, it had a nice "Coming Soon!" message clearly displayed underneath. I do not know if this was done in an effort to keep reviews focused on the story mode and will be made available at the game's release tomorrow, or if it is coming at some point after the game is out to everyone.

    Visually, the game's unique art style has a certain charm to it that compliments the game's narrative themes nicely. I love how features on characters seem to be exaggerated, often giving a surreal look and feel to the citizens and the world itself. The game runs quite well with all settings maxed out. Indoor areas did see much higher and more stable framerates than the much larger and flora filled outdoor areas, but this is to be expected. Compulsion did include a number of graphical options that you are free to mess around with to deliver the optimal experience for your own systems. They also included a number of HUD and UI options, so that you can either have as much or as little information on your screen as you see fit.

    I will note that a few hiccups have popped up while I was playing. These include poor NPC pathing in a couple of cases, an NPC "sitting" behind a chair, and some questionable lip-syncing. Speaking of which, the voice acting has been quite well done. Unless something changes drastically between now and the final review, I have no grievances with the generally great audio encountered in the game. It should also be noted that I have not encountered any game breaking bugs yet, only those minor issues outlined above. As I am playing this on the PC, I cannot say how well the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 versions of the game hold up in comparison.

    I hope that I was able to provide a bit of a clearer picture of what you can expect when We Happy Few releases on August 10 for the PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. My first impressions of the retail release made me think of games like BioShock and even Dishonored. Make of that what you will. I am certainly having quite a bit of fun thus far and I hope it manages to keep this pace going all the way through to the end.

    I will be back with more on We Happy Few in the days ahead. Stay tuned.




    Additional Information
    We Happy Few (Developed by Compulsion Games, Published by Gearbox Publishing)
    MSRP of $59.99 (USD) for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One (Reviewed on PC)
    Rated M for Mature 17+ for blood, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs, use of alcohol, and violence
    Game was reviewed on: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1803
    This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.

    Additional Media
    Comments 3 Comments
    1. K-16's Avatar
      K-16 -
      Keep it up. Looking forward to the review when it's complete.

      Appreciate the detailed and media-rich update though!
    1. Shawn Zipay's Avatar
      Shawn Zipay -
      This has been updated with my final thoughts and the final score.
    1. K-16's Avatar
      K-16 -
      Been waiting for your complete review on this. I've seen so many people with disappointment that I wanted to see yours and see if any of this was true. This is a big surprise to me, and I had high hopes for this game. Not so much because of the hype, but because the demo was promising to me, and the delay would allow time for polish.

      Instead, I see that the general criticisms for the game are actually quite true. And the overall consensus is that it's somewhat above average because of its wonderful setting and story, but bogged down by poor gameplay design and showstopping technical issues that would fail any console certification if you lack the resources to cheat the system.

      Good review.

      (Also the demo made me think that I should avoid Joy and simply pretend to have taken it. The whole 180 thing made me a bit sad. So I HAVE to take it while still trying to maintain any shred of sanity and human emotion? Also one instance of Joy in your review is written in lowercase if you wanted pedantic feedback.)
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