Ken Lavigne was able to carve out a distinct genre with the BioShock franchise. A unique blend of creative writing, the gorgeous art-deco and a combat system that is a mix of first-person shooting and spells, they’re one of the most fascinating games. Ever since 2K Australia shut down, BioShock has been on ice. However, there have been a bunch of other devs who have borrowed this formula and improved it in many ways. The most notable names include Bethesda’s Dishonored games, the indie Soma and lastly the game we’ll be checking out today, We Happy Few.
We Happy Few: Genre and Setting
Developed by Compulsion games and published by Gearbox Publishing, We Happy Few takes place in a satirical setting where everyone is happy, at least on the surface. And they will do everything to keep it that way, including purging their memories and banishing anyone who doesn’t have a smile on his/her face.
The game is set in a fictional part of Britian called Wellington Wells during an alternate timeline stemming from the Second World War where Germany subdued Britian and established a second German Empire. However, one day the Germans just up and left, but the Wellies have no idea why and to top it off they don’t even remember any of it. When you don’t remember anything, you have to nothing to worry about, eh?
The reason? Joy! Well not the synonym of happy, joy but a drug that induces a state of unnatural euphoria in its users. In fact, in Wellington Well it’s a rule to be on Joy all the time. If you miss your Joy pill, you start having withdrawal symptoms and if the citizens notice this they’ll start whacking you with frying pans till you take your pills.
However, one major side-effect of Joy is that it makes you forget everything, both the painful memories as well as the happy ones. You loose track of your childhood, dreams, your successes as well as your failures (yay for that). Additionally, there are some people who get allergic to Joy. These unfortunate folk are either kicked out of town or made into lab rats.
The people who refuse to take Joy are called downers and are forced into the wasteland where they become…well wastrels. We Happy Few has three acts, one for each of its protagonists. All of them have stopped taking their Joy for one reason or another. Arthur for example suddenly remembered his who was separated from him years ago and takes it upon himself to find him.
However to do that Arthur first needs to get out of Wellington Wells which happens to be a more tedious task than it might sound. This lofty goal has Arthur implicate government officials, break into restricted buildings and put his life on the line more than a few thousand times.
We Happy Few is a lot like BioShock Infinite with regard to the story and setting. Both games are set in the 20th century and neither have a straight-forward plot. In We Happy Few for example, the game only spells out the barest of plot details for you. The rest you have to figure out by yourself by exploring Wellington Wells and peeking into the lives of the eccentric citizens.
The citizens aren’t the only oddities in Wellington. Throughout the game, you’ll notice that the state is deprived of the young and the local wildlife like birds, felines, dogs and even the fish are missing from the rivers and ponds. The game doesn’t directly explain this. Instead you’ll have to dig around, read notes and listen to people and complete quests to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.
Gameplay and Combat
We Happy Few has a flexible game-play. The survival elements are loosely held, and even if you never eat, drink or sleep, you won’t die. Your character will loose some of their maximum stamina and tire out more easily though.
Crafting is a major component of the gameplay. Other than weapons and armor, you can craft med-kits, lockpicks and hacking tools. Lockpicking and hacking are some of the most essential skills that come in handy every now and then. That is especially true if you’re the kind of gamer who likes to veer off the beaten path and explore the isolated areas of the map.
Initially running, crouching and jumping are some things you’ll want to avoid in the more civilized areas of the game, but as you unlock additional skills, the game becomes lenient. Furthermore, lurking around in the dead of the night will attract the “Bobies” or policeman and it’s only towards the end of the game that you’ll be able to freely roam around at night without being chased by towering, baton yielding lawmen.
Moving on to the combat, We Happy Few offers a versatile combat system, one that varies across characters. Arthur is suited for a mix of stealth and brutality, Sally is apt at stealth take-downs and Ollie is a demolition expert (that should explain it all). Weapon types also vary, Arthur can use pretty much any weapon, but Sally is limited to light, one handed ones. The basic combat mechanics are quite simple with a plain attack, block and power attack moves.
We Happy Few, for the most part features a heavy, story-centric main plot, but the side quests are an absolute blast. You assist a nutjob living in a tree-house who thinks he’s a handler and thinks that a bunch of dolls are his agents. Disguised as a rock-star, you’ll oversee a game of Simon-says where the screw-ups get zapped by a spanker (an electric bolt).
And this one is my favorite. You get the ever so rare chance to be a deranged butcher’s apprentice who steals cadavers and sells human meat.
We Happy Few has the same skin and skeleton as BioShock Infinite. The soundtrack, the setting, the visuals and even the engine are fairly identical. But the game manages to fit flesh in these familiar bones that encompasses many genres and styles, making it easy to recommend it to pretty much anyone. It packs the light-heatedness of games like Fable, but in between the intricate charades, manages to squeeze in a story that is as profound as any BioShock game.