Games: We Happy Few's psychedelic dystopian adventure

Neil McGreevy

We Happy Few (Multi)

By: Gearbox

SET in an alternative version of Britain's 1960s where the only thing swinging is police batons, We Happy Few proudly celebrates a grab-bag of dystopian influences: everything from Brazil and The Prisoner to Nineteen Eighty-Four and V for Vendetta is raided here for a retro-future fantasy that waxes on familiar totalitarian tropes, shot through with a psychotropic purple haze.

In this alternative universe, Germany won the war and the good folk of Wellington Wells soothe their crazy with lashings of Joy – government sanctioned 'happy pills' which turn the dystopian rot into a rainbow nirvana – in a town where rictus-grinned Bobbies skulk in the night-time fog, ready to flog dissenters on the cobbles.

Gamers can play as three different characters – newspaper censor Arthur Hastings, experimental chemist Sally Boyle and former soldier Ollie Starkey – each with their own 10 to 20 hour-long story, as they rage against the machine and attempt to escape Wells.

Each is sharply-written, offering conflicting views on a procedurally generated township that could well be The Village from The Prisoner – British nostalgia on acid and overseen by Uncle Jack, a thinly veiled nod to Nicholson's Joker.

Its quests typically involve infiltrating buildings through a combination of tactics: hacking alarms, picking locks, shimmying through vents and the like, or simply beating your enemy senseless.

Weapons must be collected and items, food, drink, and tools crafted in a game which combines the role-play and survival of Fallout.

Go cold turkey and you'll see Wells for the nightmare it is as you make full use of your abilities, albeit as a downer target. Opt to stay on the Joy, however, and the grot takes on a Yellow Brick Road quality, where the masked locals are calm as Hindu cows.

Along the way you'll follow the breadcrumbs to uncover the Very Bad Thing that haunts the people of Wells.

The production here is simply incredible and those old enough to rhapsodise about bootlegs of A Clockwork Orange will recognise the influences – but if WHF's design is flawless, the first-person role-playing is anything but.

There's nothing here that we haven't seen handled better in the likes of Bioshock and Dishonored, with lumpen brawling and more than a fair share of glitches

A bonkers, oh-so-British rampage that isn't quite the sum of its parts, We Happy Few is a mix of the good, the bad and the drugly.

If you can suffer its 'cor blimey' voicework, endless fetch quests and item management, this psychedelic riff on Bioshock is a post-Brexit primer for a nation gone to hell in a handcart.

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