Preview: We Happy Few
Already playable in early access on PC for those who had supported the project on Kickstarter, We Happy Few was recently announced as an Xbox One title during E3 2016, giving an opportunity to reach another target group, especially since the game is quite easy to grasp.
The premises of We Happy Few is a sick world where nothing can be criticized or denounced under the penalty of a state offense. Here, happiness is not a personal choice but a civic duty and in this world, smiling is legal obligation. The characters created by Compulsion Games all wear a mask that stretches their lips to a morbid clown-like smile, and their clothes are colorful to form a rainbow, because life is beautiful, life is a constant party.
Except that the world of We Happy Few is like us: sometimes pretty but often ugly, sad, smelly, populated by all sorts of character traits. You soon discover that the world of We Happy Few is all fake, an illusion because of a drug, which makes the population forget the ugly side of reality. With it, no one is unhappy but nobody knows that yet, until you, the player, refuse to take your pills and the world change colors before your very own eyes. The scenery and mood switches from a visit to Disneyland to a misfortunate trip into the slums of a third world country. You’ll discover social segregation reserved for people like you, called Downers: cops will chase you, your friends and neighbors denounces you… An outcast of an illusion set by society.
The game puts you in the shoes of Arthur Hastings, a family man in charge of newspapers censorship in a fictional post-war England. While one would expect some political satire after this introduction, Compulsion Games materialized this distorting mirror of a decidedly depressed world where everyone strives to look as happy as possible. Clothes and materialistic gain will therefore play a central role, as they give you or not access to particular areas of Wellington Welles, a series of islands that is your playground. In other words, if your clothes stink too much sadness and lack of colors, you might be considered a downer.
The concern for Arthur is that despite a solid diet of Joy, he occasionally sees the world as it really is, through flashes and hallucinations. That’s when you have the choice in hand: stop or not to take the famous pink Joy pill and face (or not) the reality of the world around you. Arthur then becomes himself, which earned him a forced exile in the filthy streets of the Garden District, an islandfull of downers who wander around hoping to find and steal a dose of Joy. Arthur then has one goal in mind: to escape from this Truman Show without arousing suspicion while discovering why the people of Wellington Welles need to be drugged all day long (that would be linked to a “secret”of the Second World War, as per what the developers said in some interviews).
I will not lie to you, the dystopian pitch of the game is one hell of a blast in your mind, supported by a very fun artistic direction., reminiscent of games like Contrast, BioShock Infinite or even Dishonored, as well as a creepy soundtrack. Control in hand, We Happy Few is closer to a survival rogue-like game where you are 100% free to decide your own actions: you can talk to anyone, craft anything, accept quests, etc. The survival part of the game comes via different gauges to monitor your “health”, a little bit like Do Not Starve or the recently released – and reviewed – The Flame In The Flood. You’ll have to watch out for your health, of course, but also your hunger, thirst, sleep and Joy levels, which all more or less empty while you are roaming the lands. There’s a bunch of balancing on these gauges that you’ll need to watch out for, like if you take your Joy, for example, your thirst gauge will collapse. If you rest, your sleep gauge will increase, but the hunger one will empty, and so on.
We Happy Few as a world is generated in a procedural pattern and every death is a game over. If a police officer managed to shoot you, or citizens teach you to smile by force, you will have to start from scratch. To start all over again means a new character, new world, new puzzles. The lifespan seems to be around four to five hours straight, but typically this is the kind of adventure that will have to repeated a dozen times at least, especially when you see how We Happy Few always surprise you with new features.
Now all this seems great so why isn’t the game out already? Basically the real downside after spending so much time with the game is simple: the development’s progress is clearly lacking the optimal need of a modern game. We could talk about the really weird AI and the user interface, but it’s rather the realization sometimes unworthy of being even launched on an Xbox 360. The game still smells like a pre-alpha title, including landscapes that also remind us that while Compulsion Games is an artistically gifted studio, it needs a lot to convey these Aldous Huxley words into worthy graphical masterpiece.
We Happy Few is set to launch this year for PC and Xbox One, and you can get early access right now on both platforms. The impressions were made based on a Xbox One Preview Code provided by the Compulsion Games team. The full game is set to release by late 2016 or early 2017.