What if a pill existed that could make you endlessly happy with the unfortunate side effect that it would slowly erode your memory and make you not care about what was really going on in the world? Compulsion Games, We Happy Few is an action-adventure game that explores a world filled with that very drug and all the complications and secrets it seeks to hide.
We Happy Few is set in a fictional English city called Wellington Wells around the 1960s. Residents of the town begin taking a drug called Joy, a hallucogenic, to forget a rather upsetting choice that was made following an alternate timeline version of World War II. While Joy makes them happy and helps them forget past tragedies, it also makes them easily manipulated and controlled. The story is told through three distinct characters who all chose to avoid Joy for their personal reasons and are each trying to accomplish a personal goal and get themselves out of Wellington Wells before the entire city implodes on itself.
Players tackle the world of We Happy Few from a first person perspective and the game combines elements of survival, stealth, and melee combat. Other residents of Wellington Wells are not keen on anyone not taking their Joy dubbing those people “Downers”. Residents and police will be immediately hostile towards anyone not fitting in and thus you’ll need to sneak, fight, and craft your way through the city to accomplish the various goals.
The combination of stealth, survival, and crafting is both satisfying and problematic. On one hand successfully fooling citizens into thinking you are happily on your joy and accomplishing a goal without alerting the entire city is fantastic. On the other hand when a confrontation does break out the melee combat is swimmy and frustrating to control.
It feels as if that combat may have been better served by a third person perspective instead of the first person one. Weapons do have durability and will break on forcing you to either hunt down a new weapon or craft one. Luckily crafting components are everywhere and I never wanted for anything especially in the later part of the game.
My overall compulsion to loot every item actually caused me a lot of suffering because I was constantly overburdened but that is more an issue with my playstyle than the game itself. I do wish there was a perk that completely eliminated the carry weight of the characters.
In the early parts of the game moving through areas without triggering a bunch of combat can be difficult as residents don’t take kindly to running, jumping, or being on the streets past curfew. Skills the player can choose do eliminate some of these concerns. The game gives out skills point after every completed quest or objective and one can pretty quickly eliminate any need to fit in on the streets pushing the stealth aspects to only be necessary in areas where you are considered trespassing.
As a player who is very impatient, reducing the stealth aspects was a boon for me and I took those skills early on. Most of the time the crafting, stealth, and melee aspects of the game came together for me nicely and it was pretty satisfying to actually play.
My biggest overall complaint with We Happy Few is the world feels unfinished. The game was originally released in early access in 2016. It showed with an extremely promising trailer before early access went live that painted it more akin to a story driven dystopia experience ala Bioshock. When the game did hit early access it was more akin to a run based survival game with a procedurally generated world and quests.
Over the two years before the game came out of early access Compulsion worked to push the game in the opposite direction and built in a more substantial story and character development. The main areas of the game and all the quests were crafted instead of procedurally generated. This shift makes the survival aspects feel like they no longer matter, negating the players need to actually track hunger and thirst.
At the same time the world doesn’t quite feel as fleshed out as I would like. I wanted more concrete details on the back story. Most of that information is sectioned away into masks that the player must find to hear little clips from each character’s past. If you don’t really work to seek those out you always feel like you are missing their individual motivations which makes their actions feel empty and meaningless.
Complications aside We Happy Few is an interesting take on a dystopian adventure. The fact that the game left me wanting more information, more backstory, more of the characters is a testament to the fact that Compulsion has set up a world and a concept that is interesting enough to hold my attention even if navigating that world is not always the most satisfying experience.
*The Mommy Gamers were given a copy of We Happy Few free for review purposes.