Alternate Realities: We Happy Few

What do these things have in common?   Metal canisters with orbs all over their bodies, the joyful British populace circa the mid-1960’s, reversing the polarity, and police boxes?  If you were thinking Doctor Who … well to be fair, you wouldn’t be wrong, but today there’s another answer.  Today’s answer is: We Happy Few.

we happy fewWe Happy Few is a video game intended for mature audiences that I just completed playing.  It’s released by Compulsion Games and offers a first person perspective taking place in an alternate 1960’s where the Germans won WWII.  Be warned: there is a good deal of swearing in the game and the themes are dark.  The premise is that the population of the small town of Wellington Wells lives a blissful life thanks to a drug called Joy which helps them forget the horrors of the war.  And that there’s no food left in the country.  Or that they gave away their children.  In short, it is a macabre game masked by a visual onslaught of incredible graphics.

You play Arthur for the bulk of the game, though later on (and I admit, unexpectedly) that shifts to playing as Sally Boyle, for whom Arthur has both a crush and a good deal of animosity.  Playing Sally takes place concurrently with Arthur’s story, so it helps fill in gaps.  It explains why Arthur can’t love Sally.  It also gives greater insight into why she asked him for certain items when we played as Arthur.  Her story is shorter but harder.  Arthur can handle most situations so, whether fighting or playing stealthily, he adapts.  Sally is not able to fight well, so the whole time I played her, I was being super-cautious.  The final character to play is Ollie.  We encounter Ollie earlier in the game.  He seems to talk to himself or “Margaret” though we only figure out who Margaret really is when we play as him.  Ollie is basically disliked by everyone so the moment someone sees him, they want to beat him up.  Conveniently, he’s also the strongest character so fighting as him is easier and often hilarious, especially as he has to watch his blood sugar.  When his blood sugar is out of whack, he’s moody and insulting to everyone he comes in contact with.

The game is rather amazing as it changes the drab, worn out world of Wellington Wells to a brilliantly colorful extravaganza with rainbows and butterflies whenever one takes their Joy.  The downside is that whenever the effects of Joy wear off, one goes into withdrawal and has to hide so no one sees them or they will be labeled a Downer, chased and beaten.  To make things more challenging, there are scanners that make sure you’ve taken your Joy.  They are found throughout Wellington Wells and will cause a device to administer electric shocks should one step through without taking Joy.  The problem is that, often, there’s no choice; some areas don’t have an alternate path and it’s either Joy or electrocution.  But I did mention reversing the polarity, didn’t I?  Well, the control panels that power the scanners can be tripped.  One method is reversing the polarity.   Sadly, I barely had a chance to do this, as I never had a device to make that work.  I had to use another device which shorted out the grid.  (You can imagine why I’d want to reverse the polarity though, I’m sure!)

The houses in the towns are wonderful, with all kinds of cabinets to raid in the hopes of finding something edible.  Vanities, medicine chests, wardrobes and even waste bins with orbs all over their bodies like miniature Daleks can be found throughout the town.  The town is also patrolled by bobbies wearing white face masks.  They won’t react if you’re walking around during the day, but after 9 pm (or if you decide to sprint near them), they come after you like the meanest of Lytton’s police force.  They also get around town quickly using their police boxes.  Unlike the one we all know and love, these work more like the pole to the Batcave in Batman. There are also evil doctors prowling around literally sniffing for people who are off their joy.  They carry chainsaws of a sort in their (dimensionally transcendental) jackets.  If there’s one downside to the game, it’s that it still has some minor kinks.  One mission kept recycling involving a mysterious witch’s chest.  I also could not complete making crutches as Ollie because I could never find branches to make a pointy stick… yes, some quests are weird, but most are fun and fairly easy without sending the player all over the game map again and again.20180904201337_1

There are some genuinely funny moments in the game too.  When Sally Boyle helps the police by providing a new flavor of Joy, they do a song and dance number flitting about from one police box to another in what is clearly the main dispatch area for them to get all over Wellington Wells!  There’s also an absolutely hilarious scene where Arthur watches two maintenance men walk into a room.  One unlocks the door and sees the floor in front of him is electrified.  The other skips merrily into the room only to get zapped to death.  The first mumbles an unkind expletive about apprentices and walks away.  But humor aside, do not be confused: the game is very dark.  Arthur learns how the Germans won the war.  He comes to understand why people gave up their children and he remembers betraying his disabled brother.  As Sally, she remembers what happened to her mother and siblings.  And the revelation as to why Arthur won’t accept Sally is, well…, awful, sad and very adult.  Again, the game is not for young or sensitive gamers.  (Believe me, sometimes game companies do put that M on there for good reason… or PEGI-18, depending on where you live!)

What really struck me that made me think to share some thoughts on this game was that just the weekend before completing the game, I had some friends over who I had not seen in a very long time.  We began talking about 9/11, since all of us worked in or near the towers on that fateful day.   (I had previously recounted my story here).  But while we spoke of it, one of us mentioned that it was 17 years ago.  And that caught my attention when I was playing the game.  They kept saying it was 17 years since they gave up the children; since children were born in Wellington Wells.  And the parallels struck me.  And, like 9/11, this game is somber.  I’m not implying there’s any direct link, but I’ll leave that to the gamer to decide.  More than that, it just got me thinking.  Perhaps I was being over-analytical, but the dark themes and the timing could not be denied.  Thankfully, there is comedy in the game to lighten the mood and for a fun FPS/RPG style game, I recommend it.  But if one takes the themes to heart… well don’t say I didn’t warn you.  There is no “happy ending” in the traditional sense.  (I’ll let the gamer experience that for themselves.)

20180909125232_1The entire game is more akin to The Prisoner than Doctor Who.  The fact is, it would have been very easy to throw in a few dozen references and it would have made a great Prisoner tribute.  But the biggest difference between this game and Doctor Who is that this is not a hopeful game.  If there is one thing we can connect between the two, beyond some of the imagery, it’s that they both get us thinking.   But you will need a happier game when you complete this one…  ML

This entry was posted in Entertainment, Games, Random Chatter and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Alternate Realities: We Happy Few

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The less hopeful aspects in our entertainment indeed make us think a great deal more, as I’ve come to terms with in recent decades. Thanks, ML, for addressing that major point in this game review.

    Liked by 1 person

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