Happiness is a choice! And it can fit in your pill bottle, thanks to the invention of a drug called Joy. Side effects include hallucinations, short term memory loss, addiction. You might find yourself with a lack of morals and easy to be manipulated. You might be unaware of your surroundings, such as existing in a dystopian police state, on the brink of societal collapse.
We Happy Few is a first person survival horror RPG, set in the fictitious town of Wellington Wells in the 1960’s, following an alternative history to the one we know. The plot is divided into three sections, each following their own respective character; Arthur Hastings, Sally Boyle and Ollie Starkey.
We Happy Few was released on August 10, 2018, developed by Compulsion Games and published by Gearbox Publishing. It is available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Following the German occupation of Wellington Wells in World War II, residents do what is almost exclusively referred to as “a Very Bad Thing” in order for the Germans to retreat. Ashamed and demoralized, Joy is invented in the aftermath, as a way to try to forget about the Thing. History of the event becomes rewritten, saying that they never lost in the first place, and a new culture rises up around the drug, focusing on hallucinogenic bliss and making anything sad taboo.
Arthur Hastings works as a redactor – blotting out any unsavory headlines for the newspaper – when an article about himself reminds him his brother is missing. This inspires Arthur to stop taking his joy as he begins his exit out of Wellington Wells in search of his brother, along the way, discovering the true deteriorating state of Wellington Wells and gradually remembering more about the circumstances of his brother’s disappearance and his own involvement in it.
Sally Boyle is a renowned chemist and creator of an alternate version of joy that the local enforcement “Bobbies” can’t get enough of. However, having Bobbies hang around her lab is dangerous when she holds a secret that threatens her status as Wellington Wells sweetheart.
Ollie Starkey is an ex military downer and anarchist, set on destroying beloved propaganda icon Uncle Jack, all the while haunted by visions of a little girl.
Praises and Critiques:
Flower-power sixties aesthetic mixed with British invasion-esque rock n roll makes for a uniquely stylized game. To be fair, I am always a sucker for retrofuturism. The game favors stylization over realism. Characters look cartoonish and more like caricatures, emphasizing the shallow life of Wellington Wells.
Conformity as a prominent theme in the game also has a tie in to the gameplay. NPCs become suspicious and eventually hostile towards players who ‘break the norm’ as in running, jumping, openly wielding a weapon, and in some cases, just for wearing the wrong outfit.
First person POV through which the story is told is fully taken advantage of in a way I think most other first person games lack. Color and music change with the character’s emotions and makes for some poignant playable cinematic moments in the game.
Sally’s storyline fell flat and felt incomplete to me. While Arthur’s and Ollie’s personal plots mirror the overall message of facing personal regrets in order to move forward, Sally was unrightfully written off as a victim and ignores her own shortcomings. The writers tried and fell short of writing an empowering storyline, ending her story too soon and with a cop-out decision that might have made sense for Arthur, but not for Sally.
While I found the survival mechanics to be tedious, and hindered gameplay more than added to it, they are able to be turned off. The game also has some technical issues that were never patched out.
To lovers of the dystopian genre. For those who believe history must be learned in order to not repeat past mistakes.
4.5 out of 5 stars. Brilliant aesthetically and thematically. Innovative with gameplay. Half a star deducted because of the technical issues.