We Happy Few has quite a story behind its development. It was initially developed to be a short, roguelike survival game with very few story elements. But after an early release preview back in 2016, Compulsion Games found that gamers weren’t interested in the survival gameplay, but instead wanted a more narrative experience. Two years later, after a drastic change to the gameplay, We Happy Few has finally made it’s much anticipated debut on PC and Xbox One.
Taking place in an dystopian 1960’s England, past conflict with the Germans weighs heavily on the residents of the fictional Wellington Wells. The area left in ruins, but no one really seems to notice. Everyone is high on Joy, the drug prescribed to all to alter their perception and help them forget the past. They wear masks with smiles to show everyone just how happy they are. Everything is wonderful, and no one is aware of the awful decay that surrounds them.
You begin the game as Arthur, an employee of the government to who is tasked with censoring newspaper clippings. High on Joy, he happily works away scrolling through articles, until he comes across an article about his him and his brother Percy. Despite the chemically induced happiness, the image of his beloved brother triggers something inside him, and he reminisces about a very tragic event. He has the option to pop another pill and forget about his past or he can be labelled as a Downer at great peril, and try to find out what happened to his beloved sibling after the Germans took him away (Heads up…I made the mistake of deciding to take another Joy, which promptly ended the game and the credits rolled!)
After completing coming off of Joy, Arthur catches a glimpse at just how dreary this dystopian 1960’s England can be. The residents of Wellington Wells don’t take very kindly to Downers. People don’t like to be around sad, they hate when things are not perfect and right. There are Downer detectors everywhere to make sure that no one ruins their high. This is why stealth plays such a large role in We Happy Few. You must conform, wear the right clothes, have the right attitude and continuously be high on Joy, or hide in the shadows and stealthy move to your next objective or be faced with a beating from a bobby or a resident with a rolling pin or frying pan. I truly did begin to feel paranoid about doing the right thing, moving the right way and fitting in so I wasn’t swarmed by an angry mob!
We Happy Few was originally supposed to be a short survival game, but was revamped into an full blown action adventure after gamers fell in love with the characters and world that surrounded them. The remnants of the original survival game remains, with lots of crafting components and recipes ingredients to be found, and numerous weapons, clothing, tools and hearing aids to create. Lock picks and door jimmys are automatically created when needed (provided you have the materials available).
You have sleep, thirst and hunger meters that need to monitored, but should you run low, it never really hinders you. Sure, there is an added benefit to having full meters like the ability to sprint faster, but I never really felt a sense of urgency to fill them when they ran low as I could continue playing with only a minor disadvantage rather than being met with an untimely death. There is also a skill tree, and you can spend points on combat or stealth.
The narrative is great, the story very heart-wrenching at times and the voice acting was well done, although I’ll admit, due to time constraints at the time of this review I only played through Arthur’s storyline (There are two other characters storylines to play through, though much shorter than Arthur’s). A game that initially was developed to be a short survival game, We Happy Few is surprisingly much longer than I thought, but unfortunately, I found that it was beginning to get a bit repetitive. I seemed to encounter the same bobby or Wellington Wells resident over and over, but then again, with everyone is striving to conform that was likely done on purpose.
The quests lacked variety, and walking around the procedurally generated world quickly began to lose its appeal. There really wasn’t much to see, and while it’s a sandbox open world, it was pretty empty feeling, with a few side quests and buildings scattered here and there.
The combat was probably the worst thing about We Happy Few, very clunky and terrible, and I took great steps to avoid it at all costs. And I’m not one to usually take the stealth route in a game. I encountered few bugs, a comical floating arm here and there and the AI can be pretty stupid at times, but nothing that was truly game breaking.
No doubt the developers at Compulsion Games took inspiration from some of my favourite games. The loading screens look as if they were plucked right from Fallout and the art style very similar to Bioshock. With quirky characters and colourful backgrounds, visually We Happy Few was awesome. And I loved the swinging 60’s theme, and the groovy soundtrack perfectly accompanied the moments when you are high on Joy.
I struggle to recommend We Happy Few at the full retail price. The combat and the repetitive gameplay left me feeling frustrated and bored at times. It’s an indie game but at a AAA game price. It’s visually stunning, has a great story, there is at least 30 hours of gameplay with potential replay value and I love supporting Canadian developers, but I honestly just can’t see paying $75 CDN for this game. However at a lower price point, I think that it’s worthwhile to play. Definitely keep an eye out for We Happy Few when it eventually drops in price.