We Happy Few is a survival action game set in an alternate 1960s where WW2 had a different outcome, and the UK is in absolute shambles. The population have to take mysterious medication known as Joy – Essentially a strong hallucinogenic that entirely disguises the horrid world around them and the dark happenings of their society.
You start the game as Arthur Hastings, and, despite being a model member of society, you haven’t taken your Joy, giving vibes of equilibrium in the beginning few minutes of the game. Your job is to approve or disapprove news articles, depending on how positive they are, feeding this society’s propaganda and false illusion of happiness – This illusion quickly shattered, however as due to you not taking your Joy regularly, a fun piñata at a staff party is actually, in reality, a dead rat and people are eating it’s guts instead of sweets, showing how much the Joy pill clearly masks the world warp around it’s users. As soon as your fellow coworkers and the society around you discovers that you aren’t regularly on your Joy, you’re forced into a game of survival, figuring out initially how to escape being beaten to death and get to the outside world to begin toppling this crooked society… Or to slot right back in. There is no tutorial and you just need to learn with exploration, which I like, and you have to just find your way out by searching every box and discovering how to craft, evade guards, and progress through puzzles.
The main story from here on out is that you left your brother, Percy, on his own on a train to Germany (Forced by the police) and you want to rescue him as you feel an incredible amount of guilt, feeling that you abandoned him… However as the game continues, it seems there’s more to this simple plotline than it seems, and perhaps your memory isn’t correct. There are collectible masks that act as memory points or flashbacks, and nearly every one is a conversation between you and Percy which gives you more of the story about the two of them and how strong a bond they had… However the game does make you question just how valid these flashbacks are; especially with Joy twisting your mind. The story is good but I often found myself only partially paying attention to the dialogue and not taking a massive interest; this isn’t at any fault to the story… Just it failed to capture my whole attention, unlike other narrative-focused games – The whole feeling and setting is quite well crafted, and fun as clearly every official member you meet is just pretending that the world is ok when it’s really not, making you curious of their darker, more repressed side. This is even carried across when you die and a fake newspaper flashes up:
The setting around you is seeped in an alternate 60s aesthetic, as explained prior, WW2 ended differently so the UK is a bit of a mess – As soon as you’re off your Joy after the start of the game, you get thrown into the Garden District which is the area just outside town which is basically a ruin; you quickly learn that people here are allergic to the Joy, or just plain crazy, so cannot live with the ‘normal’ people in the Parade District, forming this bizarre society based off of segregation. They also take a disliking to you as you’re wearing a nice suit, so you need to tear it up to fit in, teaching you early on about survival and fitting in where needed. From here, you’re left to explore the open world with an objective marker to get across the bridge dividing the Garden District and the Parade District (This spans into many other missions to get to the Parade District, and to explore it). I really enjoyed the open world which was a lot larger than I initially thought it’d be, pilfering side cabinets and exploring as much as I could… However I found only 1 in 10 buildings could actually be entered and a lot of the ‘exploration’ was either set in the open world or big set areas. The NPCs are also a little disappointing as the dialogue is almost always random, and unless they’re a side mission they don’t have much to say. The side missions also feel a bit random and weird, and nothing really made me want to go out of my way after them.
At the beginning it seems you’re given a lot of choice when you’re told you can choose to kill or knock out, stealth or action, distract or approach, etc (Similar to Dishonoured, really), but if I’m being honest this choice doesn’t last long as it seems that everything is very similar, and the choice isn’t as big as it appears. No matter what you choose, everything can be solved by running and hiding until the alarms die down… Also a lot of the time you can take on your attackers, given if there’s only 3 of them.
Survival is a big part of the game, and, as the same with many survival games, you have levels for food, drink, tiredness and even the Joy. You need to keep these levels up or suffer the consequences! Even with this there are many ways to keep on top of this and vary your experiences, as you can eat rotten fruit and get sick, but to stop being sick you can craft a ‘sick up tea’ to stop this (You can drink alcohol to quench thirst but you get drunk; you can use dirty bandages for bleeding but then get infected which is cured with antiseptic and so on). Even the Joy becomes a survival aspect and changes the game over time. You must take it to go through certain scanners, but if you take too much you can crash and suffer memory loss, take too little and you’ll get noticed by pretty much everyone and everything (In certain areas), and risk being attacked… So the survival becomes a big part of it, as you need to make sure levels are correct, you aren’t noticed, and are a sneaky man – This then again changes at night as there’s a curfew in place and you’re not supposed to be out (Not in their ‘perfect’ society!), so you have to be even more cautious – You can help yourself by distracting enemies and observing their routines. To be honest, in the open world this isn’t an issue but in the Parade District it becomes more challenging.
As well as survival there’s lot of crafting involved (And you need to craft to survive) – You’re on a constant look out for materials so you can craft everything you need; the weapons reminded me of Dead Rising, but a bit more basic in nature as you can tape a rock to a stick (I’m sure it gets much more advanced with time). There are many other items to craft such as lockpicks (These become so important so stock up!!), healing balms, jimmy bars, explosives, etc, and it’s all needed to survive and fight – Fighting and combat takes quite a big focus, especially at the beginning when you’re finding your feet; it is pretty basic, being a standard block and hit system, but it becomes tough when you’re up against a couple of higher level enemies so it helps to plan out what you’re doing.
The graphics are… Fine – For this game’s theme, everything has a detailed look and feel to it; I really liked how the whole game changed when on Joy and you basically hallucinate pretty colours for the entire duration of your ‘high’. There are some glitches and the animation is ok, but for example when someone is talking, the mouth doesn’t always match it; this bugged me. Oh, and don’t expect to pop it quickly on for a half hour before tea as the loading times are so so long. Maybe not quite as long as Bloodborne… But still.
You have all of these really great aspects to the game and yet there’s something lacking, for me anyway. Although there are lots of missions (And side missions), they’re all rather monotonous and repetitive – ‘Go here get this; now go here and find this; now talk to this person’. There isn’t a lot of variation apart from walking around looking in bins and drawers splashed with a bit of combat and stealth. It leans far too much on the mystery of the story, as there isn’t always a lot of interesting gameplay between the story beats of the game.
The survival aspect is good, the combat is good, the story is good, but somehow it all comes together in a bit of a boring mess which didn’t overly excite me. Which is a shame as I thought this would effectively be the next Bioshock or Dishonored, given how similar these titles are in all but execution.
For me it falls into the same category as Prey – A good game in principle that kind-of feels like it was made just for the sake of being a video game. If I had nothing else to play I’d spend more time on it, but as it stands it’s not a priority for me. If the game had come with a free dose of Joy I may have got some more fun out of it… There’s a good chance I’ll go back and play this when I eventually have nothing else and it could grow further on me, but for my review, it’s a:
Now smile and take your Joy…..