Preview

We Happy Few

Hands-On With The Creepy, Drug-Fueled We Happy Few
by Mike Futter on Mar 09, 2015 at 11:27 AM
Publisher: Gearbox Publishing
Developer: Compulsion Games
Release:
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac

Last week, Contrast developer Compulsion Games announced its new title, We Happy Few. The launch trailer set the tone for an overly cheery, cookie-cutter society that doesn't tolerate deviation.

At the time, it reminded us of BioShock in its stylings. It turns out that We Happy Few is nothing like Irrational's title, and will carve its own, distinctly eerie path.

We Happy Few is set in a town on an isolated island. The residents are medicated with a drug called "Joy" that leaves them pliable and content. However, the townsfolk are sensitive to any aberration, and are conditioned to deal with it violently.

Players take on the role of the lone clear-headed person in the town. At the start, you find yourself in an underground shelter with a workbench and some meager supplies.

We Happy Few features a crafting system that allows players to create weapons, utility items like lockpicks, and medicinals like Joy. Despite your aversion to the drug, there are times you will want to take it (or ingest it through tainted water, for instance).

Upon emerging, you'll find yourself in a procedurally generated village, hungry and thirsty. These conditions set you on your path to breaking and entering.

You'll want to walk normally (sprinting and jumping attract attention, which can lead to a mob attack) and attempt to break into homes in secrecy. Each time I tried this, it led to combat with those in the home. Once the residents are dealt with, doors can be locked and you're free to explore.

Bathrooms have medical items, the kitchen has food and drink. Materials and components are scattered throughout, but even after you've cleared the home, you need to keep your wits about you as booby traps litter the rooms.

Compulsion is working on implementing sensors that detect whether someone is currently under the effects of the drug. These will likely be connected to traps, so you might want to dope yourself in order to access protected areas. Once you have taken enough Joy, the music changes, colors become more vivid, and everything feels cheerier (and you won't be attacked). Take too much, and you'll overdose.

When the Joy wears off, you'll crash. Things move slower and in monochrome, as you suddenly become much hungrier and thirstier. It's a clever effect, and creates a risk/reward setup for doping.

Ultimately, this is all in service of what Compulsion tells us is likely to be We Happy Few's win condition. As the town is on an island, you'll need to figure out how to escape. While you are in town though, you'll be subject to the stares of drugged citizens, as well as strange propaganda.

One of the most impressive aspects of the game, even at this stage of development, is the care being put into crafting the world. The host from the trailer, a cheerful morning-show anchor, is featured on We Happy Few's televisions. Unlike many games with in-game programming, Compulsion is planning to put the shows on a schedule that won't wait for you to turn the set on. It'll be in progress when you tune in.

Compulsion is extremely early in We Happy Few's development, and much of what we played was prototype in order to get feedback. That said, there is a kernel of genius that Compulsion will hopefully nurture over the coming year or so before release.