We Happy Few (PC,Xbox One,PS4) Review

Click here to view the We Happy Few (PC, Xbox One, PS4) description page for more information.

Review by Cowboy Yojimbo (September 2019)

    We Happy Few is set in the town of Wellington Wells, a fictional group of connected islands off the coast of Britain. After The German Empire won the Second World War, the citizens of Wellington Wells did something terrible, and forever chose to live their lives in blissful forgetfulness under a powerful drug called “Joy”. Now in an alternate 1964, Wellington Wells is a groovy, retro futuristic, dystopian, police state where a facade of happiness is kept going by citizens and coppers in masks with permanent grins who never bring up the past and will turn on anyone they suspect of being a law-breaking, drug free “Downer” off their Joy, or that does anything deemed… impolite.

    It’s easy to look at Wellington Wells and think it a paradise, but it is only because its citizens pretend it is and are generally too drug addled to see the truth in front of their rainbow blasted eyes. It’s a lie agreed upon; a collective pact to take a deep dive into a coma believing that things will be “okay” afterwards. Wellington Wells is an oppressive society, where dressing incorrectly or even implying that the weather could be better and it’s not a “nice day for it” can mean your doom. Most dystopian fiction showcases an oppressive society where everyone is miserable and is either too scared to fight back or simply lacks the power to do so, where We Happy Few showcases one built on a sort of ignorant bliss. What better way to hide such an existence, than to paint it all under idyllic happiness and make sure no one has the time or cognitive ability to give it any further thought?

    Things are starting to unravel in Wellington Wells however. The town’s infrastructure is falling apart. Food is fast becoming an issue, there is a plague beginning to spread, joy resistant and often violent “wastrels” live in squalor outside the gates, and issues are beginning to show with the “Joy” that may require a more permanent solution. But Wellington Wells is too polite to talk about it all.

    We Happy Few follows the story of three citizens who dare to break out of the colourful fog and leave Wellington Wells for good. Our lead, Arthur Hastings, is an editor at the newspaper, who works to censor anything deemed “unpleasant” or that would remind people of things they are trying to forget with their Joy. When a certain article comes his way, he is reminded of his immense guilt and quits taking his Joy, hoping to leave and atone for his sins. Sally Boyle is a chemist, who is hiding a secret that is illegal in Wellington Wells and must leave despite ties to higher-ups that keep a close eye on her. Lastly, there is Ollie, a former soldier who chose to live outside the city and who suffers from scrambled memories that haunt him. Their way out of Wellington Wells will require some planning and work that isn’t so easy in a place where everyone is on the lookout for anything out of sort.

    Conformity and survival is the name of the game. You will have to hide in plain-sight, trying to accomplish your goal without alerting anyone to the fact that you are a Downer. Sprinting or jumping around the jolly citizens is enough to raise an eyebrow or two, and they are keen to help the cops (known as Bobbies) take you down with their own cricket bats and shovels. Tattered clothes will stand out in town, but proper attire will anger the wastrels on the outskirts. Security checkpoints are often equipped with Joy detectors, forcing you to look for alternative ways around or to pop a Joy in order to pass.

    Popping a Joy literally makes your world brighter. Colours grow more vibrant, the buildings radiate, rainbows shine, and you walk with swinging arms and more pep in your step. Once you take your Joy however, you have to keep taking it, or else you will have to hide somewhere to wait out a temporary withdrawal. The folks of Wellington Wells can spot a withdrawal in a second after all.

On the Joy…
…off the Joy.

   Should your stealth fail at anytime, combat is primarily close quarters. Weapons range from baseball and cricket bats to pipes and stun batons. Blocks, deflections and a good shove are key to getting an opening. Bombs, darts and bricks can be hurled for damage or utilized in a more stealthy approach. Your weapons can also be upgraded or crafted for improvement such as adding nails to a cricket bat to inflict bleeding on your foe.

Points received from completing quests can be spent in a skill tree to improve your combat abilities, crafting, stealth, and some unique abilities or perks depending on the character.

The three characters vary in their crafting abilities. Sally can’t craft much, or hit very hard but is much more suited for stealth and adept with mixing chemicals, while Ollie can’t mix any chemicals or run very long but can pack quite a wallop.

    It’s great to play as characters that don’t have all the skills and answers. Whether you are trying to sneak past guards, steal a document, survive a fight or just get some medical supplies, you are accomplishing it like an average person just trying to get by. Characters are not participating in grand heroics, but smaller personal victories in their own growth and maybe helping others get on a better path or at least get through the day. It keeps the story at a very human level, illustrating that grand change isn’t done in a sweeping speech or the riddance of one individual, and that we will pick comfort and safety over happiness every time.

    There are survival elements like hunger, thirst, sickness and fatigue that can affect your characters performance. Ingredients can be found to make drugs, healing items, and gadgets including hacking equipment for doors or pills that mimic the symptoms of Joy so you can sneak past booths. You can customize the difficulty at the start of the game to remove things like the hunger and thirst if you want to take your time exploring more. Something I actually recommend in a world as rich as this one.

    We Happy Few takes on a semi-open world environment. Wellington Wells is divided into multiple districts that rest on a series of connected islands. Each district is free to be explored and looted. Whether that means checking trash bins, or breaking into someone’s house is up to you. Certain elements of these districts have a degree of procedural generation. The location of certain buildings and some streets will change each play through while important locations/levels will stay the same. I felt that the game would have benefited from a smaller, tighter map without the random generation, purely to have more purposeful world building and detail, although it is the size that makes getting across town the tense experience that it is. Knowing you have to make it across town or just three blocks over is anxiety inducing as every passerby soaks you in as they say good day to you. It is excellent at making you feel self-conscious.

   The design of Wellington Wells is a constant treat. Rainbow painted cobblestones gleam in the rain, as street TVs home in on you and blast the ever present Uncle Jack announcements. Tall, imposing Bobbies with crocodile grins tip their hat as you pass concerning crime scenes and red phone-booth styled Joy Booths. Retro-futuristic labs, cozy homes, psychedelic party lounges or niche stores all feel very authentic. The details of the interiors are impressive, whether it’s the fine furnishing of nice houses or the messy realism of a dilapidated house in the outskirts. Every cupboard, box and drawer can be checked and even down to looking between the couch cushions and through the neighbours medicine cabinets. Furthermore, they all contain what you’d expect them to, making some of the home invasion objectives feel very natural. Even the layout of the homes and buildings feels logical.

The gameplay score is done by Nicolas Marquis who used instruments and synthesizers from the sixties while the cinematic music is done by Jon Licht. Furthermore, paying tribute to the swinging sounds of the sixties, four musicians from Montreal came together to act as a fictional band popular in Wellington Wells called The Make Believes, who I genuinely believe would have gave the Beatles some competition had they been around back then.

   We Happy Few is a unique experience that seems to evoke mixed opinions, but its customizable difficulty and variety of options means you can tailor the game to work for you. While you may find some of its gameplay elements to be hit and miss depending on what you enjoy, its storytelling and world building is something that should not be passed over. If you give We Happy Few your time and commit to the dive, it becomes very rewarding, and will deliver an experience that will stick in your mind for a long time.

Leave a Comment