It pains me to say that this game could have been so much more. We Happy Few is an action-adventure game with a couple of horror and survival elements dispersed here and there. Although its plot is something I definitely enjoyed, other aspects of the title really devalued what it could have been.
The story is set in an alternate timeline of World War II. The Americans never joined the Allies during the war, causing the defeat of the UK. The Germans have occupied Brittain and wound up taking over everything. However, the population of the island town of Wellington Wells managed to do something that convinced the Germans to leave their lives untouched. To this day, the citizens have called it the “Very Bad Thing” that has to lead them to feel much anguish and guilt. Wanting to forget that it ever happened, they developed a drug called “Joy”, which suppresses all unhappy memories and leaves those who take it in an induced state of euphoria; This changes the perception of one’s environment, making the taker of the drug see nothing but cheers and rainbows rather than taking how things actually are.
But there are some who are immune to the drug, and some who have decided not to take them. Both are either called “Wastrels” or “Downers” respectively and the citizens don’t take too kindly with them; Those people are either forced to take the drugs, taken to a Joy Doctor to be injected in lethal doses of Joy, or just downright killed. So you’ll be able to take a look at the lives of those who live their lives around Joy, and those that either refuse or aren’t affected by it.
This right here is interesting! The best part is that you get to see the whole plot unfold from three different characters. You first play as Arthur, a redactor whose job is to approve or censor news articles. While he’s working, he happens upon a news clipping of his older brother Percy after World War II. By this point, you’re given a choice to either to take your Joy pill or throw it away. If you go for the latter, then expect to see John witness the horrors of reality, how he’ll go about in finding his brother, and the truth he manages to uncover about Wellington Wells.
Then you play as Sally, the person that’s responsible for creating a more improved version of the drug. She’s also secretly the mother fo the first baby ever born in Wellington Wells in fifteen years. Since she can make a stronger dose of Joy, she’s harassed and threatened by local police just so she can make some for them. As she learns about the truth of Wellington Wells, she and her daughter has made plans to escape. But things don’t always go as easy as one would think. You’ll see Sally going through a lot before resolving her chapter of the story.
Lastly, you play as Ollie. He’s a former soldier of the British army that hallucinates about his dead daughter, Margaret, throughout his journey. As his story progresses, you uncover more truths about Wellington Wells, his daughter, and about Ollie himself. What he does during the events unfolding within the game could very well save everyone on the island town.
I don’t want to spoil anything as the plot can really suck you in. It’s just a shame that you can’t say the same for the gameplay.
While it’s great that you’re given a ton of options to play around with, they aren’t exactly fleshed out that well. The game has stealth, combat, looting, crafting, sleeping, and drinking… a lot to take in yes? But it’s the main appeal is the inclusion of Joy as an important gameplay element.
At a certain point in the game, you’ll be thrust into the open world section where you can explore the area, do sidequests, or progress through the plot. As you’re doing so, you’ll need to blend in with the citizens so that they don’t notice you’re a Downer or a Wastrel. This means that you’ll need to take Joy in order for you to avoid suspicion.
While it’s great in concept, there are many problems with this. There are three other mechanics that ties into the whole Joy concept and those would be eating, drinking, and sleeping. If you don’t do any of them, your character will either have his or her skills negatively affected or worse, die. It’s intrusive and it forces you to keep scrounging around just so you can get by. And after you take a Joy pill, you suffer from withdrawal. This heavily impacts your thirst and hunger gauge and is incredibly annoying. Although I get that this makes the game more realistic, it’s not exactly great mechanic if all it does is frustrate the player.
This game definitely shows its survival aspect by sneaking around different areas and looting from citizens to get what you need. It’s nice that there are actual consequences for getting caught. For example, if you enter someone’s home and take their stuff, you don’t expect them to just keep quiet about it, do you? Well if you do happen to take the risk, then expect them to call the local enforcers to have you taken away. While this is all well and good, it’s just a shame that you can easily take them down or even outrun them. Then when you’re in the clear? You can just go back and take what you want. Simple as that.
As for the combat… it’s not great. You have the option to either block what enemies throw at you or punch back. That’s it. There’s literally nothing being fleshed out in the fighting mechanics. You do the exact same thing over and over and that’s block and attack. Although there’s a bit of enemy variety that makes you play the game a bit differently, you still play it the same way as you would facing them head-on. Just whack em.
At least stealth can is somewhat done right. I say that because there are times where you’re spotted but feels as if the A.I takes forever to realize that you’re someone off of your Joy pill. But I’ll admit it’s kinda fun avoiding police and sneaking into places you aren’t supposed to be.
Looting and crafting are essential if you want to get by. You can pick up a lot of different items and you can use whatever you find to craft handy tools like lockpicks or even a new suit! And the plot will force you to get these in order to progress at given points. Although it’s a nice feeling whenever you scrounge around to get new stuff, it gets really boring really fast. Much like the combat, you just do it over and over again.
Then there’s the skill tree. This gives the game more depth as you can use it to upgrade your characters abilities. You have the choice of either upgrading skills pertaining to combat, stealth, or super-duper (these are skills that give you more unique benefits). Upgrading them, in the long run, is vital if you want things to get easier for you. And take note that each character has their own specialty. Arthur is great at crafting, Sally at sneaking and crafting chemical concoctions, and Ollie in combat and making explosives. How you’ll upgrade their skills is entirely on you, so you can go with proper allocation or focus on one aspect entirely. The only way for you to upgrade these skills is if you manage to grab skill points. These can be found by either doing the main story or by completing sidequests.
The game’s sidequests are ridiculously laughable, in a good way. You’ll see some very odd things when completing tasks given to you by the citizens of Wellington Wells. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything as they’re that entertaining.
I won’t lie that the environments look really good, to a certain degree. It’s clear that the game feels rushed as there are certain textures that haven’t been developed all that well. There are even areas that feel as if they’re lacking a lot of detail, showing that the developers didn’t have as much time as they needed to polish what could have been a really great game. The sound can get a bit problematic. There are times where I feel that certain sounds should happen where they don’t. Other than, it’s pretty much fine.
Overall, the game could have been something amazing. Alas, that’s not the case. It stands between being mediocre and exceptional, making it feel like “meh”. You can still find some fun out of it, but that all depends on how you wish to take on the game. I personally felt like the gameplay hasn’t done the plot justice as it’s one of the more interesting ones in today’s current generation of games. So give it a shot if you feel like it and try to see what fun you can get out of We Happy Few.
Disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy purchased by the author.