We all have, at some point in our lives, had someone dismissively tell us to "just think positive" after a bad situation. While on the surface the thought is encouraging, the adage is actually quite harmful. Why is that? Because it is both a denial of reality and a delegitimization of one's thoughts and feelings. It's frustrating to think that everything can be willed away by "just thinking positive", when this is objectively not true. Now imagine this idea on steroids. Imagine if literally an entire city told you to "just think positive" when things are falling apart, leaving you to question whether it's really you that's going crazy. This is exactly what We Happy Few by Compulsion Games and Gearbox Publishing explores. Just a quick disclaimer: This review is not sponsored by Compulsion Games or anyone on the creative team for We Happy Few. I'm just a fan and I think it talks about some very important things. Also, there may be some spoilers ahead. Reader discretion is advised.
We Happy Few takes place in the fictional English city of Wellington Wells in an alternate 1960's timeline in which the British surrendered to the Germans, having done "a very bad thing" in order to maintain their independence. The populace of Wellington Wells was so wracked with guilt over "the very bad thing" that a hallucinogenic drug called "Joy" was invented, giving the user blissful ignorance of all the problems that plague the city. However, this ignorance comes at a cost. The citizens who are on Joy are completely unaware of the fact that Wellington Wells is on the brink of collapse. Widespread shortage of resources and total isolation from the rest of the world have put the city in a literal psychedelic bubble. The citizens are so addicted that anyone who doesn't take their Joy is dubbed a "Downer". Downers are shunned, at best, from the rest of Wellington Wells society (and that's if the secret police don't catch you!) Another faction in the city are the "Wastrels", who experienced adverse effects from Joy and are unable to take the drug, having no choice but to remember "the very bad thing" and live with their guilt. The player portrays three citizens of Wellington Wells in the game:
Arthur Hastings - an unassuming worker at Wellington Wells Department of Archives, Printing, and Recycling tasked with approving or redacting old news articles. Think the Ministry of Truth from 1984. One day he comes across an article from when he and his long-lost brother were children. As his Joy wears off, he is forced to remember "the very bad thing" and decide if he should remain blissfully ignorant or embrace the truth and find his brother.
Sally Boyle - a chemist who helped develop Joy, she is becoming increasingly aware of the adverse affects of the drug, constantly on the hunt for new ingredients to correct them. She is forced to face the monster that she helped create.
Ollie Starkey - a former British soldier who's become a recluse living amongst the Wastrels. His only company is a hallucination of his daughter, who died during the war. Having taken one of the earliest batches of Joy, his perception of reality is skewed and he is unable to accept the role he played in "the very bad thing." Despite very different backgrounds and roles in the story of Wellington Wells, these three characters have to face the reality of their actions in one way or another, as well as the danger of brushing things under the rug. When a whole society is on the brink of collapse because of blissful ignorance, eventually those problems are so big that it becomes impossible to ignore (even when taking Joy). What I really enjoyed about this game is that it explores the dangers of ignoring emotions. Happiness is not the only valid emotion someone can experience, but also sadness, disgust, guilt, anger, and hope. To deny one's emotions is to invalidate lived experiences, which Arthur, Sally, and Ollie did until they no longer could. I think Arthur described the theme of this game the best: "When you force people to have the emotions that you want them to, they stop being human. They're just robots made out of meat." I also just really enjoyed the aesthetic of the game. If one word could describe it, it would be "60's-tastic". From the trippy psychedelic colors when the player is on Joy to the wardrobe straight out of the British Invasion, Wellington Wells and its people feel very real. It's easy to forget that this is a work of fiction. My only critique is that the controls of the game are a bit clunky (but this could also depend on the device it's being played on). At times the quests felt a bit repetitive, but overall, the world of Wellington Wells is very well fleshed-out and a joy to explore (no pun intended). Overall, I give it 4.5/5 Crispy Chicken Wings.
*Make sure to tune into The Crispy Soul Podcast, where we go more into depth on this topic, available on all major streaming apps.