Ready to take your Joy and enter a world of blissful ignorance and be on your jolly way? Well, if you do, then you’d need not worry about the distressing reality of the real world, you can continue among like(drug)minded others in billeting, forgetting the past and be right as rain. After all, there is nothing more troublesome than a downer and the eyes staring back at you, unless you decide in a brief moment of withdrawal that enough is enough, you could remember. That was the decision Arthur Hastings made when he chose not to continue living the dream and see reality for what it is.
We Happy Few has finally been released, after almost two years. Developed by Compulsion Games and hitting retail stores with acquainted publishers Gearbox Software, We Happy Few is another Kickstarter project that got backing from the community and was picked by Gearbox to become a substantially more extensive and more in-depth project.
Previously, I had the opportunity to play the Early Access release and to be my surprise; We Happy Few was unlike anything expected. This wasn’t due to the games’ visuals, story or influences, but was due to nobody expected it to be a survival sandbox with procedurally generated environments. Aside from the down the rabbit hole (or should I say: crawl out?) introduction, which sees our protagonist, Arthur break the cycle, go off his Joy and see the village of Hamlyn for what it really is, only to be chased down by the bobbies and escaping into the island of Wellington Wells through an interconnected sewer system. It is from here, where the Early Access adventure left you to your own devices to explore, try to survive among the downers and wastrels or work up the courage to infiltrate your forgotten joyful peers for another “lovely” day.
Overall, the Early Access version was rather shallow, with little to do, leaving a bit of a downer on things, but for those could see past the survival, roguelike elements and for the games’ desolate dystopia charm and BioShock-esque eerie feeling will, of course, be eager to experience a real story. Thankfully, after the aforementioned Kickstarter success and Gearbox publishing, We Happy Few has a story fraught with mystery and danger.
Picking up from the introduction, We Happy Few takes place in alternative 1960s England. During the Second World War, Germany managed to breakthrough and England subsequently surrendered, leaving the country to become occupied as Germany continued its campaign across Europe. As the people of England became disheartened and the country becoming a chemical testing ground, the people wrought with the horrible memories of the old, developed a hallucinogenic drug called Joy to put the populous into a perpetual state of well, joy. Now, you need not worry about anything, enjoy the day, have a splash in a puddle, if it rains, listen to your favourite TV and radio personality, Uncle Jack, and remember to take your Joy.
When Arthur goes off his Joy, he becomes what the people call a downer, escaping his lowly redactor job (someone tasked with censoring the past, removing anything nasty), and embraces his guilt-ridden past memories finding himself into the desolate void of what’s left of Wellington Wells to find out what happened to his brother, Percy. Memories can be painful after all, and with Arthur’s guilt of leaving his brother to be transported away from the country during the Second World War by the Germans, he’s after answers, answers that slowly become a crushing reality as the withdrawal of Joy brings back the haunting memories. Was it his fault? Is he still alive? And if so, what would he resent him?
In the final release, We Happy Few still holds itself as a survival game with a procedurally generated world. While the survival elements don’t intrude as much as before, it does affect your character. The longer you play, Arthur will periodically require sleep, food and drink. Neglecting each will hurt your stamina and well-being. If left for too long it’ll lead to the inability to sprint, stay healthy and survive longer in combat. Fortunately, these statuses aren’t intrusive; you’re notified when thirsty, hungry, tired etc. and a simple kip, drink of water and snack would keep you going for many hours. Just be warned that while in some cases, specific food and drink can provide positive effects, but also some negative effects, but that entirely depends on the food - there is an overabundance of rotten food out there - also be wary of drinking water in Hamlyn, it’s laced with Joy.
What also hammers in the survival experience is the crafting elements and stealth. Whether you are among the drugged-fueled peers of Hamlyn or trying to survive among the downers and wastrels (those who react badly to Joy and are unable to take) in the Garden District. How people perceive you is essential to “fitting” in; this is where stealth and crafting become key. After being chased out you’re still wearing a smart suit, something that draws a lot of attention from the downers, getting close will cause aggression and anger as they call out, in this situation, you will need to tear the suit become like them, lost but not without purpose. The same goes for the smartly dressed people of Hamlyn, in those areas, you need the reverse, but as you’ve already torn your suit, you need to find one or make one, which requires materials. When switching back and forth between areas, you’ll be required to track the perception of yourself from the status menu; this is key to fitting in and being stealthy.
