Joy as We Happy Few funded on Kickstarter, but not having a release date is a bit of a downer.
As a general rule, we try not to get too caught up in the Kickstarter hubbub. Crowdfunding has been an amazing shift in the way new projects are funded in many different genres and spaces – video games included – and there have been successes and failures.
Unless there’s a really strong case for a project, we don’t want to feel like we’re influencing you, the punters, into something that might not come to pass by giving a project extra coverage. Just look at the scrum surrounding some of the perceived failures – the much-delayed Broken Age or the frankly inexplicable circus that was Peter Molyneux’s GODUS – but sometimes we can’t help it. Something comes along, and we get really excited.
Elite: Dangerous. Wasteland 2. Pillars of Eternity. Shovel Knight. The Long Dark. Hyper Light Drifter.
Now it’s time to add a new name to the Kickstarter hype-list: We Happy Few.
There’s honestly very little I can point the finger at and say I don’t like, and clearly the punters loved it too, as We Happy Few has been fully backed with time to spare. There’s no release date yet, but we’re expecting it some time next year.
The visuals – built in the ever-sumptuous Unreal Engine 4 – look like a cross between BioShock and the quintessential British 1960s period drama, Heartbeat. Yes, that’s a real thing. It’s about life in a rural community in the 60s; we don’t get anything quite so glamorous as Mad Men I’m afraid. Don’t mock us for being quaint.
In fact the overall style and feel of We Happy Few is a surreal, retrofuturistic dreamscape, that really pulls you into the world. It looks, feels, and sounds just right, except it’s ever so slightly wrong. Not to mention everybody’s favourite TV personality, Uncle Jack, chatting at you in a calm and polite manner from every screen and speaker in the town like some sort of nightmarish Orwellian Terry Wogan.
I love the gameplay mechanics. Yes, there’s the obligatory crafting – we couldn’t possibly have a game without crafting nowadays – but We Happy Few is one of those titles that promises distinctly different ways to play, and actually delivers.
Take a look at this fifteen minute gameplay video from We Happy Few developers Compulsion Games, and you’ll see what I mean:
You want to fight your way out? Grab a cricket bat and have at it, but be prepared to turn tail and leg it if you get outnumbered. Taking this approach might work for a while, but you’ll have to balance it against something smarter.
Prefer the stealthy method? Then get ready for the best hiding-in-plain-sight mechanics we’ve ever seen. Seriously. Ubisoft will be tearing their hair out, as We Happy Few makes the blending-into-a-crowd sections of Assassin’s Creed look crude and amateurish.
Don’t forget to eat, drink, and keep the locals happy though, or you’ll run into problems regardless of how smart you are. You can always take some of the mandatory medicine – that’s a euphoric, chemically lobotomising pill called Joy – that allows the residents of Wellington Wells to forget the Very Bad Thing they had to do after the Nazis steamrolled over the UK in this alternate reality. The effects are quite lovely, but the comedown is a bitch.
If you’re off your Joy, then you’re what the Wellies* call a downer, and they’ll beat you to a pulp in order to force you to take your Joy. Then it’s game over. Literally. Roguelike permadeath is a frequent and inevitable consequence of playing We Happy Few. You get caught, and you’ll roll right back to the start and wake up outside of town again. The effects of Joy are such that you’ll forget the layout of the town, you’ll need to learn your way around again…
This is all just a canonical way of saying the game is procedurally generated, so it will never play the same way twice. More importantly, you can’t learn how to beat it easily because it’s always different. The full We Happy Few experience – escaping from Wellington Wells – is reckoned to take between 90 and 180 minutes. So, not long, then.
I’m not sure exactly how I feel about that.
The devil is in the detail and (any kind of) longevity is in the sandbox-style replayability and multiple methods to tackle a situation, which I understand and appreciate is a really cool thing. My only concern is that I already love the concept they’ve created so much, that I’ll be sad that there simply isn’t more story to such a fascinating and well-realised world.
Yes, you may unravel the mysteries of Wellington Wells and the Very Bad Thing in the course of your escape, but if – like me – you’re someone who loves to get sucked into a narrative, then perhaps We Happy Few will have more limited appeal. The longevity may be shorter-lived. Procedurally generated replayability is cool and all, and I’m still super-excited for We Happy Few, but give me a call when you can procedurally generate a new story each time too.
Then I’ll be feeling the Joy, completely, and without reservation.
* Wellies is the affectionate name for the residents of Wellington Wells. Because We Happy Few has been funded on Kickstarter with a few days left to go, there are stretch goals – one of which is to add an additional game mode called ‘Wellie Mode’ – to my British sensibilities, I had something very different in mind when I read that…