Compulsion Games’s We Happy Few is a bone-chilling and bizarre experience with a zany concept. Set in an alternate-history retrofuturistic 1960’s England, the first-person survival roguelike is filled with atmosphere and personality. Right off the bat, the aesthetic feels like it is influenced by BioShock, which is also set during an alternate historical period. Compulsion also previously developed the puzzle-platformer Contrast and there are some artistic similarities.
The city of Wellington Wells is classified by multiple areas: the Garden District, Hamlyn, and the Emerald City. Each have their own traits, environments, and class structures. Though it remains unclear, something traumatic has happened to this city and the citizens have attempted a mass coping mechanism. Wellington Wells is inhabited by maniacal people whose lives are dominated by Joy, a drug that keeps you happy and sedated. Its side-effects include memory loss, psychosis and apparent insanity. Players assume the role of a person who does not take the drug, known as a Downer.
Since the game is survival-based, a lot of time will be spent looting materials used for crafting. Hunger, thirst, and sleep all play an important part in your well-being so you’ll want to be thorough in your searches and well-equipped. The environment is procedurally generated so level memorization will not be of any help. As with other roguelike games, expect to die a lot and spawn back at the beginning.
I was fortunate enough to spend about 30 minutes playing We Happy Few at this year’s PAX East. I awoke in a bunker and checked my surroundings, searching every cabinet and wastebasket for useful resources. There were a few useful items such as a bandage, some scrap metal pieces, and a small amount of food. In the corner I found the body of an old woman, read a couple of notebook entries, and properly disposed of the body. After that, I ascended the ladder into the Garden District, which is a slum-like area inhabited by Downers.
After being killed a couple times by rabid Downers, I decided it was time for a new approach. I attempted to blend in with the desperate and hungry Downers and mind my own business. I got the feeling that myself and the other downers were in the same boat since my hunger and thirst meters were quickly depleting. A nearby water pump quenched my thirst and I began looting the abandoned houses for any signs of food. There I encountered a teenage girl who was hellbent on attacking me, so I had no choice but to defend myself with my bare hands. Looting her corpse rewarded me with a pointed stick, which allowed me to gain an advantage in combat. There is a vast range of melee weapons available, but most are very crude.
Combat doesn’t feel particularly great, but it is simple enough and conveys a sense of savage desperation. Everybody in the Garden District is essentially a regular person with no combat training, so don’t expect any flashy combos. Melee combat in first-person can sometimes feel a bit strange, but I would compare the experience similar to Bethesda games like Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Right trigger swings your weapon while the left trigger is used to block. These simple controls are effective enough, especially considering that combat is not the main focus of the game.
Speaking with the developers at the PAX booth, I was assured that there was an overarching main objective. Though the environment changes after each respawn, the objective remains the same. It seemed a little unclear, but I believe I was supposed to infiltrate the main city and blend in with its Joy-induced inhabitants. As with all roguelikes, it is important to take time to learn the game mechanics and develop an overall strategy. We Happy Few is quite difficult and requires some smart thinking and quick decision making.
We Happy Few does appear to have a fair amount of depth to its gameplay, which is aided by the fact that the world is so intriguing. A certain pressure and paranoia is felt when traversing the world, as if things can go horribly wrong at any moment. One wrong move will provoke other citizens to attack you because you stand out. It is important to always blend in and use the bizarre world and social class system to your advantage.
While I enjoyed my brief time playing We Happy Few, I do wonder how long the game will keep players hooked. The concept is fascinating and the world is beautiful, but I found some of the initial item collecting to be tedious. Each time I woke up in the bunker, I was essentially searching the containers and finding the same stuff. I disposed of the old woman’s body every time before climbing the ladder to the surface, where I would once again need to find some way of feeding and defending myself. It feels like quite a hurdle to get through each time in order to make any real progress. This, of course, may also have been a result of its unfinished state on the show floor.
Needless to say, We Happy Few is a game to keep your eye on this year. Full of good ideas, the game is surely worth checking out. It seems like there are still a few kinks for Compulsion to work out, but overall it feels like a promising experience. While it has a roguelike template, it really does feel like something new and exciting.
We Happy Few will release in June on Xbox One and PC.