Sponsored By: Certis by way of Gearbox (Review Key)
Time pursuing happiness: 5 Hours
Joy to the World Review
Did you play Sir, You Are Being Hunted? This is that game, but with a story mode.
I Liked It Better When It Was Called Soma Review
It’s difficult to review We Happy Few. I was very excited for the game based on an idea that I had of what it was going to be, and the game is not that. Usually I’m happy to have my expectations confounded, but my expectation was that the game was going to be, to be blunt, more clever than it is.
I’ll own some of that. Perhaps I should have known better than to think a game about forcing people to take hallucinogens to make them act “normal” in the late 1960s would take into account the history of people with neurotypes who were literally forced to take hallucinogens to make them act “normal” in the late 1960s. Rather, I should have expected a somewhat rote polemic about bourgeois conformism as imagined by someone who had heard of Aldous Huxley but thought he was a cosmetics mogul.
I am, perhaps, being unfair. I haven’t finished the story, as befits the format I’ve carved out here, and it may go someplace more interesting later on. I’m even finding the core loop of the game interesting enough to consider finding out for myself, so let me spend the rest of this review praising the things that the game does well.
The art direction, for example, is outstanding in its field. Or in its village green, as the case may be. The character design in particular is exceptionally good, with cartoonish, exaggerated features and animations to match. When you’re scouting a location to sneak into it, it helps to know what sorts of enemies will come after you when you fail. So, as a person who fails at stealth games a lot, a recognizable silhouette is critical.
Complementing the visual design is the audio, with voice acting that is the match of the best games out there. If you like a variety of English accents, with people dropping their H’s and R’s all over the place, then you’ll be in heaven here. In particular, the main character – Arthur – is very well acted, and his little asides and mutterings are delivered with appropriate aplomb.
The gameplay is first-person stealth survival. If you’ve played Sir, You Are Being Hunted, then you’ll know exactly what to expect, because We Happy Few plays like a fleshed out version of that. You have hunger, thirst and sleep meters that must be maintained, but none of them are too onerous, and, unlike some other survival games, letting any of them run out doesn’t kill you, it just makes you slower and weaker. Kind of like that old saying – you know the one: “What doesn’t kill me makes me want a cuppa and a bit of a lie down.”
The stealth mechanics are interesting. In some cases, it makes sense to out-and-out hide, and you’re giving a few options for doing so. You may crouch in some flower bushes, or you can sit at a park bench and read the newspaper. Doing either of those will light up an icon that says “concealed” on your screen until you stand up and become visible again. It’s refreshing after playing so many games with concealment gauges that range from “completely invisible” to “completely visible,” especially since most stealth games offer no practical difference between “hiding in dim light” and “sticking out like a sore thumb.”
The other way to hide is to blend, which you can likewise do a number of ways. You can, for example, take “Joy” pills, which is the stand-in for Huxley’s Soma (which is not a concealer for people with oily complexions!) and which will make you appear happy enough that nobody will bother you. If you don’t want to take your pills, which have some gameplay-changing side effects that you may want to avoid, you can say banal things to passers by, which will reduce how suspicious you look. Looking unsuspicious is important, because the second you’re spotted doing something you shouldn’t be doing, the entire town comes chasing after you with frying pans and pitchforks.
Which brings us to the combat. I’ve played exactly one game that handles first-person melee combat well, and that’s Zeno Clash. We Happy Few is no Zeno Clash, but at least it’s relatively easy to gauge whether that punch you threw is actually going to hit someone. It is a little awkward, though, and your stamina meter runs out after three of the forty-seven punches it takes to render an NPC unconscious. If you have a weapon, it’s slightly better (forty-five punches instead!) but the weapons have durability meters, which will still wear out well before your opponent does. It’s entirely possible this is by design, as the focus of the game is clearly stealth and not combat. That being the case, though, it would be nice if the stealth mechanics were a little more robust.
Hey now, chum! I thought you said you were going to focus on praising the good parts!
Oh, right you are, Constable! Let’s just skip it, then.
You’re not off your Joy, are you?
Once I got over the gap between my expectations and the game that is We Happy Few, I did start to get into it. I don’t put five hours into games I don’t like, after all. I’d like to see where the story actually goes, and for now I’m finding the gameplay engaging enough to keep me carrying on.
Will I finish it? Probably not, but I’ll definitely keep playing for a bit more.
Is it the Dark Souls of survival stealth happy-happy-joy-joy games?
I tend to find all stealth games to be the Dark Souls of video games, but I’ll say that We Happy Few doesn’t fall into that league. If you’re a fan of throwing bottles to distract enemies and sneaking past them as they look for where the noise came from, you’re in for a treat.