We Happy Few has the distinct privilege of being the game that reminded me why I love conventions. Don’t get me wrong, cons are great! However, after you’ve been to a few dozen you get a little jaded. Seeing the upcoming releases is a brief rush of excitement. Facing off against strangers on newly released games is a laugh. When the smoke clears though, what are you left with? PAX Plague and three hours of your life burnt by waiting in line to play a game you can buy in a couple of weeks time. Compulsion Games lit that spark in me with their early preview of We Happy Few, that little fire that reminds me why I love video games so much: innovation! It had some bugs, it had some quirks, but it also had a flashing neon sign with an arrow pointed straight at the future that read “Proof of Concept”… Okay, that didn’t quite happen I got carried away with the visuals so let me explain.
When I say early preview I mean it, the demo build myself and fellow Mammoth Gamer Ken Borter played on at PAX East was a very early view of what the finished product will someday be. The COO of Compulsion Games, Sam Abbott, walked us through the story before unleashing us on the build. Abbott explained to us that this was a very early version of the game and that its purpose was to garner feedback and input from players. Good or bad, he was eager to hear it all for the betterment of the final product. A game company that truly cares what people think about its latest title? Ken and I just about swooned! With that in mind, Ken took first pass with the headset on while Abbott patiently narrated what was being said in game (complete with enthusiastically acted voice overs).
We Happy Few takes place in an alternate reality, not a what if the Nazi’s won the war kind of reality but a refreshingly oddball take on London in the 1960s. A time known for its peace, love, and harmony vibe in America, that the game takes one step further. Inhabitants of the world are all hooked on a drug called “Joy”, a feel good hallucinogen that makes even the most heinous acts seem delightfully acceptable. You however, are not drinking the Kool-Aid quite as often and are trying to find a way out of this insane place.
Each morning the city turns into watch News Hour with Uncle Jack, half marionette face paint, half creeper. He rattles off a list of daily reminders, the most important of which is that everyone remembers to take their Joy. As you crawl out of the basement that you wake up in (because that’s not concerning) into the world above you’re greeted by a smiling constable clobbering a man who was running at you and subsequently killing him. The officer looks down on the now dead body at your feet and tells it quite matter of factly that he’ll go fetch a doctor for him, that he’ll be right as rain! This first interaction in the demo sets you up perfectly for what can be expected going further.
While you play as a character that’s not addicted to Joy, you still have to take it from time to time to blend in. One of the unique concepts in We Happy Few is that other people can tell you’re not high… and they hate you for it. Making eye contact with someone while not under the influence can trigger them and those around you to attack. Your best bet is to move swiftly and keep your distance. If the citizens aren’t watching you, the televisions on swivel hooks that line the city’s streets will. Like a creepy painting with dead eyes, they follow your every move playing advertisements and reminding you once again to take your Joy and be happy. You can hide in and explore many of the homes in the neighborhood, but you’ll notice that some storefronts are boarded up, though painted to look as if they are still open. Seems legit.
Being high in We Happy Few isn’t all that bad though! Stepping into a revamped phone booth full of drugs is all it takes to get a quick fix. Your vision blurs and colors become more intense as your neighbors blankly smile at you in the demo’s first attempt at this effect that works beautifully. All good things must come to an end though. The colors become muted, the high wears off, and it was at this point that both Ken and I discovered in our respective play throughs that we were thirsty and hungry! We got so hyped up on Joy that we didn’t realize there was more to balancing in this precarious world than giving into clever marketing and peer pressure.
Up to this point, Ken and I more or less played the game in the same way. However, we went into two drastically different directions after this. Ken did the clever thing, he started searching for resources giving us a chance to see the games scavenge and weapon building element. He tried ducking into houses, seeing that no one was home he pillages a fridge for food and searches through drawers until ultimately he succumbs to his thirst and dies. Womp, womp.
Knowing that our time was almost up and not wanting to repeat history, I do the only thing I can think of. I equip a weapon and go total ham sandwich on the drugged up dwellers of London! Running into a house that has civilians while not hopped up on Joy is apparently a big no-go in this reality! Blows are exchanged and bodies hit the floor as I dash from room to room, swinging my melee weapon and looting for all the snacks I can find. Inevitably my massacre comes to an end when I get locked upstairs where I trip a laser alarm that not only burns me, but sends local law enforcement and concerned citizens into the fray. I had a laugh messing with the game mechanics, picking corpses up and trying to lay them neatly into a bath tub and making a futile attempt to throw one out the window.
At the conclusion of our time with We Happy Few we were able to share our concerns and criticisms with Sam Abbott. Offering suggestions for things that we think could make an already strong proof of concept that much better. The most rewarding part of my PAX East experience was when Sam took out his notepad and wrote those thoughts down to consider later, a simple thing that left me feeling like I was playing small a part in the development of a game that I know I’ll be buying when it releases. While some aspects of the game are reminiscent visually of BioShock or Fallout 3, it’s by no means a clone of those games. We Happy Few is an atmospheric mind meld of an alternate reality that leaves you in a quasi dystopian state of mind.
The particular build that we played on was for PC but only time will tell what systems the game will be available on in the future! Stay up to date on the latest updates here on the Compulsion Games website.