Saturday, June 22, 2024

We Happy Few

A trippy look at an alternative Britain


We Happy Few is set in 1964 Britain, in an alternate timeline in which the nation lost the war with Germany. The citizens take a drug they call Joy that keeps them happy and causes memory loss, which is a bonus for many of these people. They have a lot of memories they’d like to suppress. But the drugs just aren’t working as well as they used to.
The developers of the game describe it as “the tale of a plucky bunch of moderately terrible people trying to escape from a lifetime of cheerful denial in the city of Wellington Wells. In this alternative 1960s England, conformity is key. You’ll have to fight or blend in with the drug-addled inhabitants, most of whom don’t take kindly to people who won’t abide by their not-so-normal rules.”
Everybody wears a white silicone mask while in town, because it hides any negative expressions. All good citizens must put on their “happy face” to conform to society. Everybody that stays in a city is expected to be a good citizen and take their Joy. Propaganda is broadcast through televisions throughout the city to encourage citizens to take their Joy, with the voice of “Uncle” Jack Worthing. Joy is also in the city water supply.
This game relies a lot on stealth. When you’re in the city, people will attack you if you haven’t been taking your Joy. Many of these citizens can’t tolerate taking Joy anymore because of a bad reaction, so they live outside the city limits in the ruins, haunted by their memories.
The game tells the story of three people trying to escape Wellington Wells. We start with our first protagonist, Arthur Hastings, who works at the Department of Archives, Printing, and Recycling in Wellington Wells. His job is to censor bad news and approve positive stories. He sees an article about him and his brother, and it brings up bad memories. He’s determined to go find what happened to his brother. At this point you have the choice of taking more Joy or choosing to remember. If you take your Joy, it’s a pretty short game.
If you don’t take your Joy, things get dark in a hurry. Arthur attends the office party and finds his coworkers smacking a pinata. When the Joy wears off, he realizes they’re beating a dead rat. (Told you!) As Arthur recoils in horror, one of his coworkers notices he’s off his Joy and offers him one. Arthur refuses, his coworkers accuse him of being a Downer and attack him, and he escapes via a service tunnel.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in this game. It has the feel of a first-person adventure, with some fighting, some stealth, item collecting and crafting, and quests to discover and solve. Quests mostly test your agility and stealth rather than puzzle-solving abilities.
You need to get across the bridge and escape Wellington Wells, but you’ll soon discover it’s more complicated than it seems. The town is falling apart. Some of it is just damage from the war that was never repaired. Many of the houses outside the town are ruined. But the systems that keep the town running are also falling apart. Apparently keeping your citizens high on drugs is bad for maintenance. Several of the quests in story mode will be to fix various systems.
At first I played the game very conventionally, going from suggested quest to suggested quest. But when I went exploring to find more ingredients for healing potions, I realized there are lots of mini-quests scattered throughout Wellington Wells. Each gives you experience points to boost your attributes. There are various combat and stealth attributes that can be acquired when you’ve gained experience points. You’ll pick up recipes to craft items, chemicals and healing items. Some quests are mandatory to finish the game, while others are optional and are there to expand the storyline and give you a chance to earn experience points.
Arthur’s mission is to get across the bridge and escape Wellington Wells, but there are two other stories — Sally Boyd and Ollie have their own quests.
I really enjoyed this game. Sure, it’s dark, and because I’m not good at stealth, probably a little more violent than it needed to be. If you use your fists only, your battles will end in unconsciousness, not death.
Some of the quests can be blocked off if you make the wrong move, but the solutions are relatively simple. The story is compelling and will keep you playing to find more notes — various pieces of paper you find scattered around in your explorations.
This is a complex game with an extended map and lots of side quests. It also has quite a lot of replayability, because each time a new game is started, it generates a new map.
We Happy Few is rated for mature audiences only due to blood, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs and alcohol and violence.
There are three DLCs created for this game — We All Fall Down, We Happy Few — Nick Lightbearer, and They Came From Below.
We Happy Few (2018) is available on SteamOS for $14.99.