When Irrational Games, the creators of the Bioshock series, closed its doors for business, the industry lost a creative pioneer. Thankfully, like a pollination within the gaming world, the studio lives on in new projects. We Happy Few is one such game where the inspiration of the creative minds behind the dystopian saga can be felt.
We Happy Few, developed by Compulsion Games (Contrast), shares a lot of similarities with Bioshock. Aside from the game residing in a fictional, technologically advanced city where ingesting personality-modifying drugs is a daily routine, We Happy Few invokes uneasiness and terror without being defined as a horror game. Bioshock is not the only influence, however, with the film Brazil and George Orwell’s 1984 clearly inspiring the world of Wellington Wells.
At Microsoft’s 2016 E3 Conference, the audience were treated to a new gameplay clip showcasing the narrative within We Happy Few. The trailer concluded with the revelation that, following in the footsteps of other indie titles such as Ark: Survival Evolved, We Happy Few would be inducted into Xbox One’s preview program in late July.
It should be noted that the preview build currently available to purchase is at an Alpha stage as the full release will not arrive until 2017. We Happy Few currently lacks any narrative other than the gameplay clip revealed at the conference. 50% of the world is available for exploration as are the survival mechanics and many of the optional quests which occur throughout the adventure.
If you decide to invest in We Happy Few expect bugs, glitches and many other issues. You may ask yourself, why should I grab We Happy Few now instead of waiting for the full release? If you purchase the game now, you buy the entire game at a huge discount. As Compulsion Games make progress in development, the preview build will be updated with new content. You as the player can also offer feedback to the team to help make improvements and when the came finally launches in 2017, you attain the full release without paying a cent more.
So is it worth the investment? Read on to learn about my first impressions with We Happy Few.
We Happy Few is set in the fictional city of Wellington Wells where there is a definitive divide in social classes. Set in an alternate timeline after the events of World War 2 where the British committed an atrocious act to defeat the Germans; a state of depression resides over the town. As the residents of Wellington Wells struggled to overcome their guilt, they turned to a drug aptly named ‘Joy’. This narcotic allows the user to merely gloss over the many problems in life and, as a result, society is heading towards an inevitable crash. At present, Joy is doing the job. Citizens live carefree lives bearing no accountability for their actions, wearing masks that conveys a permanent smile on their faces. The government is able to manipulate the people in this jovial state, isolating them from the ‘real’ world outside of the district gates.
In the Alpha build, you play as Arthur as he awakens in an underground bunker having left (or rather, evicted) from the center of Wellington Wells. After discovering a work colleague who presumably took a vacation instead hanging from the ceiling, you immediately see a stark contrast in environments. Emerging from the shelter and dumping Ms. Stokes’s body if you wish, the war torn village bears no similarities to the immaculate haven you just left. Instead of rainbow colored streets, brimming stores and children jumping in puddles, you see bodies decaying on the streets and tortured inhabitants drowning in their own depression.
We Happy Few is essentially a survival game. You have demands that need to be catered for such as thirst, hunger and sleep which, in this derelict location, can be difficult to fulfill. Raid houses, kill civilians or completing tasks can reward you with food, drink or many other useful items. As you acquire a wide array of seemingly useless components, recipes will become available to you converting these non-effective items into life saving tools.
In comparison to games such as Minecraft and Ark: Survival Evolved, in which you begin to create a home in the world, We Happy Few has a contradictory objective. You need to escape from the city before society implodes and all hell breaks loose. Wellington Wells is essentially a time bomb and deciding between getting a good night sleep instead of venturing out during nighttime could decide your fate. As time passes, the community grows restless as they become more hostile towards you and others. Permadeath exists in We Happy Few (you can turn this option off) and this makes every decision more critical. I found myself needing a shovel and to attain one, helped a gentleman clean a contaminated river only to find myself contracting the plague. This became a dire situation for Arthur as I spent precious time searching for an elusive cure.
The grand scheme ushers you along at a nice pace and you have the freedom to decide how you reach your ultimate goal. The catch is that We Happy Few is procedurally generated; meaning that every time you restart the game, the layout you remember will change. Characters will remain and quests will reappear but their location and timing can be drastically different: The effects of any forward-thinking planning is diminished.
Although there is a lot of content missing from the preview build, you will still be charmed by this English dystopia. Cockney rhyming slang, Shakespeare quotes and nursery rhymes can be heard throughout the streets. The remains of thatched houses resting in fields of blooming flowers just feels British. The humor could be ripped straight from a Monty Python movie as you overhear hilarious arguments between lovers or pass an energetic lunatic named ‘Crazy Legs’ as he sprints down country lanes quoting Alice in Wonderland.
The surroundings are grim and you can fully understand why many of the citizens depend on their fix of ‘Joy’ to survive. Having the ability to take this wonder drug is a great feature as once the pill is consumed, an uplifting chord strikes a harp and suddenly this dull, depressing environment seems harmonious. A startling rainbow lights up the sky and flowers possess a mesmerizing glow. This euphoric feeling is so contagious, you cannot help but fling you arms as you skip down the village streets. Sadly, once this heavenly feeling fades, you come crashing down to reality with a bad hangover.
The use of ‘Joy’ must be controlled and once you gain access to the center of Wellington Wells, the stimulant is necessary to blend in. The ability to change outfit will deter unwanted attention but to accomplish your mission, a little bit of the magical pill will help proceedings.
We still have many months to wait until we see the finished product, but the first experience within this unique world has been an interesting one. I adore the world and the quaint humor resonates well with me. While We Happy Few is riddled with bugs, broken quests and other glitches, this is a work in progress project; the foundations are there for a fantastic experience. With the aim being to escape as opposed to survival, it will be interesting to see how replayable We Happy Few will be, but once the narrative is in place, I will certainly be revisiting Wellington Wells to see what the future holds.
An Englishman living in Australia. I edit and provide video/written reviews for all of the latest games.