Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if everyone but you was on mind-altering drugs all the time? No? Neither did I, but after playing We Happy Few by Compulsion Games, I have an idea of what it may be like. Set in an alternate timeline after World War II, We Happy Few is a video game that does a lot right, but still has it’s issues. Let’s get into it.
As I said before, We Happy Few does a lot right. First off, the concept of the game is unique. I can’t think of anything else where the whole community pops pills, in this case called ‘Joy’, to keep themselves in a constant state of happiness. The story is dark and well written and the art style in the game is incredible.
Joy oh Joy!
I really like how taking Joy changes how you perceive the world. As the name implies, this mind-altering drug makes you experience Joy. Not only do these pills make everyone extremely pleasant, yet shallow to talk to, they also make the world look and sound vibrant. When you aren’t under the influence of Joy, the world is dark and dreary… it is England after all, so it fits. However, once you pop a happy pill, the world changes to a psychadellic wonderland. Be careful to not take too much Joy though, because your body can only take so much before it makes you sick.
Taking Joy constantly is not required and this creates an interesting dynamic between you and the rest of the people you encounter since almost all of them are on it all times. They take Joy to forget about their past. As you progress through the story, you begin to understand why they don’t want the memories of their past in their heads. Speaking of memories, when Joy wears off you expereince memory loss, but more on that later. I don’t want to spoil the story here, but it is dark and very well written. What I will say about the story is that it is broken into three parts in which play as a different character. Arthur Hastings is the main protagonist, Sally Boyle is a chemist featured in the second part, and the grizzled veteran Ollie Starkey takes the third part.
The art in We Happy Few is beautiful
Honestly, the art style is what had me interested in We Happy Few from the get go. I really like the stylized characters. Sometimes, I don’t want 100% realism because I want to remember I am playing a video game. I really like the extremes in the facial features of the characters, especially the bobbies with their massive protruding chins. The game is set in the 1960’s and the deocrations in building have the right aesthetic for the time period. The pop inspired rock music is perfect too. The music reminds me of ‘Listen to the Flower People’ from the movie This is Spinal Tap. The technology also reminds me of old sci-fi movies, with lots of lights, CRT TVs everywhere, and slightly robotic components. The art really helps set the scene of England in the 60’s. The unique style was executed perfectly.
I did have a few issues with We Happy Few. The first problem I have is that the story arcs, mainly for Aurthur and Sally, are too drawn out. Just when you think the end is near, another story mission pops up that takes you clear across the map. Just when you think you are done, you get sucked right back in. It felt like when a meeting at work is running 15 minutes over the supposed end time, and just as you are getting out of your seat, one of your coworkers asks a question that only pertains to them and the meeting keeps going. I would have liked Arthur’s and Sally’s stories to have been a tad bit shorter.
There is a fast travel system that uses subway hatches as a safehouse to travel between. While I was playing Arthur’s campaign, I only found a few of them so this meant running accross the map several times throughout the game. After I completed Arthur’s story, I realized that the hatch locations were clearly indicated on the map. Unfortunately for me, I rarely checked the map so I was relying completely on stumbling across a hatch. This is problematic in a world that is procedurally generated. It would have been nice if there was an explanation that you can find hatches by looking on the already cluttered map.
The last thing I have issue with in We Happy Few is people want to fight you all the time. If you were the wrong clothes in the wrong part of town, they attack you. If you get caught “Muckin’ about” by moving too fast, jumping or crouching, they fight you. If you go through memory loss because your dose of Joy wore off, you are accused of being a “Downer” and people want to exchnage fisticuffs with you.
It was ok the first few times and I get it, it’s a vital mechanic to the game, but it gold old… FAST. The issue is that you can try and run away or hide, but everyone in town is alerted and comes after you. It reminds of the line from Joe Dirt: “Here on earth, we call this place the town. A town is a place where everyone hates you. Kids try to beat you up.” You eventually figure out how to avoid it, but it got old fast. I will say this, it is satisfying to bash someone with a cricket bat.
The first DLC for We Happy Few is called “They Came from Below”. In it, you play as Roger, one of the two sailors that assist a scientist in the main story. He and his partner James, dress like sailors and are inept fools at best. In the DLC, the town is over ran by evil robots from outer space. You are equipped with a ray gun to dispatch these mechanical menaces. The 60’s sci-fi feeling is still there. The DLC isn’t too long, but it is a lot of fun. In fact, it is up there in my top single player DLCs of all time. It reminds me of Mothership Zeta from Fallout 3 in that it is ridiculous but perfectly executed sci-fi.
Overall, We Happy Few is a lot of fun to play. It tells an interesting, but dark and heartbreaking story, has stunning artwork, good humor and average gameplay. It is not a perfect game, but it is a really good game. My score for the main story is 3.75/5 and for the DLC “They Came from Below” is a 4.5/5. If you havent played it already, it is definitley worth checking out, and last I checked, it was on Xbox Game Pass. Give it a shot and don’t forget to take your Joy!