Behind the gleaming masked faces of the residents of Wellington Wells, a secret hides. We Happy Few is set in an alternate version of 1960’s England where Germany reigned victorious after the second world war, the fallout of this event has left England a mangled version of itself, even if from the outside looking in everything seems wonderful, colourful and pleasant.
In this topsy-turvy world the streets are populated by citizens addicted to a hallucinogenic drug known as Joy. Joy clouds the judgement of those who take it, hiding the nasty things they see in their heads and turning their ghastly world into something brighter, happier and more joyful, ultimately making them believe they aren’t as monstrous as they really are.
You’ll play as three characters throughout We Happy Few starting with the hesitant Arthur Hastings, who only a few moments into the game decides that his joy-regulated life isn’t something he wants anymore. Turning down Joy in this frenzied town is not something taken lightly, and Arthur’s decision leaves him turned out of the city and branded as a Downer. Someone who can’t or won’t conform to societal rules, even if that society is on the brink of collapse. His story is intertwined with Sally Boyle’s and Ollie Starkey’s respectively, Sally is a desperate woman who sells illicit drugs to the black market and Ollie, wrought by the trauma of his adolescent life is now a confused war hero, driven mad by the actions of his past.
We Happy Few is part action, part role-play and part stealth. These three components all operate throughout the game with some being more enjoyable than others. Whilst the themes of the game are enticing, and action remains stable and frequent, stealth segments of the game are not as enjoyable. For as frequent as they are this factor of gameplay still feels unpolished, leaving the player feeling as though an unfair advantage is given to the happy few who are hunting you down.
Survival is challenging in this dystopian world but thankfully a wide range of opportunities allow you to cling onto your life of deceit. Role-playing as a joyous citizen by matching their traits will turn suspicions away from your character. Along matching the characteristics of Wellington’s residents you can dress in clothes suited for the part of town you find yourself in, conceal yourself behind newspapers and stick to strict curfews to better your chance of survival in a world where dangers are everywhere. As well as pretending to be someone you’re not players will also have to keep an eye on their characters vitals. Penalties are inflicted on each character to further impact gameplay, if you’re hungry, tired or thirsty you’ll be burdened with stunted stamina, speed or strength.
To ease the difficulty of survival in this cruel world an impressive crafting system has been put in place, We Happy Few is a game that encourages players to fill their pockets with every item and object littered throughout Wellington Wells. Most of these are completely useless and only act to top-up your pockets and weigh you down, some however can be used as weapons or constructed together to create useful items such as lock picks, herbal balms or even trap tools.
Most of the key items you will need for the game are locked in strangers’ houses, We Happy Few may not strictly speaking be an open world game, but vast sections of abandoned town allow you to stock up on items before venturing into busy cites, populated by watchful eyes and patrolled by police. Trespassing is a frequent offence that you will constantly undertake but it’s an essential method of survival. Unfortunately, the citizens are so tuned into outsider behaviour that it’s hard to do anything in this game without being caught, this includes playing through side quests and even story checkpoints, making We Happy Few drag and become frustrating after the third time you’ve been discovered as a Downer and chased out of town.
We Happy Few may have an intriguing premise but the game feels as though its stuffed with meaningless content, there is a substantial amount of filler between the rare moments that take your breath away and reveal important context for the narrative. Whilst the fear of being discovered as a traitor powers the initial hour or so of the game, this soon wears off. Threats of being discovered dampen and you will become more careless as the constant capturing becomes a frustration rather than a dread.
Combat is also weak and when it’s as prominent as it is in We Happy Few it’s slightly disappointing that the main mechanic is frantically spamming the R2 button to bash enemies before your stamina runs out. It almost feels as though We Happy Few packed all the effort into story and neglected the other main components, for a game that’s been in early access for two years the lack of attention towards the stealth and combat is disappointing.
We Happy Few is enticing, and the premise of this twisted dystopian thriller certainty has its hooks. The setting is eerie and heavily implemented regulations leave the city of Wellington Wells feeling dense with pressure and rules. It’s a tale reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, but for this game to also become a classic it still needs some work.
*review code kindly provided by the publisher for honest review*