We Happy Few

Games TM - - CONTENTS -

There’s a point quite early on with We Happy Few where a fa­mil­iar sense of at­mos­phere sets in. Hav­ing gone through the mo­tions of the open­ing sec­tions, main char­ac­ter Arthur finds him­self in the lush yet aban­doned fields out­side the city proper. One of the first struc­tures we come to is suit­ably derelict, and once in­side the home our at­ten­tion is drawn to a large scrawl on the wall of two chil­dren with their faces scrib­bled out. In the back­ground an eerie tune plays on a record player, the sort of track that wouldn’t be out of place in the lat­est psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror. Toys are strewn about the beds up­stairs, while Arthur al­ludes to some ma­jor, cat­a­strophic event.

There are no en­e­mies, no de­tectable threats, and yet there’s still a tan­gi­ble sense of dread. The build­ing might look dif­fer­ent, the rolling hills might not con­jure a sense of claus­tro­pho­bia, but the tone is so fa­mil­iar it’s enough to think a Splicer might be stand­ing right be­hind us the moment that creepy record is switched off. The Bioshock sen­si­bil­i­ties are strong here, and We Happy Few does a com­mend­able ef­fort of with­stand­ing such com­par­isons. And in much the same way that Rap­ture is iconic for its sense of place and of pur­pose, so too is Welling­ton Wells.

A mix of style and its Six­ties set­ting gives We Happy Few some­thing unique. As the story un­rav­els there’s a good amount of depth to it. There are no real ‘would you kindly?’ mo­ments and no over­ar­ch­ing An­drew Ryan char­ac­ters to es­pouse po­lit­i­cal mus­ings about the state of the town and, with it, hu­man na­ture, but it is a ful­fill­ing story, and per­haps the key rea­son to give We Happy Few a shot. There’s a qual­ity to it, too, with au­then­ti­cally Bri­tish di­a­logue and voice act­ing that could have all too eas­ily fallen apart.

The crux of it all re­volves around the hal­lu­cino­genic Joy, a lit­eral happy pill that keeps the pop­u­lace in a con­stant state of eu­pho­ria and as a re­sult pla­cated and mal­leable. It’s all a lit­tle Brave New World, but it’s a dystopian idea that is rarely ex­plored within videogames. you’ll play as three dis­tinct char­ac­ters, each with their own spe­cific in­put into the nar­ra­tive. But Joy is more than just a plot de­vice: since the town’s in­hab­i­tants have be­come so cul­tur­ally re­liant on the drug, any­one who doesn’t par­take is chas­tised and even, ul­ti­mately, run out of town.

Therein is the ma­jor func­tion of the game­play, where you’ll need to in­ter­act with the world in an subor­di­nate man­ner: walk, don’t run; wear the right clothes; keep that smile up. It’s about bal­anc­ing the Joy de­pen­dency, which – when taken – gives the world a vis­ual glow and helps calm those oth­er­wise hy­per­sen­si­tive npcs. How­ever, it can be some­thing of a nui­sance. The with­drawal ef­fects are de­bil­i­tat­ing, for ex­am­ple, and will be a sure­fire give­away that you’re a ‘downer’, lead­ing you

THE GAME is ABOUT BAL­ANC­ING SO­CIAL ANX­I­ETY WITH GET­TING TO WHERE YOU WANT TO GO

to have to spend an awk­ward amount of time hid­ing from sight un­til the with­drawal has worn off. It is such a bother, in fact, that it’s ac­tu­ally bet­ter to ignore the drug com­pletely and just race around the town get­ting to your des­ti­na­tion and just deal with the con­se­quences – thereby un­do­ing the whole cen­tral mech­a­nism around which We Happy Few re­volves. If that means a fight with a group of the lo­cal bob­bies, then so be it. Com­bat is weighty enough to be en­joy­able, though not so much that you’d rather in­sti­gate a po­ten­tial life-threat­en­ing ruckus than avoid one. But it’s still the bet­ter op­tion than wast­ing time hid­ing un­der a bed.

Things aren’t helped much by the fact that the game be­comes lit­tle more than one long fetch quest, into and out of the town. It’s sand­box in na­ture, an open-world en­vi­ron­ment, but one that doesn’t re­ally have much in the way of player in­volve­ment. It is a set­ting, not a playspace, in part be­cause play­ing in such a space would only draw at­ten­tion in its so­ci­ety of con­for­ma­tion.

There is ex­plo­ration, though, which means rum­mag­ing through bins for bobby pins and gath­er­ing up scraps of cloth. Per­haps a fail­safe from the re­cent trend of sur­vival games and the game’s her­itage within early Ac­cess, but all this means is that you’ll spend much of your time in the game vac­u­um­ing up parts just to craft var­i­ous items later on. It’s al­most ar­bi­trar­ily added on and doesn’t re­ally add much to the game; if any­thing, it de­tracts from the strengths of the world, since it be­comes less about in­ter­act­ing and ex­plor­ing and more about crouch­ing about ri­fling through fil­ing cab­i­nets and draw­ers. There’s no real de­sire to do so, ei­ther, it’s just built on the in­nate gamer’s com­pul­sion to hoard things.

The is­sue is that this weak­ens the ben­e­fits of the game, though. We Happy Few is a con­fused ti­tle, at once solid in its iden­tity but with a set of game­play sys­tems that are at odds with its own goals and themes. The idea is to make the player feel a sense of para­noia as they ex­plore the world, but that doesn’t hap­pen; in­stead it’s just a set of frus­tra­tions. you’ll be ir­ri­tated about hav­ing to swap out­fits ac­cord­ing to your lo­ca­tion, hunt­ing down spe­cific craft­ing parts just to progress the story or the hav­ing to bal­ance so­cial anx­i­ety with get­ting to where you want to go.

Its story is well-told and a treat aes­thet­i­cally, and in that sense it’s ap­peal­ing enough that it’s worth play­ing for that alone. But it suf­fers for its mech­a­nisms: in much the same way that the overuse of Joy is a detri­ment to the in­hab­i­tants of Welling­ton Wells, a lit­tle more re­straint from the de­vel­op­ers could’ve al­lowed for a more finely honed ex­pe­ri­ence that doesn’t strug­gle with its sys­tems to al­low the in­trigue and style to rise.

VER­DICT 6/10 a com­pelling story but mun­dane sur­vival Game­play

above: Com­bat does a good job of hav­ing an im­pact, but can be tough against three or more en­e­mies, so it’s of­ten bet­ter to avoid if pos­si­ble.

above: The retro-fu­tur­is­tic style is per­haps its most win­ning achieve­ment, util­is­ing a the­matic look of the Six­ties, ex­cept with Fall­out-like tech­nol­ogy.

be­low: each char­ac­ter has their own pref­er­en­tial playstyle, but not to such an ex­tent that it’ll di­rect how you play. Sally can cre­ate an al­ter­nate drug called Hap­pi­ness, which gives the out­ward ef­fects of Joy, but none of the with­drawal symp­toms.

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