The BioShock-y 'We Happy Few' Desperately Wants to Be a Game It's Not


We Happy Few, a psychedelic riff on BioShock with survival game hooks, is one of 2018's biggest disappointments. It exits two years of early access development on Steam and Xbox One this week, alongside a launch on PlayStation 4. If you, like me, found yourself desperate for anything to scratch that BioShock itch, it's best to keep waiting. You're more likely to be frustrated by We Happy Few, a game flirting with interesting ideas, but whose cumbersome gameplay prevents it from doing much with them.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


The nearly-five minute teaser— depicting a British dystopia where censorship is rampant, people pop pills to forget real-life, and everyone’s wearing weird, horrific masks—was stylish as all hell

i think the reaction of most people was actually “this looks ugly, tedious and predictable”

i went back on SSRIs a week ago after trying for 2 years off them, and it’s been positive. while there are definitely discussions to be had about the efficacy and ramifications of medication, these people and their sneering mess can fuck off. thanks


Yeah there’s been shockingly little serious discussion of the way this game portrays antidepressants and so many outlets are just talking about “happy pills” without considering what that means in the slightest. The developers are on record talking about how this is in response to “prescription drug culture” and relying on pills for happiness so like, come the fuck on.


I do wish this article went harder on those details, but I guess if we generously ignore the developers’ statements being like right there, this seems fair:

On the other hand:

Philosophically and functionally, this game seems like a fuckin toilet so I don’t know what promise Mr Klepek is seeing here.


This sounds like the worst AAA game of the year, honestly.


This game is a hot mess of nonsense. It’s to the point I can’t even be mad at it, even though I should be, because it actually got this far in development without anyone asking themselves “wait what are we doing again”


I remember when this started as an indie game with a new piece of promo art that instantly lost my attention through the realization that it had tons of survival bars and then it had one really good E3 showing and I cared for a few minutes before realizing I had no idea what the game even was anymore and then it got a publisher and all interest I had just withered away until this very moment where I was finally explained just what this game was actually about and my brain nearly caved in upon itself from the shocking levels of ignorance on display.


It may be hard to believe but not only do I not want more Bioshock Infinite, I don’t want more sociology-101 ass Bioshock. The downright insulting treatment of mental health by We Happy Few seems pretty consistent with Bioshock’s “libertarianism as set-dressing” approach to social commentary and if it had been hit with a bigger production stick a lot people who should know better would be singing its praises.


It’s amusing to me how much We Happy Few actually does resemble a Bioshock game. I found myself similarly drawn to it for the imagery and compelling art design, only to find examples of really troubling ideologies holding the whole thing together. The depiction of antidepressants and prescription drugs is completely ignorant and bridges on offensive. It really feels like its coming from a place of privilege. From folks that don’t have to worry about debilitating depression, anxiety, etc or have to worry about being denied access to healthcare (of any sort, not simply medication) to help you function.

It’s a shame because as others have said, there is totally room to talk about the failings of healthcare or prescription drugs in a capitalist society. Even in an allegoric sense through the lens of a dystopia or what have you. But clearly these are not the folks I would trust with writing that.


what really pains me is the thought that the whole development team thought that “damn drugs are pretty fucked up huh” was a fresh and exciting narrative frontier


If you’re curious about the details of the story and are wondering if maybe it’s not as bad as it seems, check out this twitter thread. It’s actually way worse than you might think!


It’s shocking that a group of people could make such an intensely dark & traumatizing event the basis of their story, then decide the message of their game is that antidepressant medication is bad actually cause it’s important to be able to be sad.



This may be my most hated game of 2018 now. It may just have overtaken Far Cry 5 for that position. Congrats. That is some bad ideas for a story.


I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “censorship” (which is just always a dogwhistle word in this context, deadass) and “antidepressants are bad, probably” are the combination of themes they went for here.

Beyond that, I think Bioshock-style games can be done on a budget, outside of the overanimated setpieces and overwrought environment design you could pare down a fair bit. The fun thing here is that clever, cohesive design and halfway-decent creative writing drives a good immersive sim, and that’s not going to come from a team seemingly lead by mental 16 year olds thinking that 1984 is defos about how George Orwell doesn’t like socialism.

