We Happy Few is a sobering look at the world we live in where problems and issues can be solved with the “we have a pill” for that mentality while taking a look at a world where views have been altered, truths are lies and the lie is the truth. What did we think of We Happy Few? Find out today.
+Offers a brutal and eye-opening view of the world we live in
+Characters off very different approaches to the world around you
+Crafting items and the limited quantity of items puts scavenging and careful use of supplies at the forefront
+Combat is intuitively designed for players on both mouse and keyboard and controllers
-Quests remain broken, even after the launch of the game
-Framerates struggle to perform on PC in several areas of the game
When it comes to indie games both from Kickstarter and through Steams Early Access selections, I tend to be a skeptic on whether or not they will deliver what they have to offer. Among these titles comes We Happy Few, an Orwellian type of game that has had my attention for quite some time and one that has managed to keep my attention over the course of the past couple of weeks.
Now, here we are, at a point that’s somewhere close to that of No Man’s Sky, but a game that isn’t doomed to fail because of not meeting fan expectations and the endless void that could be an end-point discussion of whether or not backers got the game they were promised.
Now, you may be wondering, why did I bring up No Man’s Sky, a game that struggled to meet the promises it made until years after its launch? Well, first, we’ve got to discuss one very specific detail: There are bugs, but they are mild and they aren’t as game breaking as one may think. Sure, I’ve had one that has made it impossible to complete a single quest where I needed to make some drinks to put the local guards to sleep or one that left me unable to pick the plants I needed to in order to make a healing salve.
But these minor issues that I mention are something else. These issues have to do with designs that relate to things such as navigating the inventory, knowing what items you can and can’t craft or even the map itself, which on its own, is semi-problematic to navigate and use. Map markers aren’t even deleted once you arrive or pass by a location on the map that you had placed a navigation point for.
It’s an issue that has popped up more than once as I navigate through the lands of Wellington Wells, making it a bit more difficult to plan things out, and makes using the map itself a rather frustrating ordeal on its own. Another issue here is the pacing on its own. It took nearly three and a half hours to hammer through all three separate districts of Wellington Wells. Before you even have access to the first round of Joy that you can unlock, you have to learn pretty much everything there is to know about what’s going on, at least the introductory tidbits before moving about.
Yes. You read that right. We Happy Few sits around with a three-hour tutorial before you really get into the meat of things. That is one thing that is truly working against making We Happy Few from being one of the best games of its kind. While the padding is quite different than what you may expect from other games on the market, the padding in some ways works in favor for We Happy Few by really getting its narrative going and pushing players slowly through the mechanics they will need to in order to make it through the game.
Now, now you know where my reference to No Man’s Sky is coming from. Just like No Man’s Sky, one of the toughest things to work your way through is the tutorial in its very own right. But it’s very noticeable where things could have been a lot different had the original vision of the game been kept. Sure, We Happy Few has a core narrative that I truly do enjoy, the idea of a world turned on its head after the Second World War due to the attempt to drug their society in order to pretend the war never happened, that the Nazi’s never invaded nor just how bad things actually are.
As a centrifuge to the entirety to everything that’s going on is a synthetic drug known as “Joy”. In We Happy Few, citizens are required by law to take the drug, which induces a sense of euphoria to those who have taken it in order to desensitize them to the horrific past they will seemingly never fail. Does this sound familiar? Well, it should, it is a rather Orwellian approach to dystopia. Better yet, think Equilibrium without all the guns and samurai swords.
But to avoid spoilers, let’s talk about why the outlook in We Happy Few actually works. If you look at the world we live in today, it seems that We Happy Few isn’t just a look at how “Joy” desensitizes the citizens of Wellington Wells from the world around them. In our world, it’s hard not deny that people try to deny past events or even rewrite the facts. Some even try to dismiss the things that have happened, such as the atrocities committed during World War II.
You don’t often hear about battles or events such as Dunkirk, the Second Battle of El Alamein. However, this time around, the tables have been turned, and the mirror has been turned to paint an uglier face on those who committed their own atrocities. Now, the allies, in this case, the British and the Americans were looked at as the unlikely heroes that serve a double-edged sword as both heroes and villains in the greater scheme of things. In order to escape the past, the heroes are always painted to stand out from the rest and unfortunately, it doesn’t always work.
In We Happy Few, the history has always been altered, making the good guys out to be the better guys while making the bad guys left out to dry. Take for example that Arthur, the main character; he’s been placed in a world where revisionist history is very real and something that is commonly practiced in order to hide the truths of the past. Just like reality, We Happy Few downplays what has happened in the events that unfolded such as the nukes that landed in Japan and how it still affects the world to this very day.
