We Happy Few Review
Let's enter this dark British rabbit hole of fun...
We happy few was first seen by me at E3 2016. I recall sitting in the audience during Xbox press conference and being enthralled with what looked like 1984 come to life in perfect dystopian Britishness. I had the chance to play the demo several times since then and have eagerly awaited the final product. Let’s dive in to this We Happy Few Review.
We Happy Few is an action-adventure game developed by Compulsion Games and published by Gearbox Publishing for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It was released on August 10, 2018. The title of the game actually comes from Shakespeare’s Henry V – St Crispin’s Day Speech.
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers
— William Shakespeare, Henry V
In this speech, Henry V urged his men who were vastly outnumbered by the French, to recall how the English had previously inflicted great defeats upon the French, and ultimately the English triumph over them even though they are vastly outnumbered. This seems a fitting title with this little tidbit of trivia.
We Happy Few Non Spoiler Overview
We Happy Few is an first person action/adventure set in a dark dystopian world. There are three different characters that you end up playing. They all have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
The game is set in an alternate 1960s Britain. One in which, an alternate version of World War II happened. The United States did not join the Allies, and Germany won the war. A “very bad thing” happened in the village of Wellington Wells where our story takes place, and because of this, the Germans left the island, allowing the British to live there “freely”. The Inhabitants take a hallucinogenic drug called “Joy” to forget about the “Very Bad Thing” and maintain peace in the cities. In fact, taking this drug is mandatory to remain a citizen. There are Joy sensing devices everywhere and the other citizens will call you a downer and attack you if you seem low or off the drug. There are different city sections of the island, include a nice prosperous city where everyone is on joy and living in luxury, down to the plague infested downer section, where people are starving, crazy mad and have literally nothing. The game has a lot of popular dystopian British influences from The Prisoner, A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, Brazil, 1984, V for Vendetta and Doctor Who. You will likely see all these elements as you play through.
We Happy Few Game Mechanics
We Happy Few includes elements of stealthy sneaking and survival game play mixed with linear storyline. The games uses random generation of it’s map and layout elements at the start of each play through. This was done to create a sense of tension and sense of danger in the game. A good portion of this game involves dealing with maintaining your health, sleep and water intake, as well as deciding if you will be using joy or using stealth and avoiding detection and fights. If you let these things fall, you will pay various penalties like moving painfully slow, or being unable to run as fast.
Survival and Stealth
If you have played Assassins Creed, Deus Ex or Dishonored you are likely familiar with the stealthy part. If you haven’t, basically any number of things can set off any of the NPC around you. What you are wearing, if you are trespassing in a private area, if you run, jump or even if you just move to fast. Once annoyed, a small grey triangle will appear above the NPC head and slowly turn red, before anger starts and they attack.
You will need to run away, and hide in tall yellow flower bushes, or attack and kill everyone who turns red. Unfortunately, as you run away, every single person you run by will ALSO turn red, resulting in a large mob following you. While you duck and hide in the bushes there is no on screen indicator as to when the time is up, but you will hear dark ominous music, letting you know that the NPC mob will still attack you. You may have to wait quite some time before things return to normal. I found this increasingly frustrating. The notification sometimes worked, slowly turning more red allowing you to fix the situation, but usually it did not. You stepped the wrong way and bam, you’ve now angered half the village and must run till you can escape. At some specific objectives, a small group of NPC will be stationed there as well as a trespassing area. You need to take each of these NPC’s out before being able to progress. Sometimes you’d be able to attack and knock out one guy, meaning when you return there would be one less possible threat. To get passed these areas, this slow one person take down and then run is all you seem to be able to do. Group fights are generally an instant death. I wished they had improved these visual indicators both for setting off the NPC and for when they return to calm.
Inventory, Stats and Bugs
Stats, map and Inventory are available from the options menu. Inventory management is something you will likely struggle with. You are able to carry a certain amount of weight, as all games, so make sure you use the inventory device in your safe houses to drop heavy things off. You will fill up quick and movement is painfully slow when you are over-encumbered. The map does have fast travel between hatch locations, so make sure you use this feature. I focused on filling up the stealth skills, including one that allows you to jump and run without drawing anger from people. Indispensable – Unless you plan on crawl walking through town taking 80 hours to get to your destination. Of course your mileage may vary. There was a slight bug that when I used TAB to flash to the map screen to see where I was, and returned to the game with W holding down. W would no longer work. Had to repress W again. It sounds like a small thing, but this bug annoyed me like no other. I imagine it will be fixed in future patches. We Happy few went through a lot of development from its original game. Starting as a stealth game, adding in linear story. There was much debate on what the product should actually be. Many of the rather annoying features I’ve mentioned feel like left over effects from that debate which is really too bad. The game and concept is tons of fun!
We Happy Few Semi Spoilers
It’s really hard to get into some of the meat of this game review without revealing some plot spoilers. So without farther adieu, from here on there will be some spoilers. Don’t read if you don’t want to know!
I was very frustrated with the Character play through Number 2 which is Sally. Not only does she have the food, water, sleep issues – She also has a baby. This baby needs to be changed, fed, and held regularly. If not, the character starts “feeling the guilt of motherhood” and basically gets so weighted down you can’t move. You constantly have to be going back to your house to take care of the baby. You also need special items sometimes to do the taking care of. If you don’t have those items and you are now weighed down, attempting to search to find those items, WHILE NOT ANGERING ANYONE. It is all ridiculously painful. Sally is also not able to use weapons effectively or sneak behind “take down” NPCs. She can use chemicals but its takes a long while for you to gather them up. So, not only do you now have constant baby returns, but also anytime anyone is angry you just have to run. Regardless of all this, I really enjoy Sally’s story line. Again, I just wish the developers realized how taxing these additions are.
We Happy Few Review Final Thoughts
The dark story line is pretty awesome. The game fully brings you into to its dark, dystopian story rabbit hole. There are frequent flash backs and plot advancing moments for your characters that brings you into their reality of this world. The random NPC characters are just the right amount of creepy, in their white happy face masks and blissfully joy filled player interactions include each and every character in the entire game having a unique custom British name. You also seem to know every single person in town, with your character saying things like, “That’s for taking my toy in elementary school!” after you kill them. The music is 1960s organ fun. When high on Joy the world is beautiful and rainbow filled. When you are off the drug, the after war destruction and wreckage surrounds you – as you can see in this side by side comparison of Off Joy and On Joy here.
I enjoyed We Happy Few. It touches on a political landscape that we hope to never experience, and brings about some thought provoking questions about our society. How many people are addicted to happy pills to make them forget about their past in the real world today? The missions are unique enough that I don’t feel I am just running around doing the same things over and over. There were several moments I literally gasped out loud at the humor or the dark flashback moment that was revealed.
Even with some of the technical and annoying game elements I mentioned, We Happy Few mixes some great unique characters, beautiful landscapes, fun story missions and great sound and music. We Happy Few will not disappoint those looking for a good British dystopian horror video game.
We Happy Few is available on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4