We Happy Few has had an odd journey from the announcement and initial excitement, via Kickstarter, getting a publisher - what was first meant to be a modest procedurally generated roguelike adventure turned into something more fleshed out, more of a traditional action-adventure that also retained some of those early features.
Wellington Wells is a strange place, filled with as much danger as happiness. Secrets are layered on top of each other and the citizens of the village are all happy to pop a pill (aptly named Joy) and forget about their troubles. Anyone who doesn't is deemed a Downer and run out of town.
The game starts with you assuming the role of Arthur who works in an office that censors newspaper articles to fit the narrative being told by those in charge. You're awakened by a particular story that references your brother, and you find yourself being chased by co-workers as you escape. But this is only the beginning of your troubles as Arthur tries to find a way out of this dystopic nightmare and a way to rescue his brother Percy.
Arthur is the first of three playable characters (more to come via DLC) in We Happy Few, the others, Sally and Ollie, are acquaintances of his, and offer different perspectives, but also slightly different gameplay as each character has some unique abilities. Speaking of abilities, completing missions will give you points that you dish out in the skill tree, allowing you things like improved stealth abilities, more health, or advantages in combat (increased chance of inflicting bleeding for instance). It's fair to say that Arthur's story is the main one, but given how the narrative is layered, lie upon lie is uncovered and memories return, and you will want to dig up as much as you can not just along the main path but via the many side quests you'll encounter.
Something has to be said of the visual style and presentation in We Happy Few. It's simply superb. Channeling Britain in the 1960s it gives the game a unique style that puts it next to games like Bioshock and Dishonored, something that's both a positive and a negative because We Happy Few isn't the same sort of experience. The audio side of things also impresses and while the character animation during cutscenes isn't on par with the likes of the AAA brethren mentioned above, the voice acting is strong throughout. It helps set the mood along with the soundtrack and one can't help but think of A Clockwork Orange.
Its roguelike roots mean there isn't the same precise level design as in games like Dishonored, and quests will feel a bit bareboned as a result. The upside of this is that there's a whole lot more to experience and discover and you're going to have to explore as simply going from one main mission to the next will make progression difficult. You need to explore, craft, dig up treasure chests, find food and water and health items, sneak into people's houses to steal supplies, complete side missions - all to make sure you've got what you need. The constant need to gather and craft may not appeal to all players.
One example of this was as we tried to make it over to St. George's Holm as Arthur. We needed a Boiler uniform to get across a bridge (bridges that never seem to work separate the islands), but inside we were faced with a game of "Simon Says" featuring electroshocks. We had sold off our rubber catsuit (don't ask) to afford the Boiler uniform (we could have crafted it, but we didn't have enough torn raincoats), but as the rubber catsuit also offered protection from electricity, the best course of action was to either craft a new one (even more raincoats needed) or buy it back to use during the "Simon Says" session. We opted for the latter and it proved just how important it is to think long-term here; normally it'd be fine to discard items used earlier and focus ahead, but the nature of We Happy Few is such that you never know when an item might be useful again.