“True happiness comes only by making others happy”, this famous reflection has surely been taken too seriously by the authorities who officiate in Wellington Wells, a small town in South West England. In this dystopia sprinkled with handfuls of uchronia, where Germany has long invaded in the 1930s, the inhabitants have invented a drug putting the population in a state of intense happiness. Those who do not take their dose are treated as weeds. The question now is whether it is sometimes better not to avoid facing reality.
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Until now, we’ve been to video games making us consume drugs in order to acquire special skills, heal ourselves (looking at you Persona 5) and become a monster of power. In We Happy Few , syringes and colorful pills simply help people in Wellington Wells see life in pink, blue and yellow. This artificial happiness serves as a religion, which was developed in order to help its consumers to forget the horrors of the war under the German occupation. While he is busy censoring newspaper articles, Arthur, the first hero of this long epic, decides to rebel against the system. His quest for freedom but also answers will put him on the road of various adjuvants who will become, for some, playable protagonists.
If We Happy Few reveals a rather narrative walking simulator side during its prologue, it soon proves to be a larger scale adventure game in which several ingredients such as exploration, infiltration and combat come together. The procedural generation of elements composing the levels as well as the possibility of activating a permanent death mode stresses the fact that Compulsion Games has above all imagined an epic oriented towards survival. What must be understood, however, is that the narration takes the second place in favor of a game design with multiple rules and inspirations .
Depending on the difficulty options selected, it is possible to create a particularly survival-oriented experience with rogue-like accents. The option of permanent death makes frequent light clashes disadvantageous, and therefore encourages players to disguise themselves regularly, while making use of every object that can make their everyday life better.
We first find a little signature of Bethesda productions, with an endurance bar that empties according to the actions performed (sprint, hit, jump). The sets can also be searched for the purpose of finding all the material necessary for the development of objects facilitating the progression. It is also this process that is used in the manufacture of care items, clothing, or weapons. Faced with this abundance of items to recover during the journey, we are quickly conditioned to click all-in in environments. Fortunately, the map of the world has stashes allowing quick trips from one area to another, as well as storage trunks that are shared with all those already unlocked. Storing food in the trunks is clearly recommended, otherwise the weight of the inventory will quickly make the hero as perennial as a slug.
Survival requires, what should not be forgotten in the stinking alleys of Wellington Wells, is that hunger can be one of your worst enemies. Having a full stomach is the best way to keep your endurance meter from melting like an ice cube in full heat. Drinking regularly is also essential for good sprint management. Even if the controlled character does not die of a food deficiency or dehydration, to skip these needs complicates the confrontations significantly. It will thus be necessary to keep an eye on the state of your gourd, but also on the more or less damaged commodities collected.
The progression is done through main objectives (and secondary ones) to succeed in the different neighborhoods that make up the town. To go from one mission to another, it is necessary to cross some more or less hostile zones where the level of suspicion of the natives quickly climbs. The dress code is important in order to gain acceptance from one’s peers, which explains why people from poor neighborhoods hate to see an individual wearing a suit in perfect condition. The playable protagonists have the ability to adopt a silent march in order to be discreet as shadows. Human enemies are attracted by noise, which means that it is quite easy to take them wherever you want by throwing objects accordingly.
In the manner of Assassin’s Creed (except Origins ), sitting on a bench for five minutes with faith is a great way to be forgotten by the plebs, as long as you are properly concealed behind a newspaper. An enemy that is killed and left in the middle of a path will indeed quickly alert the guards. Slowly annihilating an opponent behind his back or during his sleep is better than a fight formally declared, so it is highly advisable to stealthily walk and watch the enemy round rather than rush like a ram. The long trips back and forth in the city are however a little too regular for our taste, especially as some lanes are regularly blocked, forcing us to find other passages .
Infiltration conditions vary depending on what the needle indicates on the dial. During the day, the natives are numerous in the streets and will often try to start a fight after a simple glance. At night, the curfew prevents onlookers from going out, but the police are dragging around, and let’s just say that they do not tolerate any night owl. The hours that pass are not only used to determine the barriers that the player will find on his way to town, since they also affect the availability of merchants and the opening hours of other structures. It is particularly advisable to take a nap to pass the time faster, which, as a bonus, heals the avatar. Though be sure to keep an eye open to see the strange behavior of NPCs.
The rounds performed by the guards do not always make sense, with some even tilting towards what we would describe as ubiquitous. We remember this moment when a guard came to talk to us during a cutscene, then attacked us at the end of it, because the fact that the night fell immediately turned us into suspects. Difficult also not to sigh when a dozen of militiamen pursue us inside a small building, hostile characters with whom it becomes possible to discuss quietly ten seconds later, after hiding. In general, too many soldiers lurking around the alleyways often make it better to head for the target by alerting the police, then finding a hiding place a few steps from the mission, rather than going there. silently from start to finish.
Each game mechanic has a restriction with penalties that deepen its rules. Eating rotten food removes the penalties associated with hunger, but has the potential to cause food poisoning, which you will then have to abbreviate by forcing yourself to vomit. In another register, the guards can be bribed in exchange for a good bottle, an object quite useful to quench thirst. Everything is a matter of priority.
Yet the Wellington Wells universe is full of shady areas and high grasses for infiltration, thus encouraging the player to walk around the difficulty rather than face it brutally. When confrontations can not be avoided, the player must juggle between direct hits and guarding. The blunt objects obviously do more damage than your fists, but deteriorate with each use. A tree of skills is obviously present and offers many improvements. It should be noted that the experience points are unlocked over the course of the campaign, and are therefore not related to the number of opponents defeated.
We Happy Few addresses a lot of topics, but drug addiction is a big part of both the storyline and the gameplay . The “Joy” makes it easier to roam through the city. When we are in this second state, the population is more lenient, and the luminous gates as well as the machines do not alert guards that we are in withdrawal. Beware, however, of its use: to consume it generates a temporary state of lack in the minutes that follow which diminishes our capacities and attracts the attention. In case of abuse, the overdose that intervenes seriously handicaps the character. The icing on the space cake is that each of these stages has its own visual ambiances, able to change in real time depending on what is consumed.
Arthur is not the only playable character in We Happy Few, even though he has the longest campaign. Two of his comrades of misfortune also lend themselves to the game: Sally (the chemist) and Ollie (the sugar addict). They both have specificities that vary the experience compared to that of Arthur.
It is a pity not to find this care in the overall script of the title. We would have appreciated having more choices in the way of answering a problem. For example, one of the rules of the game states that breaking and entering leads to hostile behavior. The problem is that the title repeatedly force us to violate the properties. Despite a rich universe with a formidable artistic direction, the mission objectives can be too classic and rather repetitive. The developers do indeed rely heavily on barter to progress. A character has an access card to open a door? He will trade it for his treasure of war hidden in the confines of an enemy base. A scientist has information necessary for the smooth completion of the main objective? She will help us in exchange for a product available several hundred meters away. At a point where we almost feel that the game is maybe trying out its own drug when it asks us to get some cod liver oil in exchange for a service that is almost vital. There were surely other ways to interest the player, especially in this particular universe.
We Happy Few remains a great experience despite the fact that the narrative aspect is diluted in an open world to quests far from unforgettable. The option of permanent death highlights the point that this is more of a survival game. The many ingredients that serve as rules, however, provide a good cocktail in terms of possibilities, enough for us to take pleasure traveling through this world.