When tackling the element of surprise and stealth, you can manoeuvre through fields and conceal yourself among bushes. You can also hide within specific objects such as bins, under beds or watch the day go by behind a newspaper on a bench. Of course, you could always take Joy to blend in among those in Hamlyn, but caution is required, too much Joy you’ll become severely debilitated, and if you go through withdrawal with Hamlyn, the people will know and chase you down - it’s rather bizarre, but when you see the world for what it really is, then it would make you want to run.
When tackling missions stealth is far more recommended than frontal confrontation as you can sneak behind and take down anyone. If caught, however, or seen doing any unsightly or trespass, then there are consequences, so either run, hide or fight your way through using a variety of weapons from pointed sticks, cricket bats or umbrellas.
With the tools of the trade, as your progress, you can craft some items to assist you on your journey. You can craft items for health, combat or handy items such as lockpicks and jimmy bars. Items can be crafted within your inventory screen or on workbenches, chemistry labs that are found dotted around the map and within your hideouts - specific items can only be crafted on these workstations. New recipes can also be found, which allow for crafting of improved varieties of current items; such as healing balm or sturdier weapons.
When time comes to actually find the correct items and ingredients for crafts, you can freely find items within dressers, drawers, stoves and even among the floors of the world, the biggest downside of this is the randomised nature of the game and it does feel like a time waste trying to find that missing cloth piece for a fresh suit among the few searchable houses in Wellington Wells. Thankful, there are stores out there to pick-up missing items, but only if you’ve got the sovereigns to pay.
The missions structure of We Happy Few follows the route of quests and encounters. The main quest has you push towards escaping Wellington Wells through the remains of train tracks, but this becomes a perilous journey broken down by other quests that see you meeting past family members who’ve lost their minds, backstabbing old acquaintances who may or may not know that you’re off your Joy and infiltration, which sees you talk your way through, sneak past or use of force. There are many fantastical set pieces, that act as highlights of the game. One such is a rehabilitation centre for downers, which involves a quirky game show. While further in, you have a rather amusing misadventure at a latex fetish party. Regardless, these set pieces are few and far between and from my time, no matter the path taken or method used, as long as you grab item required and ran or trigger the necessary cutscene, things soon calmed down, and were good to go on your merry way.
Same goes for the encounters, while each playthrough is procedurally generated, the various encounters are still the same, albeit in different locations. These can be as simple as eavesdropping on a couple, defending someone from attack or finding a source of a disturbance, one way or another those you do speak to for a quest, usually leads to them asking you to collect something. And this is what all the quests and encounters boil down to, a somewhat tedious amount of either fetching something, find what they need or craft it. This only leads to constant running back and forth between areas, hoping to find what you need to craft or go directly to objective markers, which in some cases can be on the other side of the map and fast-travel can only get you so far through found underground hatches.
Completing story missions and encounters will; improve your characters’ abilities over time, as you gain skill points used to improve a set of skills affecting strength, stealth, healing and how much weight you can carry, and just like other similar semi-RPGs, require anything from one skill point to eight. Outside of missions, when exploring there are a multitude of collectables that shed light on the inhabitants of Wellington Wells, as well as masks to be found which reveal more memories from the past.
Visually We Happy Few stands out as an atmospheric and immersive experience, built on Unreal Engine 4, a lot of care and attention has been put into the aesthetics, with excellent use of lighting and some creepy after effects, especially when in between taking and coming off of Joy, where the colours are fun-filled and glisten like a dream, but becomes muted, brown with rot. The most substantial factor, however, is the voice acting, which is top-notch, well versed, with a diverse range of voice actors, whether it be the frightening grin of the bobbies with their stiff-upper-lip, the “Joyful” pedestrians of Hamlyn or the downtrodden downers of the surround areas. Each character is quintessentially British, raving good day, keeping calm and carrying on or so repressed that many feel they’re on the brink of breakdown.
We Happy Few overall is a game of two-sides. On the one side we have an intriguing, well-crafted story-driven experience, which will have you delving deep into the psychotic nature of peoples repressed desperation to forget their past, and when it becomes captivating you feel encouraged to pursue the story, but on the other side, much like the masks on the faces of those high on Joy, the cracks begin to show. With the world procedurally generated, it tries to reinforce artificial longevity with its survival and crafting elements, which soon becomes a tedious endeavour, which will put off many. The underlying structure the game is built upon is its downfall, and with at times terrible AI and pathing, We Happy Few can become more so a chore than an actual immersive survival experience. One had only hoped, that We Happy Few became a linear experience akin to BioShock than the tacked on survival game it is.
We Happy Few (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Aside from the immersive introduction, We Happy Few eventually becomes a chore more than an intense survival experience. One had only hoped, that the game became a linear experience akin to BioShock than the tacked on survival game it really is.