We Happy Few’s alpha gameplay confirms that the indie title offers a unique survival experience, but it’s too early to say if the game will connect with mainstream audiences.
In a year filled with sequels, remakes, and remasters; We Happy Few’s E3 gameplay demo was a welcome dose of originality. The game maybe looked a bit too much like BioShock for a title not being developed by 2K, but gamers were still intrigued. Just a few months later we now have access to an early alpha build of We Happy Few and went hands-on with the game to see if it is able to forge its own identity.
For those unfamiliar, We Happy Few is an upcoming first-person survival horror game developed by Compulsion Games. The game takes place in a dystopian version of 1960’s England that seems to be heavily influenced by works like 1984 and Brave New World. Players take control of a citizen who has gone off his government issued meds, called Joy, and begins to see the ugly truth behind society.
The game’s alpha makes it very clear that this is an early build and, in terms of story, players really don’t have much to see aside from the same intense introduction that aired during E3 2016. There is only one playable protagonist in the alpha, but the game’s procedurally generated world is available to explore.
The intro gameplay is fantastic and creates the premise for an incredibly interesting and terrifying world. If the rest of the game’s narrative is as compelling as those opening scenes, then the game will likely provide one of the year’s most unique and intense campaigns. That said, the existing gameplay leaves lots of room for improvement, which will hopefully be implemented before the final launch.
Contrary to the story-heavy introduction, We Happy Few’s current build plays like much more of a survival game, like DayZ, than an adventure horror game with RPG elements. The game requires the player to keep a vigilant eye on sleep, hunger, and thirst meters if they don’t want the protagonist to lose motor skills or eventually die of dehydration. The survival mechanics are a fun component, but all three of the meters seem to drain at an alarming rate (way too fast to be fun). This constant need to search out a clear drink of water or find some rotting fruit to consume makes it very difficult to enjoy exploring the game’s unique world.
There are a few zones available in the alpha, the first of which is the slums of the city and is full of shady characters (similar to BioShock’s) who will attack the player almost immediately if he gets in their way. The alpha doesn’t spend any time on a tutorial level, so players must master the combat system through trial and error, all while hunting down resources to stay alive and completing whichever quest is currently active. Subsequent zones take the protagonist into the heart of the city, where citizens are pumped full of Joy, and introduces the need to embrace basic stealth mechanics like crouch and hide. The police get extra vigilante once the sun goes down (sound familiar survival fans?), so although it’s a better time to hide in the shadows, it may be safest to take a nap in the safe house in the evening.
The game comes with two play modes, permadeath or regular, and at this point the permadeath options seems impossible for the average gamer. The permadeath mode will be great for Twitch streamers and speedrunners, but early on we were dying frequently enough that it seems like a very foolish mode to pick for players who want to make it out of the first zone alive.
For players who make it through the basics and get the hang of things, the game seems like it will be very deep and have a lot to offer for fans of the survival genre. The crafting mode offers plenty of motivation to leave the safe houses and raid the dangerous zones for materials. Pulling up the menu to check on inventory or the map doesn’t freeze the game though, so prepare to watch your thirst meter move painfully fast while sorting through your bags or to get attacked by crazy citizens while looking at the map.
At this point in its development, We Happy Few feels like it has a lot to offer fans of true survival games, but not very much to win over gamers looking for a more traditional narrative experience. It’s possible that the game’s missing story elements will help provide a more familiar gameplay experience for fans of games like BioShock or Resident Evil, but for now We Happy Few seems like it will appeal more to the DayZ or Minecraft Survival Mode crowd.
We Happy Few will be available for Xbox One and PC.