We Happy Few is the product of Montreal Indie studio Compulsion Games, who first gave us a sneak peak of the project a few years back. Since then, it’s gone through quite a metamorphosis since it’s Kickstarter days – namely, story-wise. What started as a simple and fun FPS, quickly grew into a bigger game with a rich story and Bioshock-esque game-play.
Set in a retro-futuristic city in an alternative 1960s England devastated by war, Wellington Wells is filled with residents kept docile by a drug called Joy. Ignorant of the horrors around them, most are happy to remain asleep in the wake of war and fears of a plague. Sounds not all that bad right? Well, that changes pretty quickly once you play through the first ten minutes.
Unaware of his life before Joy, our first protagonist, Arthur, works mindlessly as a retractor, screening what archives people can and can’t read. One day though, a familiar newspaper clipping snaps Arthur out of his slumber and reminds him of a long-ago made promise that he made to his brother, Percy. Newly awakened and highly disturbed by the memories he’s just regained, Arthur begins his journey to try and escape Wellington Wells.
As much as I loved playing bad-asses like Aloy and Lara this past year, it was refreshing to play as Arthur, a lanky and awkward chap who has little to no fighting or survival skills but stays driven by his one single goal – to reunite with his brother, Percy. He’s an endearing and easily likable guy, sarcastic outbursts notwithstanding, and I was curious to watch his past unfold before his (and my) eyes.
One thing that’s unique about We Happy Few is the change of perspectives – while Arthur’s arc has been around for a while, we also get the chance to play as two other characters now, who we meet pretty early on in the game as Arthur. Sally is a charming it-girl chemist who knows her way around powerful syringe concoctions. Where Arthur’s sneaking around is kinda cowardly, Sally does it with experienced precision.
Lastly, there’s Scottish soldier Ollie, who’s quite handy with demolitions. He’s just a tad off his rocker and a bit of a loner but is unafraid to jump into a fight. While their stories often intertwine no matter who you’re currently playing, it’s interesting to see how different a scene might feel when it’s in the eyes of another character.
If I’m being honest, I had a lot of trouble writing this review purely for the fact that I was just having way too much fun and didn’t want to put down my controller to take notes. Every moment of We Happy Few was entertaining. Exploring different locations on the map were met with both fear and excitement because I never knew what I was going to uncover or getting myself into. It also helps that side-quests aren’t repetitive like other AAA games, so as compelling as the main quest was to follow, I was always up for putting it on pause in lieu of helping a citizen or duping the bobbies.
Discovering hatches to the underground allows for an easy fast-travel option if you want to go back to a past neighborhood or simply regain some health and get some shut-eye. You’ll also need to keep a watch on your other stats like hunger, thirst, sleep deprivation and the effects of Joy (or Joy withdrawal,) has on you! I personally love it when games implement that kind of stuff – it gives the player a challenge and while making it more realistic too. So you’ll need to keep a lookout for any food you can get your hands on, fresh water (careful it’s not spiked, don’t want to be drinking the Kool-Aid by accident now!) and shelter for when it’s tired or you need to pass time.
Much like the Fallout games or The Last of Us, in We Happy Few there is a heavy reliance on crafting. Crafting is separated into different sections (clothing, tools, chemical, healing, weaponry). If there’s one beginner tip I can offer – it’s collect everything! You never know when you’ll be desperate for a lockpick or healing balm. There are also vendors that can offer you interesting tools, components or outfits but especially at the start of the game, they’re few and far between so it’s better to just rely on your own salvaging skills.
There are also 4 separate skill trees (survival, combat, stealth and super) where you can spend skills points gained from quests to upgrade things like health, how much of a punch you pack in combat or how easily tech/people notice you.
Immersion in this game hits you hard and its source is from the constant reminder that Arthur’s appearance and manner matters. With the townsfolk, bobbies, and tech constantly watching you, you really feel Arthur’s desperate attempt to blend in. But not to worry! Just as there are plenty of ways to give yourself away (being out past curfew, not dressing appropriately, and of course being off Joy,) there are tons of ways to stay visibly hidden too.
When approaching different quests, there is almost always the option to stay stealth or go in full commando – but beware about making enemies out of the townsfolk because if you rob that one neighbor for their crafting goods and get caught, everyone and their grandmother will be chasing after you.
The world is wonderfully crafted and filled with oddly charming characters – unless you do something to tick them off and they decide they’d rather bludgeon you to death of course. Wellington Wells is watched over by Uncle Jack, an all-around Big-Brother-like figure who reports the news, offers advice on how to get by in the city and of course, reminds you that joy is the answer to all your problems. Even though you only hear him over the radio or playing on the screens around town, this Orwellian figure does a good job of reminding you that there’s always a pair of eyes watching you.
There’s actually only one quip I have with the game and that’s that it can be a bit glitchy at times (for example; NPCs stuck in the ground, game freezing, etc,) but it was nowhere near enough to turn me off from playing and anytime the game did glitch out, going back to the last autosave fixed the problem.
Since the game is procedurally generated, every single time you start a new game, you’ll be getting a different experience! Even if you’ve already beaten the game, giving it another go offers the chance to explore places, quests or people you may have missed the first time around – or just enjoy the world shaped differently!
In short – We Happy Few is a colorfully disturbing masterpiece that certainly earns the comparisons it gets.
We Happy Few officially releases on August 10 and will be playable on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. If you haven’t already seen the trailer, check it out above and let us know if you’ll be picking the game this Friday!