We Happy Few is a quirky, dark, and exceptionally British survival game set in the fictional town of Wellington Wells. Developed by Compulsion Games, We Happy Few was originally crowdfunded on Kickstarter as an independent project. The game later received an announcement trailer which took the world by storm during Microsoft’s E3 2016 show. The first version of the horror-esque open-world survival was made available in July 2016 for PC and Xbox One with the promise that the title will release simultaneously on all platforms in the coming future. Now, in 2018, the project officially left Early Access and became available for all gamers, minus a Nintendo port, and runs relatively smoothly with an incredible and distinctive art style.
We Happy Few begins in an isolated office block where chipper protagonist, Arthur, continues his desk job of censoring potentially distressing content from the local newspapers. Arthur’s life is quickly thrust into a downward spiral, however, as he refuses to take the mandatory mood-altering pill known as Joy. Without delving into spoiler territory, the world established by Compulsion Games is a brilliant balance of a bleak and atmospheric story compiled with charmingly unique characters. Each friend and foe throughout the town feel genuine with their own oddities and compelling lore. As Arthur interacts with the various residents of Wellington Wells, the haunting events that occurred prior to the main plot become clearer with each retelling bringing something new to light.
The game begins on a fairly linear path as players are taught the ins and outs of the game’s most basic mechanics. Stealth plays an important role in navigating around Wellington Wells as players are not only tasked with sneaking past guards or Bobbies (police) but also blending in with the general populace. Performing the traditional gaming habits of sprinting or jumping will look suspicious and cause nearby NPCs to become aggressive.
Players can attempt to disguise themselves using various outfits that can either be crafted or purchased from shady dealers. Choosing to wear a prim and proper suit, for example, will allow Arthur to walk among the majority of villages without much fuss; however, when venturing into the more downtrodden areas, the outfit will cause people to mock the fancy clothes. To remedy this embarrassment, Arthur can choose to tear up his suit (which can be crafted again provided players collect the right material) to appear more common.
The easiest and most common way to blend in is by taking Joy. Not only does the drug give Arthur an extra pep in his step, but it will visually alter the world around him by making it brighter and changing some of the more unsightly aspects of life, such as flies or pests into butterflies. Be warned, however, as taking too much Joy will cause Arthur to overdose and lose some of his memories, forcing him to become a Downer for a brief period. During the Downer phase, the after-effects of the drug have the reverse effects and will make the world appear much bleaker and dark. While in this Downer state, NPCs will act negatively towards the player and, should the player refuse to take more Joy, inform the authorities who will forcibly “send Arthur on holiday” with a rather hard truncheon.
While Bobbies make up the bulk of resistance that players will come up against, Arthur will be pitted against various other enemies that roam the town. The game does not feature a great deal of variety in regards to enemies, as the main differences are merely cosmetic; for example, the Headboys act similarly to the Bobbies but dress like biker gang member. Headboys, unlike Bobbies, will constantly act aggressively towards the player but are ultimately weaker than a Bobbie in terms of both health and damage. Enemy drones begin to circle the street after curfew and can give Arthur a nasty electric shock if caught unawares.
The general population of Wellington Wells can also act as an enemy in many cases; if players are caught off their Joy, or antagonise an NPC too much, the townsfolk can react in a number of ways. The most common residents, known as Wellies or Wellettes, will attempt to attack Arthur with various household objects or bare fisted. As well as the common Wellies, little old ladies are mixed with the crowd, and will scream at the top of their lungs to alert any nearby Bobbie.
We Happy Few does an excellent job of portraying the feeling that the world itself is out to get Arthur, making the player just as nervous and jittery as Arthur himself. This connection between the player and character creates a more believable form of storytelling that can be tricky to pull off on an open-world adventure. Games such as Grand Theft Auto are often at odds with the player’s choices where the protagonist, such as Niko, will be trying to settle down and start a new life or going straight, but as soon as the cutscene ends, players are back to mowing down pedestrians in a flashy sports car. However, when Arthur bludgeons an enemy, he is remorseful, uttering phrases such as “I didn’t want it to come to this.” This approach feels more believable, as it makes the act of killing or knocking out NPCs more out of necessity than a violent urge.
Should players feel that having poor Arthur murder people takes too much of a toll on their moral compass, they can craft plenty of non-lethal equipment via the quick-crafting tab in the start menu or by visiting a crafting bench. Crafting works similarly to many RPG systems where players will have to gather dozens of resources scattered around the map to make tools such as lock picks, healing ointments, weapons, and cups of tea.
Other ways of making life easier for Arthur is to wisely invest in the leveling up system. After completing missions or side quests, players are awarded skill points that they can spend on upgrades that can help in a number of ways. For example, by investing in the stealthier skills, Arthur will eventually be able to freely run and jump about without having to worry about attracting unwanted attention.
Despite sharing many of the traditional RPG tropes, We Happy Few offers a unique experience where fighting one’s way out is not always the most viable option. Instead, stealth and cunning are Arthur’s deadliest weapons and picking fights should only be done when absolutely necessary as health replenishers can be difficult to find.
What makes We Happy Few stand out among the crowd is the overtly charming presentation of the story and characters; the game exudes wit and charisma throughout each interaction. However, despite the wonderfully compelling nature, the game can struggle from a technical perspective. While the title plays exceptionally well on a recommended PC, several issues are present that many console players may face, such as jarring and lengthy loading screens and an excess of texture popping. From a gameplay perspective, one of the flaws that some players may encounter is the sudden difficulty spike when facing multiple enemies at once, as foes will take any opportunity to surround and club Arthur to a pulp. This ‘gank’ method becomes increasingly more frustrating due to the minimal healing supplies made available.
Currently, the graphical hindrances do not derive from the overall enjoyment of the game. Compulsion Games is continually working to iron out the issues and provide a smoother running experience. Despite some minor problems, the game is an overall joy to play and well worth a playthrough for RPG fans or any gamer in need of a well-written bash.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.