After a couple of years in Steam’s Early Access program, We Happy Few is finally releasing. Unfortunately, this is a game that should have stayed in Early Access. It may have a great aesthetic and a decent narrative, but it is marred by bugs and performance issues that really hinder the experience.
Excellent aesthetic. We Happy Few has a rather striking aesthetic, one that I will remember for years to come. In fact, I would say it is the game’s defining feature. It is a sort of stylized Bioshock aesthetic where it maintains this dark atmosphere, but covers it with a cartoonish look, both through its visuals and music. For example, the game is divided into districts that make great use of color to depict their situation. The slums district is rather gloomy and lacks color whereas the city district is more lively and colorful. The effects of the latter are amplified even further when the player is under the influence of joy, which makes the city even more colorful and happy. Even though it has this look, the actual content of the game can be pretty mature at times, enough for the game to have some trouble releasing in Australia due to its content. Overall though, the aesthetic is a nice contrast to the game’s underlying themes.
Decent storyline. One thing We Happy Few does well is how it connects the stories of the three main characters. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that each character’s story intertwines with the others in a fantastic way. That is not to say that each story is top-tier though, as they are pretty varied when it comes to quality. I thought the first story (the main one) was the best in the game, whereas the second was a serious drop in quality only to then be redeemed by the third, but not by too large a margin. Even so, the quality of the first definitely trumps the bad quality of the second and does make for a pretty interesting experience.
Boring quest design. A narrative-driven game like this needs to have some interesting quests in order to carry the experience, but unfortunately, We happy Few falters in that regard. The stories contained within these quests may be interesting, but the gameplay-side of things is definitely lacking. The majority of the quests can be described with this formula: receive quest from some NPC, run a very long distance, press the interact button at the quest location (to either inspect or pick up something), take that same path back, and turn in the quest for little reward. Most of the time, the only reward the player is given is some points to put into his/her skill tree, making the act of finishing quests a rather unsatisfying one. In fact, the most satisfying aspect of finishing a quest oftentimes is just the fact that it does not need to be completed again. It certainly does not help that so many of these quests involve a huge chunk of running or even walking, as running is not allowed in many areas. The game does at least provide a fast-travel system, which does save some time, but it is still rather limited. It really is a shame because some of the quests can tell some pretty interesting stories.
Annoying mechanics. To go along with the rather bland quest design, the game also makes sure to constantly pull the player out of the experience to complete mundane tasks. This is particularly notable with one of the game’s main characters, who is required to not only take care of herself (including eating, sleeping, drinking, and taking meds), but also must take care of a baby at home that requires constant diaper changing and feeding. At least the survival elements can be toned down with the game’s customizable difficulty settings, but it does not make them any less annoying, especially with the baby. During that character’s story, I found myself heading back home after every other quest just to feed a baby that I honestly did not care about.
Outside of the survival mechanics, there are a few other rather annoying mechanics that need to constantly be checked up on, one such mechanic being the effect of the player’s clothing. Depending on the district currently being traveled, the player must equip appropriate clothing. In the city, proper clothing is required, whereas in the slums, torn clothing is a must. Wearing the wrong clothing will result in NPCs lashing out and trying to kill the player. Many of the game’s quests require constant traveling to and from these regions, so constant clothes-switching is a necessity. If this action could be bound to a hotkey, the problem would not be nearly as annoying, but as it stands, I was forced to navigate the game’s incredibly clunky UI every single time I wanted to change clothes. The mechanic itself is interesting, but implemented rather poorly.
Another rather annoying mechanic is that of sprinting in cities. If the player jumps, crouches, or sprints in any of the game’s city districts the populace grows angry and will eventually try to kill the player. While the mechanic is fitting for the game’s setting, it also feels like a lazy attempt to stretch out the game. Fortunately, there is a skill that causes the populace to ignore such actions (so the player can sprint, jump, and crouch as much as necessary), but it is unlocked later down the skill tree. I aimed for that skill from the beginning of my playthrough and probably saved a couple of hours of just travel time as a result of having it earlier rather than later. The game does have other annoying gimmicks to it, but these few are definitely the worst.
Numerous bugs. For a game that has been in Early Access for a couple of years, I had at least expected the game to be somewhat polished. Unfortunately, I was a bit optimistic with this assumption, as We Happy Few is perhaps the most unpolished game I have played this year. The entire experience is just littered with bugs. Some issues that I ran into included NPCs getting stuck in the floor, dialogue randomly muting itself for several minutes at a time, NPCs floating off into space, objects and NPCs phasing through walls, my character getting stuck in windows, and some quests getting locked up and forcing a reload back to a previous save to complete. These bugs were not uncommon either, as I found myself running into a new one every thirty minutes or so – it really is that bad. I imagine that these issues will get sorted out in the future with additional patches, but the game really should have just stayed in Early Access until all of these issues were sorted out. As it stands, these technical issues detract from the experience greatly and the fact that this game is being sold at full price is really just disappointing.
Wildly fluctuating performance. The system requirements for this game list the GTX 460 and Radeon HD 5870 as the minimum required graphics cards for the game. For the recommended, it lists the GTX 660 and Radeon HD 7870, requirements that my own system already exceeds. Despite this though, I ran into a number of performance issues with the game that no amount of graphical customization would fix. In many areas, I maintained a smooth 60fps and it looked great, but in some areas this would drop and fluctuate around 20-40 fps. I expected this when entering big cities and such, but it also happened in smaller homes and sometimes even single rooms – it really made me question the game’s optimization. Playing around with the settings lessened this fluctuation, but it never completely eliminated the problem.
It was not just the random fps drops though, the game also had some issues loading in objects and terrain. I encountered quite a few areas that the game simply had not loaded in yet, leaving just an empty void for a second or so. Granted, I would oftentimes be sprinting around the game world at max speed (aided by drugs) so the slow terrain loading is a bit understandable. This is by no means an easy game to run and if you are looking to run on high settings, you will most likely need a top-tier card (like a GTX 1070 or up) in order to do so. I would also recommend installing the game onto an SSD to mitigate the terrain and object loading issues.
We Happy Few simply has too many technical issues to warrant a recommendation. Sure, the story and aesthetic may be cool, but the game falters in just about every other department. Bugs, performance issues, boring quests, annoying mechanics, etc. The game is just packed full of problems. Hopefully some of these will be patched, but the game really should have stayed in Early Access for at least another year.
You can buy We Happy Few on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.