Odds are, you probably haven’t been keeping up with the We Happy Few Season Pass content. The original game got a less than kind reception at launch due to technical problems and a mixed-up design that split the difference between survival gameplay and Bioshock storytelling. They Came From Below started giving the game a better outlook and the We Happy Few Lightbearer DLC is continuing that trend. It’s probably what most people wanted from the main game as it is yet another promising episode with interesting characters, unique gameplay, and an enrapturing world.
We Happy Few Lightbearer DLC Review | Hotel hell
Lightbearer casts you in the role of Nick Lightbearer, a drug-addled rockstar that you meet briefly in the main game. With his glory days behind him, Nick retreats into a drug haze thicker than most of the Joy-addicted citizens that surround him. When he awakens to find bloodstained clothing, a faulty memory, and reports of a serial killer on the loose, he assumes the worst. As he attempts to hide from all his problems (and the adoring fans flooding his hotel), Nick finds out exactly what happened. Or at least, what he thinks happened. He’s on a lot of drugs, after all.
You might be wondering how all this translates into a first-person game focused on melee combat and it doesn’t. Well, not in a normal sense anyway. Much like the first We Happy Few DLC (and BioShock 2‘s Minerva’s Den, which had similar talent behind it), Lightbearer uses the framework of We Happy Few to produce a very different type of game. Nick is a rockstar, so he interacts with the world through his guitar. You can serenade fans to get them to defend you, blow the paparazzi’s minds with a sweet riff, and knock out groups with a killer chord.
It’s a creative way to implement the character, even if they don’t quite go all the way with it. Several puzzle sections require throwable “gold records” a concept that feels like a cheap shortcut to add in more variety. Overall, it’s a small compromise in an otherwise brilliantly original first-person experience.
We Happy Few Lightbearer DLC Review | The power of rock and roll
Beyond first-person guitar combat, the other gameplay facet worthy of note is the drug trips. It’s similar in style to what you might’ve experienced in Far Cry titles, but there’s a bit more artistic flair here. While it does tend to coat the entire proceedings in a less than ideal visual haze, some of the misdirection in these scenes hit their mark to the point where it could probably classify this DLC under some sort of horror game. You never quite get a handle on what’s a hallucination and what’s actually happening, which is exactly what you want from such an unreliable narrator.
The overall campaign is pretty short, which is both a positive and a negative. One of the biggest problems with the original game is how overstretched it feels. That fact makes these bite-sized adventures feel so fresh in comparison. Still, it would be nice to get a bit more about the character in here.
Give it another hour to really go over the entirety of Nick’s career instead of assuming people remember things from the main story. Or, baring that, perhaps you could cut out some of the more unnecessary gameplay. No matter how many times it pops up, it’s hard to see why first-person platforming is a thing. And the same goes to cheesy overlong boss fights that feel out of place in something that’s so weird in other places.
We Happy Few Lightbearer DLC Review | Unfortunate earplugs
It also would have been nice to hear a bit more of Nick’s artistic output. We do get a few standout musical moments, but the guitar doesn’t even play different tunes as you use it to keep fans at bay. This might be a budgetary concern more than anything, but it is still disappointing. Music in alternate worlds is so fun when it pops up in games like Wolfenstein and BioShock: Infinite, and it would have worked well here. Speaking of audio, this DLC also doesn’t fix the strange bug where characters will talk in a cutscene in one voice and then blurt out idle dialogue in a completely different tone. It’s not great for the immersion.
Even though it’s limited in scope, it’s easy to devour every bit of worldbuilding in Lightbearer. Writing, the strongest part of We Happy Few by a mile, shines through here as well. It’s hard not to think the worst of this stereotypical druggie you’re playing, but Lighbearer has a trip to take you on. It’s just nice to play something that knows how obvious most gaming storytelling can be and turns it on its head. Like going out on a mysterious, impromptu bender with your friends, you will not see where it’s all going.
We Happy Few Lightbearer DLC Review | A glorious encore
Despite its flaws, Lightbearer is praiseworthy for what it brings to the table. It’s a wonderful halfway point between full-on walking sims like Gone Home and murderous first-person shooters. The gameplay adds to the story being told while not getting in the way, keeping the focus on the writing. The characters, while still trapped in the blocky animations and static faces of We Happy Few, shine through interesting lines and great vocal performances. It’s the type of campaign you’d show to someone off the street to show just how creative the medium can be. After two similarly strong releases, it’s almost sad that there’s only one more DLC drop left to go. And that’s a big deal, given how disappointing the main game was.
GameRevolution reviewed We Happy Few Lightbearer on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.