“Wakey wakey everyone, it’s another fabulous day in Wellington Wells!” This is one of many lines Uncle Jack has prepared for players as they enter the world of We Happy Few, Compulsion Games’ survival horror title set in a dystopian future where everyone is happy, or else. The people of We Happy Few use a drug called Joy to forget anything bad that has ever happened to them. While this does make their lives much easier, it certainly takes away from their personality and humanity. Players will quickly find that the Wellies are pleasant to everyone who’s happy, while not showing any semblance of remorse for Downers, the people who refuse to take their Joy. As one such Downer, players are tasked with learning to survive in an unrelenting world filled with dangers and Joy-fueled delusions.
Right from the start, these delusions are shown in great detail to our protagonist, Arthur. Once we have control of Arthur, we are given the choice to ‘Remember’ or simply take our Joy. If the player chooses to take their Joy, the game ends and that alone is enough to show players the power of the drug. But, as we all know, Arthur chooses to throw away his Joy and take control of his life. Shortly after this, we end up out in the Garden District with all the other Downers. This is where the game truly starts and where Arthur comes face to face with the harsh reality of the community he lives in. While Joy taking citizens are smiling and going about their day without a care, the Downers are disheveled and distraught, barely getting by on scraps. This is the beauty of this game, it says so much with so little. From the detailed characters to the quality and rarity of items in each area, the game tells players what is going on and how bad it has gotten.
If that weren’t enough, the characters (including Uncle Jack on the televisions) are constantly speaking to Arthur, either making sure his father is doing alright, or telling him to **** off. Even though I love how straightforward and infomative that dialog is, there are plenty other lines that show how dark the world really is. One of my favorites is the ‘jokes’ about Downers Uncle Jack tells on his television show. He tells these ‘jokes’ with glee even though the subject matter is rather grim. Both the details on look and sound of people in each area play into one of the game’s main mechanics, blending in. To blend in to the Garden District, Arthur may consider wearing a Torn Suit and speaking to others with a mix of gibberish and grimness. On the other hand, a Proper Suit and an upbeat attitude will help you blend in with the Wellies.
It’s not like other games haven’t used blending as a game mechanic. It’s simply that other games haven’t made blending feel so important. There’s a real tension as you make small talk with people hopped up on Joy who would turn on you, in proper angry mob fashion, in an instant. Players aren’t just tasked with mimicking the Wellies either, as there are Joy checkpoints throughout the city that can tell if a person is currently on Joy. This makes things much more difficult since it’s generally tough to get past these without actually being on the drug. I know my first thought was ‘Well I’ll just pop a Joy and be on my way’. Little did I know that when the effects of Joy wear off, much like a normal drug, there are side effects. This is the developers being clever as they understand how simple it would be to just take some Joy right before passing through a checkpoint. Knowing that when those effects wear off, you’ll be left vulnerable as others will know you’re off your Joy is simply ingenious and it creates a risk/reward situation like few others.
Although blending in is extremely important, it’s not all the game is about. We Happy Few is a survival game after all and has several survival aspects. The coming down period from Joy feels very much at home with other status ailments like food poisoning and simply being too hungry (presumably because you didn’t want to risk food poisoning). Arthur must balance sleep, hunger, thirst, and his even his Joy level in some cases. These are all represented by bars that the player can easily access and address through quick slots and menus. There are tons of items to use (either directly or combined with others) throughout the game and most come with their own kinds of risk or choice of use. For example, alcohol is found quite often in the game but can be used in several different ways. You could drink it for a little thirst boost, combine it with some other things to make medical supplies, or even give it to a Bobby to get him to ‘loosen up’. Since there are a multitude of items, it shouldn’t be much of surprise that there is an expansive inventory to carry it all. In fact, this inventory can be expanded several times to give Arthur more slots to carry items and more quick slots to access items without entering a menu. There are weapons as well to help ‘persuade’ people to help you in your survival. These weapons are fairly fun to swing around and there actually are quite a few to try out.
Since this version of the game is without a story mode, I made sure to spend a lot of time exploring the world laid out in front of me. For it being procedurally generated, I was happy enough. Through my several playthroughs, I encountered enough different map layouts and side quests to keep me busy. The side quests made for some interesting scenarios, as I often found myself torn between helping this other person or keeping what I had found to myself. Other times, I found accessing the quests to be quite difficult as I was asked to go to various areas to gather things. I found that using the map and compass together made getting around much easier than trying to learn the layout by heart. I also found myself out in the middle of the night, which caused disaster on more than one occasion. The day/night cycles are important as different events happen at different times and characters will act completely differently whether it’s day or night. All in all, the world of We Happy Few is an impressive one.
There are plenty of great things about this game and I could go on for an eternity. With that said, there are some gripes about the current state of the game that I have this feeling will be addressed in the future updates. Since some of these are likely to change, I won’t spend much time talking about them. First off, micromanaging the survival bars can be a bit much at times and I often found myself finding food just so I could find food so I could find food and never making any progress. The bars (and sometimes the day/night cycle) simply go by a tad too quick for me to keep up. Even if there were just an option to slow them down, that’d be fine.
(This has been addressed and is now much, much nicer.) Earlier, I said the game is procedurally generated, and I said I was happy with what I played through. Unfortunately, while writing this very review, I was watching my fiancée play the game and she encountered the same building three times within twenty minutes. I’m sure it’s just an anomaly, but the building she encountered had nothing in it and eventually caused her starvation since she took a gamble with each one, hoping they’d be different. I’m hoping that with future updates, the algorithm used for the map generation can be tweaked to keep up variety. Some smaller issues include characters repeating dialog a lot, grass being placed in the air above the ground in a lot of places, weapons breaking quickly, the map not working very well, and the inventory cursor being hard to find when it’s a simple white border around white/light blue (green?) squares. These could all be fixed without changing much. I have faith in Compulsion Games and their commitment to releasing a polished game.
With all of that said, I could not find much wrong within the actual game. Most mechanics work without issue and the game manages to maintain a sense of danger, tension and haste throughout. I can say, without a doubt, that We Happy Few will be one of the most fun games when it’s finished and is worth investing in if you’re interested. I may not be some big-shot or well known reviewer, but I hope that my words carry some weight. I may say this game is perfect if they can work out the kinks and provide a memorable story mode in the end. As Uncle Jack says, “I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of our time.”
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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