We Happy Few delivers a nice story with a creepy atmosphere, but the slow survival gameplay doesn’t grab your attention long enough to make it to the end.
We Happy Few, the new game from Compulsion Games, is set in a world where Nazi Germany won World War 2. We’ve seen this premise many times before, but unlike most alternative timelines, here the Nazis didn’t win with brute force and superior military strategy. They did so with deception and lies.
After losing the war, British scientists started developing a drug called “Joy” which allows people to forget about the horrors of the past and enjoy life in the present. Joy causes its users to perceive a better, more colorful world, with more helpful people. The downside is nausea, hallucination and living a lie.
The game is set around three different characters trying to leave the city, each for their own reason. The first and the one I find most interesting is Arthur Hastings, who we don’t know much about except that he works as a censor for a local newspaper, censoring articles that aren’t positive enough.
Straight from the beginning, the player has to make a choice: either take the drug and forget, or refuse and realize the world they live in isn’t as bright and happy as they thought. Each decision is valid and leads to a different consequence, but if you actually want to play the game, I suggest you don’t take Joy.
During the game, the player experiences flashbacks, in which we learn how German soldiers rounded up all British kids under 14 on trains. Arthur lied about his age and was spared; his little brother Percy, on the other hand, was taken. The guilt Arthur feels for his brother is what drives him to leave the city and search for him.
The second part stars Sally, who we get to know when playing as Arthur. She’s Arthur’s mysterious childhood friend that helps him flee the city in the first part. In the second part, she’s trying to escape it herself with her little girl. When playing as Sally, we get to experience hers and Arthur’s relationship in a different light, which adds another layer of depth to the story.
The third part follows another character we met already met – Ollie, who shelters Arthur during the first part of the game. Now, we learn that Ollie is Arthur & Sally’s neighbor, and was a British soldier in the war against the Germans. I don’t want to elaborate any more than I did since it will reveal too much of the game’s story.
We Happy Few gives us a peek into a world where people live with a kind of PTSD while trying to live a peaceful life, without all the hellish thoughts coming back to hunt them. The game allows the player to experience things that most don’t suffer in our everyday lives, like survival, self-defense, protecting your family and excessive use of drugs. It does a good job portraying those aspects of reality through the characters we play.
Another excellent aspect of the game is its atmosphere – both when the characters take Joy, and in the “real world.” The real world gives off a vibe similar to that of the original Bioshock games: a dystopian, ruined world filled with dark corridors and filth, corrupt cops that chase you, and scary people with weird masks that hurt you if you aren’t under the influence of Joy. Even the game’s soundtrack makes you feel as if you always need to watch your back and who to trust.
When the character is under the influence of Joy, the world changes into what I can only describe as “My Little Pony meets Bioshock Infinite.” People greet you with a friendly “hello” where ever you go, colors are bright, and the music is chipper. But you feel a darkness underneath it all like there’s a dirty secret waiting to be exposed. When the drugs wear off, your character starts feeling nauseated, and then you must tend to their needs again.
It brings me to my least favorite part of We Happy Few: the gameplay. I found myself searching for hours for food (which is often rotten), water, a bed to rest in, and first-aid if I got hit. These constant searches stop the game in its tracks, and you’re stuck focusing on minor, annoying tasks. When your character doesn’t get what it wants – it starts complaining, and its health bar starts dropping.
We Happy Few encourages stealth which is sometimes tricky, and also allows for a direct face-to-face combat. Players can choose to enhance and upgrade the two paths, depending on their play style. I focused on stealth and must say that the dev team really knocked it out of the park. You can pick locks quietly, see the routes enemies take and ambush them in high bushes to take them out without a sound.
Straight up combat, on the other hand, leaves less room for the imagination. Combat is based on melee, and you only need to block, counterattack at the right moment or flee if health is getting too low. I wouldn’t advise you to resolve to a direct attack since any harm to your character might hurt your gaming experience.
We Happy Few gives an interesting stealth-survival experience, with a stressful yet exciting vibe. However, the gameplay makes the game drag on and on and doesn’t allow you to fully appreciate and enjoy any of the positive aspects.
Some might like the slow survival gameplay that demands you constantly take care of the character’s every basic need. I, on the other hand, prefer taking my Joy and go on a joyful ride around the city.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.