I am not sure why there are so many video games and movies that explore alternate histories which hinge on a different outcome of WWII. Or why I find them so entertaining. From The Man in the High Castle to the Wolfenstein games I always enjoy a good alternate earth. In We Happy Few, the Germans returned to England for a second Blitzkrieg and succeeded.
It is now the 1960s and England suffered under Nazi rule for the last 20 years. British children were all sent off to Germany for unknown reasons. The remaining populace is kept under control through the use of a drug called Joy. Citizens who can’t or won’t take Joy are cast out from the cities and left to survive in the wild wasteland England has become. You start We Happy Few as Arthur, a man who is starting to remember things from his past. He decides to stop taking Joy to figure out the mystery of what happened to his brother. People chase him out of their city of Wellington Wells after they figure out he is off Joy. They essentially cast him out into the wilds to survive on his own.
The core of the gameplay in We Happy Few is similar to any open-world survival game you’ve played. You’ll need to gather supplies and craft weapons, armor, and other things to keep you alive. There’s a pretty deep crafting system available, but unfortunately, it rarely feels necessary. You see, while programmers based We Happy Few on a game system of open world survival, they shoehorned into a story-driven game. You aren’t out in the wilderness trying to build yourself a shelter and survive. Typically, you’re trying to gather supplies to complete fetch quests that allow you to access the next section of the story.
The crafting never feels super useful because you don’t need most of the items you craft to get through the game. Weapons are ultimately useless because fighting in this game is generally a bad idea. Start a fight and every living character you can see will quickly overrun you. As well as many that seem to spawn from nowhere to rush over and attack you. While it can be fun to see how many you can take out, you will eventually be forced to run and hide. Sadly, that becomes the bulk of the gameplay in We Happy Few.
Somewhere in the development of We Happy Few, it morphed into a stealth game, and not a very good one at that. The best tactic to use in the game is running and hiding. Get spotted in town by a citizen who recognizes you’re in Joy withdrawal? Run. Run fast, turn a corner and find a garbage can to hide in. Wait. Climb out of garbage can and wait to get spotted again. Repeat. This is a large portion of the gameplay, especially when playing as Arthur. You can take Joy to fit in better when in the city.
While your character is on Joy, the environments around you change. Joy makes it looks like you are in the Land of Oz rather than a bombed out British city. This is interesting, but the penalties for taking Joy make the game more difficult, and taking too much Joy causes even more issues. You’ll find even crafting items next to impossible. So no matter the approach you take, it all seems to come back to running and hiding. Personally, I like a game that makes me feel more powerful, not one that forces me to be a coward.
Eventually, Arthur’s story comes to an end and you take over as another character. There are three characters in total that you play in We Happy Few, and their stories all overlap in some way. Arthur, Sally, and Ollie each have their own interesting stories. They each play slightly differently, but the differences are shallow. In the end, you will likely find yourself playing the game the same way no matter which character you are controlling. Eventually, through leveling up characters, you can unlock skills that turn off some of the more annoying aspects of the gameplay. This really feels like a cop-out. Almost like the developer’s realized some of the game was really bad. Therefore, they added skills that take those parts out of the game completely.
One bright spot of We Happy Few is that the story is genuinely entertaining and the dialog is exceptionally well-written. I found myself laughing quite often at a Monty Python reference. Smiling at the use of Beatle’s lyrics in general conversations with other residents. It’s all so good that you want to see the story through to its end, but the gameplay is so dull and chore-like that you will find it hard to push through. Missions are mostly boring fetch-quests and environments are often extremely repetitive. The stealth gameplay will constantly slow you down as you try to simply move across the map to the next mission.
We Happy Few – 3/10
While there is a lot to like here in the setting, story, and characters, the core gameplay drags it down. While making an open-world survival game into a story-driven affair seems like a great idea, the execution is lacking. A better balance between stealth and fighting might have helped. If you love the setting, you may get some enjoyment out of the game. However, most people will likely find themselves bored with We Happy Few before even finishing Arthur’s story.