Plus maybe it’s just a sign that Bioshock’s a lot less sustainable or consistently interesting of a model for immersive sims. I feel like the doomsaying about the subgenre’s death has come mainly from them refusing to grow up beyond centrist Black Mirror episode setups. Like, yes Atomic Heart will be underwhelming, not just because budget, but because it’s a Bioshock game about the bloody Soviet Union, I’m pretty sure anyone here could predict exactly what it’ll “have to say” in their sleep, and no amount of budget or shiny UE4 rendering will change that.

The “anti-ideology immersive sim” sub-subgenre blows chunks IMO, and it’s doubly useless when imsims as a whole are in dire need of thoughtful progress either way.


I think the genre would definitely be in a way better place if its most popular entry hadn’t been the super lavish anti-ideology game. Pretty much every vent-crawler since has pitched itself of being an “ideology/political issue + player choice” game they’ve all fallen flat on their faces with the possible exception of Prey. The developers of these games consistently try to make the most complex and detailed games on the market that also make sophisticated political statements because Bioshock, basically. You couldn’t set yourself up for failure better if you tried.

If that’s the kind of thinking that’s keeping the genre alive, then maybe it should go away for a while.


I’m always confused when people talk about the ‘deep and engaging’ story in Bioshock because I always assumed the appeal of that game was less about being Baby’s First Fountainhead and more about having a hand that shoots bees.


Would it be too gauche of me to say that LISA did it better? :slight_smile:


I don’t think it is, really. Arkane’s recent work in both Prey and Death Of The Outsider hasn’t been absurdly deep or well-paced in the writing department, but they’re still about more than one thing and don’t have some director-masturbatory Andrew Ryan sequence at the beginning. Hell, Prey’s whole neoliberalism crit deal doesn’t show its hand for a while, and when it does it still writes characters as if they’re humans making mistakes in a broken system, rather than Individual Baddie Who Shows How Bad X Ideology Is.

I just feel we’re past the need to be afraid of nuance in our immersive sims now. Arkane & Ubisoft’s last decade of output (good and bad) and Breath Of The Wild give us molds to present a lot of immersive sim design goals to uninitiated players in a palatable way, sometimes in both written stories and emergent stories, sometimes in just the latter, and it turns out a whole lot of people really do desire that kind of expressive space in games.

On the flip side of that coin, they couldn’t get too bold with the stealth, level design or faux-simulation layers in Bioshock because scripted spectacle ruled at the time, and PC gamerfans are way too fond of the ableist-ass “dumbed down” buzzterm to offer any valuable crit that designers could actually use to evolve the genre. Ken Levine was already developing a his self-aggrandizing anti-ideology schtick by SS2, and now he could do that shit with more spectacle for attention, so that was what defined the BS “genre” and evidently still does.

I dunno, I feel like imsims shouldn’t and aren’t going to go away. Even on a market level, their design goals lend themselves to the “water cooler stories” dynamic that contributes hugely to word of mouth, doubly so in the era of Lets Plays. Bioshock™ games are basically a seperate entity at this point, but also increasingly dated as the years pass, and nobody producing them seems interested in pushing past Ken Levine’s centrist all-ideologies-are-bad-somehow ethos.


I’ll contribute that it’s very telling the Bioshock game that has most stood the test of time is the one Levine wasn’t involved with


LISA gets points for actually focusing on drug addiction and abuse, not the vague notion that it is bad people with serious mental issues get medication required to function somewhat properly because sadness = good therefore depression = good.

LISA was a great trilogy of games that actually tried to understand concepts alien to the developer (the guy was inspired by a conversation with his ex about past abuse and how it had affected her). It felt very human and moved me a lot because its commentary was centered around trying to understand why humans do what they do and finding the pathos in that.

These morons are just spouting their own ignorance with a cool looking art style and people will mistake it for somehow meaningful political narrative because look, 1960s British funk colors!


The issue is that Objectivism is such an easy target and laughably awful in its very design. If anything, Rapture isn’t half as creepy as Ayn Rand’s own ideas of what her utopia actually looks like. There’s a mother in Galt’s Gultch who basically has to negotiate mothering her kids in exchange for them providing her a service in return, the whole place is full of tortured capitalism as relationships.

It isn’t that “games targeting ideologies” can’t work, it’s that Bioshock picked the easiest one and didn’t need that much work to pull it off. This is why its sequels and imitators always come off so half-assed.

Also I’d argue last year’s Tacoma did a pretty good job making a dystopia out of tech bro capitalism. I didn’t love that game, but its vision of the future was cutting and fantastic.