In the way, our world looks at history as if it’s written by the winner, not those who lived it or by the facts and if revising history doesn’t fix it then diverting one’s attention from those occurrences can help make it all the better. But what if you decide to metaphorically show this off in a game and do so in a way that, when looked at as a piece of interactive art, then it’s even easier to understand the reality behind all of what is happening whether it’s the drugs, the propaganda-focused papers or the decaying world that’s dulled out by the use of a single pill.
But, by now, you are wondering why I am bringing this up in this review and why I touched upon this in such a lengthy manner. Luckily for you, if you’ve made it this far, you actually know by now what is going on. When you get into We Happy Few, you aren’t just seeing a game that uses stealth gameplay techniques, combat mechanics, or even survival traits like that of both Bioshock crossed over with the likes of George Orwell’s 1984.
You are seeing a reminder of our past, the past we attempt to forget, the lies that we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night to help give us some peace of mind. But even with those lies, the reality is still there and ultimately, we need to face it whether we want to or not. That’s where the decision to take your Joy or not comes into play. At times, it’s great for you to use; at other times, it’s the opposite.
It all comes down to the choice of being able to remember, to see the truth and not live in the brutish society that would see you dead because you’re a “downer” and this is where the survival portion of the game comes into play. You have to choose whether or not you conform to society, whether or not you get to eat, drink, or even sleep at the cost of your bodies neglect. These diminishing returns exist in the form of lowered health and stamina pools, damage dealt, and even whether or not you can cure that food poisoning you’ve just come down with from that rotten apple you ate just moments ago.
Once sick you have to figure out whether or not you have the medical supplies to help with your constant health loss and puking out your brains. Because of this, I was able to enjoy a world, one that wasn’t like anything I’d seen before in the sense of a feasible and realistic setting. After all, I did visit the floating city of Columbia, I did take to the depths of the ocean to visit Rapture and I’ve visited the floating city of Eden, but this one was more tangible, feasible when said and done.
You do get a safe house where you can sleep, craft in peace, and even go over your stash filled to the brim with stuff you’ve managed to collect over time. No matter where in the world you are, you can access this stash at any given time, using what crafting items you want, when you want and using them to craft on the fly. This includes crafting outfits to avoid potentially hostile villages of people. Sometimes, even taking Joy can help avoid unnecessary fights, making it easier on you and your resources as you lurk about.
While this in its own right does sound easy, don’t expect to just be able to run off to a trash can or a tall patch of grass in order to hide. Sometimes, enemies will lurk about them, even walk right through them and begin pounding in your skull. Sadly, the AI would forget, if you lost them, that you were ever there, that you were ever a threat that they would have to face.
But because of how stealth actually plays and how great it works, I couldn’t play the game in a non-stealthy manner. I lurked as much as possible, only fighting when it was deemed absolutely necessary by any means. I’d even lurk about corners, watching as the bobbies or some random thugs skulked about, looking for something, anything that they may find a use for. Often times I found myself doing this to complete my quests, even if it meant knocking out a random guard or two by sneaking up behind them and hitting them over the head.
But one thing is for certain: Arthur is only preparing you for the unique gameplay elements that will approach you when you begin Sally and Ollie’s campaigns. Unlike Arthur, Sally is a villager, she’s used to blending in with them rather than the Joy’s of Wellington Wells. She doesn’t fit in with the upper-class citizens. Instead of being like the others, she’s not a fighter, she’s a sneaker, she’s a chemist for all intents and purposes of changing up the story and the pacing.
What’s more intriguing is how sidequests for one character turns into an integral piece to one of the other one’s central plot. But let’s not forget good ol’ hot-tempered Ollie, a man who relies on his blood sugar being rather high and his – uh… Need for alcohol – rule his world. Letting him get to look or – in my instance – sober – spelled out nothing but trouble. He’s ill-tempered unlike the other two and how he solves his problems is rather unique. He likes to box and he likes to box peoples faces in quite a lot.
All stories combined, I ranked in almost 50 hours of gameplay, which is mindboggling in all reality, but sadly, Sally and Ollie don’t get a lot of time in the limelight compared to that of Arthur. Their stories, with all sidequests completed, only ran a rough 9-10 hours at most, which, sadly, was slightly disappointing as I was rather fond of Sally over Arthur. She was funnier, a bit more… Not so down, which gave her a bit more life compared to him.
We Happy Few
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PC
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Compulsion Games
Release Date: Available Now
Cost: Standard: $59.99
But when said and done, the core experience itself isn’t the story, it isn’t how the story looks at our world and turns the “there’s a pill for that” mentality on its head. The only thing I wish we’d gotten more of was both Sally and Ollie. They’re great characters, both with unique personalities and unique gameplay variations from that of Arthur himself. Even without their prolonged time on the screen, I still do love the game and find its view of our world, albeit a harsh one, an eye-opener, and an important message to be had.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the publisher of the game. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 7 out of 10
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.