We Happy Few

We Happy Few is a mess of craft­ing, jog­ging, and stealth with a strong script.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Tyler Wilde

The dis­tricts of We Happy Few’s al­ter­nate his­tory UK are di­vided into two cat­e­gories. In the wild gar­dens, re­jects loi­ter in de­cayed streets, while in the mid­dle-class neigh­bor­hoods, well-dressed cit­i­zens pop a drug called Joy, which re­duces cog­ni­tion to cheer­ful hel­los. Your job is to blend in with the dis­pos­sessed and the ad­dicted, which is an ex­cit­ing con­cept for a sur­vival game—and in this case, a bore, buoyed only by the writ­ing and act­ing. We Happy Few does suc­ceed at mak­ing me feel self-con­scious—a the­matic vic­tory and a funny send-up of ab­surd player be­hav­iors like hop­ping every­where—but there is no in­tri­cate so­cial en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenge here, just tir­ing rou­tines. As you progress, you’ll un­lock fast travel points and abil­i­ties which al­low you to ig­nore many of the rules, let­ting you sprint around or go out af­ter cur­few with­out is­sue. Learn­ing to craft Sun­shine, a drug which im­i­tates the out­ward ef­fects of Joy with­out the with­drawal symp­toms (which turn ev­ery Joy-de­pen­dant per­son near you hos­tile), is also vi­tal. We Happy Few thus lifts the bur­dens of its own premise as you play, seem­ingly aware that hid­ing in plain sight in its open world is a chore. I had to hide in trash cans so much, I started us­ing the time to get up and make tea.

A stealthy ap­proach to We Happy Few’s more lin­ear quests—which mostly in­volve fetch­ing, or talk­ing to so-and-so—is also un­fun (not that the com­bat is much bet­ter). Quests eas­ily de­volve into Benny Hill chases, in which the best course of ac­tion is to run the mob in cir­cles, round a cor­ner, hide un­der a bed, and wait out their rage. Cute dis­trac­tion de­vices like rub­ber duck­ies are oc­ca­sion­ally help­ful, but for the most part I pre­ferred to just get shit done rather than try to tip­toe past peo­ple who walk about aim­lessly like mis­cal­i­brated Room­bas. With how much run­ning be­tween quest mark­ers We Happy Few re­quires, I just didn’t have the pa­tience for it.

Drugged out

BioShock In­fi­nite’s Columbia is a far bet­ter put-to­gether dystopia: We Happy Few con­sists of a hand­ful of awk­wardly an­i­mated char­ac­ter mod­els, repet­i­tive, pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated city streets, weird bugs like fires burn­ing in the sky, and just a few well-con­structed land­marks. But where In­fi­nite is more fun to play, We Happy Few out­classes its sto­ry­telling and writ­ing.

Across three over­long acts you’ll play as three con­nected char­ac­ters. First is Arthur, who’s so petty and self-serv­ing that he con­tin­ues to moan about his old co­work­ers even af­ter dis­cov­er­ing that he’s a hu­man test sub­ject in a fas­cist prison. Then there’s Sally, a chemist with a se­cret, and the sup­plier of the best Joy in town. And fi­nally there’s Ol­lie, a di­a­betic sol­dier (in­ter­est­ingly, hav­ing di­a­betes is some­thing you have to deal with through craft­ing) who has in­con­sis­tent mem­o­ries about his life’s tragedies. Much can be gleaned be­fore it’s re­vealed, but it is a joy to work to­wards the truth through flash­backs and con­ver­sa­tions, which are spec­tac­u­larly voiced.

The me­taphors do floun­der. By be­ing so lit­eral with Joy as a drug, We Happy Few plays into the stigma­ti­za­tion of an­tide­pres­sants. And Sally’s story fits in poorly with the oth­ers. Whereas Arthur and Ol­lie have much to atone for, she’s a vic­tim in all this, and yet is pre­sented as if she’s just the same. If it is a sen­si­tive topic for you, know that themes of sex­ual abuse are preva­lent, and not han­dled spec­tac­u­larly.

That dis­ap­point­ing in­con­gruity aside, the per­for­mances blend com­edy and tragedy with cal­cu­lated bal­ance, and there’s no cheap ab­so­lu­tion to be had. While there is some ex­ag­ger­a­tion of char­ac­ter archetypes, each char­ac­ter is com­pelling in a dif­fer­ent way, and they’re all pre­scient re­minders of how easy it is to say we’ll do the right thing in the face of vi­o­lent co­er­cion, and how rarely any­one truly does.

Per­for­mances blend com­edy and tragedy with cal­cu­lated bal­ance

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