Compulsion Games created the stylish game Contrast, so I knew that they had some serious talent, but then initial images and a trailer launched for their new title We Happy Few, and I felt that this game could be something special. The initial trailer shows us Uncle Jack, a TV spokesman talking about how happy everyone is and how great life is in their Island home. Everyone is happy, that is except for you the player character. What followed was a chase scene through this idyllic town with police and other townspeople all converging on you with their smiling masks. It was creepy, atmospheric, stylish, and I wanted to play it immediately. Thankfully, Compulsion Games had an early Alpha build playable at PAX East and I was able to talk to the Creative Director for the game and even try it out myself.
The premise of We Happy Few is that an Island community is all addicted to a drug that moderates and placates the townspeople; everyone takes it and is compliant and happy. A big brother style figure named Uncle Jack seems to be the overseer of the village and is always appearing on various TVs and billboards speaking or running some kind of show. I asked the developer about this ever present character right away, and he told me that the Uncle Jack persona is an integral part of the game, acting as the warden and watchdog of the town. To add immersiveness and really portray him as omnipresent, they recorded over 8 hours of footage with the actor playing Uncle Jack wearing an acrylic mask as he ran through dozens of 3 minute episodes. This means that as you are wandering through the game you will rarely if ever see the exact same broadcast, which I felt was brilliant and creepy all at once.
The game has you waking up in an underground hideout and heading to the surface to forage and find a way off the Island, which is the game’s ultimate goal. When you hit the surface, which by the way is a procedurally generated village, meaning it is different every time, you need to forage for food, water, and items to craft into, well better items. This game is reminiscent of Don’t Starve in the fact that if you are killed you start over, but the developer aims to make that restart less annoying. His big issue with Don’t Starve, and one I share, is that the first half hour of each playthrough is somewhat tedious as you build up your resources. Their aim is to make each playthrough of We Happy Few very dynamic with plenty to do right away to thrive and survive.
The key, and something I did surprisingly well, to survival in this retrofuturistic 60’s world is to quite simply act normal and placid. Don’t jump in the street, don’t run, don’t break into houses, and certainly don’t attack people. This would be easy if you did not need goods in order to survive which necessitates breaking the rules. In my playthrough I managed to avoid being noticed until I started to run low on water. I rummaged through some trash bins and containers to find some and noticed townspeople were turning to look at me. Walking away slowly I was shocked to see they were following, and as the group grew, police joined in. At the urging of the developer I jumped into a phone booth and took the Happy drug. This immediately stopped the attention being focused on me and tinted the game in a more colorful but washed out palate. I went to a secluded place just in time as the drug eventually wore out and I crashed. When you are coming down from the drug you attract even more attention and need to be very careful.
Once I was steady I noticed that my water and food levels were low so I decided I had to try and get supplies more efficiently, so I broke into a home via a window (without detection) and raided the kitchen. Back up to normal levels I exited and began wandering again looking for tools to help me get further in the game. Eventually, I slipped up and was noticed by a policeman; he started approaching me and I ran, big mistake; he chased and swiftly so did many others. Eventually I was cornered and beaten into submission.
This marked the end of the game and I have to say I was very impressed and intrigued by the concept, which was very different than what I expected from the trailer. The game has a No One Lives Forevers aesthetic mixed with Rust and Don’t Starves gameplay with a smattering of Bioshock narrative thrown in. That sounds look an amazing stew of concepts, and I can easily say it plays quite well even in this very early stage.
I asked Compulsion Games what the eventual vision of the We Happy Few is and they said it is very close to what they have today but with lots of added refinements and techniques you can master to survive and escape. The crafting system is already in place and is intuitive and efficient. Combat is something I did not really get to dig into as I never found/made a weapon, but I was assured that there will be lots of combat and trap options to evade pursuers. They will also allow some carry over between playthroughs, what that will be is unknown, but the goal is to make a game that is enjoyable as much as it is atmospheric.
I just had a small sample of the game that will eventually exist when We Happy Few is eventually released (no date available yet, simply ‘when it is ready’ was the answer) but it was a creepy, thoughtful and frankly beautiful game that I want more of. The art style is truly amazing and the concept of this subdued and drugged populace that you are trying to fit into until you escape is inspired and was reminiscent of concepts from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Gattaca. The sheer passion I felt from the dev team for this project was apparent and echoed by the large lines of people vying to try the game out. We Happy Few is one of the best and most intriguing games I had a chance to try at PAX East, and I am looking forward to the full release whenever it is ready.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00D3TRMD8]