Just how is Compulsion Games’ latest effort shaping up in the Xbox One Game Preview?
**Note: this review is based on current Xbox Game Preview version of We Happy Few. For that reason, consider critiques and the final score provisional.**
Even in its Game Preview state, We Happy Few oozes with ambition and is leagues ahead of developer Compulsion Games’ previous releases. Procedurally generated worlds, crafting, quests and a world dripping with mystery — yet the game still struggles to stay interesting.
I couldn’t help but feel disappointed after delving into We Happy Few, and it’s entirely the fault of the game’s marketing. In their E3 trailer, one of the most watched videos of the entire expo, We Happy Few presented itself as a Bioshock meets Clockwork Orange seeping with style and a boatload pop culture references. The current version of the game doesn’t manage to hit those same notes once the prologue, what was shown at E3, ends. Instead, what players are left with is a procedurally generated open world with shallow crafting and clunky gameplay.
After the game’s prologue, you’re thrown into a dilapidated village amongst a cast of “downers” who are all off their meds. You’re given a simple task that quickly leads you to side quests to progress the main objective. Pursuing these quests were a repetitive slog. Retrieve item from point X, bring to point Y, repeat.
Games that follow this structure, particularly those from Bethesda, keep gameplay fresh by allowing players to tackle encounters any way they want. In We Happy Few, there is the groundwork for stealth, but it just feels so much less effective than the conventional loud and violent approach.
The procedurally generated environments are easily one of the most stand out features of the We Happy Few’s open world. The concept of moving buildings and crafting components means you’ll never have the same experience twice (if you leave permadeath on). This might be the crux of We Happy Few — an interesting way to make the game stand out in ways that are entirely unnecessary.
As for the game’s crafting, We Happy Few is serviceable at best. There are loads of things you can create in the game, but the components you must collect are relatively limited in scope. This means you’re always looking for duck tape, metal scraps and tough linen, which makes searching for items laborious and repetitive.
Easily my favorite part of We Happy Few is the dialogue. The way the protagonist, Arthur, talks with any of the insane characters or narrates monologues are delivered in a way that really adds emotion to whatever flimsy narrative the game currently has. Beyond that, there are collectibles that answer, and also pose, some of We Happy Few’s biggest questions like just what’s going on in the game’s alt-history or why everyone takes Joy pills to forget part of their shared past. Compulsion Games have created a world that feels worth venturing into. I just wish they seized the opportunity to trim excess features and focus on what works — interesting characters and well-developed lore.
While there are tons of promising aspects of We Happy Few, particularly in its writing and lore, Compulsion Games hasn’t exactly made a convincing case that its game can truly deliver on a compelling world worth exploring.
With not enough emphasis on story to keep player interest and too shallow a crafting system to make the game feel like a survival RPG, We Happy Few is left teetering on a fence. Hopefully, when the game evolves into a full release, it can make bounds in one direction or the other.
We Happy Few Game Preview was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of Evolve PR and Compulsion Games.
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