Ah, Gearbox Studios. It’s been an…interesting few years for the developers of the Borderlands series, with the underwhelming reception to their hero-based shooter Battleborn compounding on the Aliens: Colonial Marines debacle and some quite bizarre publicity stunts from CEO Randy Pitchford. Those who find Gearbox a studio they love to hate may well be getting themselves some new ammunition very soon, while those who did enjoy recent indie title We Happy Few may be interested to learn the company will be publishing the game early next year as a full sized release.
And, of course, with a full sized price tag.
Set to release on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC in April 2018, We Happy Few currently stands as an ‘Early Access’ Steam (and Xbox One, but we’ll focus on Steam for the sake of familiarity) release focusing on stealth, survival, crafting mechanics and most of all an unsettling Stepford Wives-style dystopian setting that suggested it would meddle with the player’s perception of reality within the game. While it originally gained praise from pundits such as Jim Sterling for its potential and creative setting in a sea of zombie survival games littering Steam, many of these same commentators later registered disappointment with the game for resorting to arguably trite ‘survival’ mechanics. There’re plenty of gameplay videos on Youtube for you to make your own judgement on that front if you haven’t tried the game yourself, but suffice to say the game’s ‘Very Positive’ overall rating on Steam suggests enough of a fan-base is present to justify Gearbox’s move to bring the game to the mainstream.
In a recent interview with Jessica Condit of engadget.com, game developer Guillaume Provost admitted “It was the reaction of our fans (after trailers at two E3 events, and a focus of speculation on the game’s potential narrative rather than the story-light survival elements that studio Compulsion was focusing on at the time) that really drove home how big the game could become…It was also a bit daunting. Getting too much hype is a good problem to have, but it can also backfire, and after watching the launch of No Man’s Sky that year, we carefully back-pedaled some of the hype and managed expectations with regards to the game.” Even the more cynical among us have to admit that We Happy Few’s developers do seem to be learning lessons from other indie studios that went mainstream. But will it be enough to win back those disappointed with the direction the game eventually took, or to calm fears over Gearbox’s presence in proceedings?
If you believe the developer’s claims, then initial assurances look promising – while thus far players have been able to ‘interact’ with the society around them through stealth or combat, the full-sized release promises a true story with 3 unique protagonists and over 250 ‘encounters’ within the game. What exactly constitutes an ‘encounter’ remains somewhat vague at this time, but maybe that’s for the best – after all, this is only a recent announcement, and we all remember what became of No Man’s Sky after it promised (quite literally) the universe.
What may be just as important as what’s present, however, is what isn’t present – will procedural generation stay, or will the world move to become a more hand crafted experience? Current chatter suggests the latter, but it’s early days still. Whatever the case, Compulsion may unwillingly find itself charged with restoring faith in both procedural generation and the crowd-funded Indie game market (We Happy Few’s Kickstarter campaign asked for $250’000 and received a total of over $334’000). The controversial releases of the aforementioned No Man’s Sky as well as Yooka-Laylee have understandably shaken the confidence of some invested in the game’s industry, and for We Happy Few to not look simply cynical as it shoots up to full price it’s going to have to deliver on a lot of its original potential.
We’ll bring more information when there becomes substantially more to say. For now, keep the April 13th 2018 release date in mind if the game interests you – Early Access customers, at least, will be getting the full title for free. One last note is the ‘collector’s set’ that’ll be releasing at the same time, containing a replica of the masks worn by in-game characters, a ‘You Look Smashing Lamp’, a Joy alarm clock, a vinyl of the We Happy Few soundtrack, and more besides.
But not a copy of the game. Supposedly, of course, so Early Access customers can purchase it separately.
Some things never change.
At age seven, Jordan wanted to be a paleontologist. That went well. He now fills the void by writing on all manner of mildly-interesting topics - when he finds time in between complaining how everything was better in the 'good old days', that is.