Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few has, by far, one of the creepiest images of any game, at least in the way it was presented at PAX East. The booth was lined with mannequins, old newspaper clips, and, more importantly, a series of masks that had a Cheshire Cat-like grin on them. These masks were eerie, and various trailers of the game showed more than a few characters wearing them. Intrigued, I asked the developers for a quick demo, and studio founder Guillame Provost was happy to oblige.
A City Divided
We Happy Few is set in 1964 in an English town called Wellington Wells. However, most of its residents are taking a strange drug called “Joy.” This drug makes them happy and forget about past events. Because of Joy, the town is split into two groups. The Joyful are those who continue to take the drug and enjoy life. The Downers also consumed Joy, but it affected their minds in a negative way, and they were banished to the city’s outskirts.
In this demo, you play as Arthur, who wakes up in small, underground bunker in the Downers’ area, and you have to find a way to escape Wellington Wells and its strange citizens. Along the way, you’ll find out more about the city’s lore and mystery behind the strange drug.
The Joyful’s section of Wellington Wells is, obviously, perfect in many ways. Its peaceful, clean and most of all, joyful. Even the streets are paved with a rainbow color palette. All of its citizens dress up in nice clothes, and they all look seemingly happy due to the smiling masks that they all wear. On the opposite end, the Downers’ area is decrepit. Houses are in ruins, the weeds spring up everywhere, and its residents are mindless and crazy.
At first, I thought that the first-person game would just include some form of exploration and combat. However, that wasn’t the case. As you move around, you also have to manage various stats such as your health, hunger, thirst and energy to stay alive. Obviously, this means that you must find various items to aid you on your journey, such as jerky and cups of water.
You’ll also have access to a crafting system, which comes in handy, as I found out, when you’re injured. You can gather resources from specific plants to create healing salves that restore some health. It’s also helpful for creating better gear, so to speak. For example, wearing a tattered suit in the Joyful area is a quick way to get spotted by patrolling guards. With the old suit and a sewing kit, you can create a better suit that helps you blend in with the locals. For combat, you utilize melee weapons such as a club or ax. However, each weapon has a durability meter, so it will eventually break.
Just like Shadow Warrior 2, We Happy Few uses randomly-generated levels. Provost said that the developers already made a few set pieces, such as a house in ruins or the park that houses your bunker, and once a level is loaded, the game places these assets in random areas to differentiate the look of the town with every session.
The goal with the demo was to attempt to find a way to infiltrate the Joyful side of town. However, the border between the two sides has a checkpoint with a Joy detector, a machine that somehow detects if you have the drug in your body. If you fail the inspection, a large device in the shape of a Christmas tree instantly zaps you with its electronic charge. As this was the only way into the city, I needed to find a way to activate the checkpoint with a power cell that allowed me to enter the detector and then quickly escape to the other side before dying, or I could sneak through the side door of the checkpoint, which requires a guard’s key. The key and power cell were both available in the nearby area.
I opted to get the power cell, which was located on a small mound. However, the mound was occupied by a group of people who were beating up a man as he was throwing up a disgusting volley of purplish goo. After fending them off for quite some time, I talked to the man who requested a pill to cure his illness. At first, this didn’t seem relevant to my main quest, but Provost told me to find the pill anyway. It turns out—and this is absolutely disgusting—that the sick man was actually consuming various power cells and then vomiting them out. Fortunately, he had one unconsumed cell left, which I used to activate the checkpoint.
The machine detected that I wasn’t using Joy, which prompted the local population to attack me, as they feared that I would disrupt the happiness of the town. As with any dangerous encounter in the game, I could run away and hide if the odds weren’t in my favor. Remember that crafting mechanic I mentioned earlier with the sewing kit and the torn suit? I made sure I dressed appropriately before leaving my hiding spot to blend in with the crowd once again.
The Tip Of The Iceberg
I wasn’t able to finish the demo, as there was a bug that prevented me from getting past police officers (the game is obviously still in development) even with my well-made suit on, but I played enough to get an idea of what to expect from the final version.
The game reminded me of the Bioshock series with its dystopian setting and eerie characters. Provost noted that other people made that distinction in the past, and he takes it as a compliment.
Even with the similarities, Compulsion Games made some features to make it stand out, such as the need to continuously monitor your hunger and thirst, a crafting system, randomly-generated worlds, and various quests to keep you busy as you explore Wellington Wells. None of these elements are new to the industry, but they could make or break a game. So far, they all seem to work in favor of what We Happy Few aims to deliver. The game should be out in its entirety next year, but it will be available on Steam Early Access and Xbox Game Preview this summer.