At E3 this year “We Happy Few” turned a lot of heads, now the game is available on STEAM as an early access model. While the game is far from perfect in its current state, the introduction to the drug-laced world of 1960s England is certainly fascinating.
If you are too young to have seen the institutionalism films that dominated the 1970s, a lot of the themes in “We Happy Few” may be rather new to you. Films like “A Clockwork Orange” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” or even the great novel “A Brave New World” introduced many a young student to the horrors that institutionalism could bring to our society, and although it’s been part of a few popular games, “We Happy Few” really centers on the ideals headon.
The first few minutes of “We Happy Few” are easily the most rememberable at this point, but it serves as a wonderful introduction and a warning sign.
Without spoilers, the game starts as players assume the role of Arthur Hastings. He is a simple man who works in the “redactor” section of a local newspaper. Arthur’s job is to remove the articles from the past that simply wouldn’t be cheerful to a reader. When a simple event stirs up an unpleasant memory one day, Arthur decides to not take his “Joy.”
The drug Joy is a central part of the plot, and to explain it as simple as possible, Joy is a drug that strips the worry, sadness and anxiety of your daily life. Everyone takes Joy, it’s an OTC staple of the Wellington Wells diet, and even comes in exotic flavors like Coconut. Joy also suppresses any memories that could cause bad feelings, and leaves the entire society in a bliss-filled haven, free from all sorts of unpleasantness.
Those that do not take Joy are considered horrific “Downers,” society is terrified of these individuals and they are shunned, imprisoned, beaten, or worse.
As I said, the first few moments are perfectly crafted (it was also the demo shown at E3) but that isn’t how the game is played. The “prologue” plays more like linear first-person role-playing game, but the actual game plays as an open-world RPG. The difference is minimal, but the polish of the prologue outshines the current game at this point. It’s still in its alpha-phase so I don’t want to be too critical, but if the rest of the game catches up to the introduction, “We Happy Few” could be a game of the year contender.
The game itself dumps you into an outcasted society, and there you must explore the dilapidated houses and gardens looking for crafting material and food, all while blending into the others around you. The game has different locations with different classes of people, so changing your clothes and your attitude is essential to blending in with others. This is a society built on fear and oppression, so not raising suspicion is a crucial gameplay mechanic built into the system.
You have to keep yourself hydrated and fed, and you get tired and have to sleep on occasion to keep Arthur alive. If I had to make comparisons, I would say it’s a lot like playing in a town in Skyrim. You can steal, but if you’re caught you better be ready to fight-or-flight it, and there are puzzle quests and fetch quests and alliances all to be found along your path.
While the gameplay currently features a few broken quests, and the narrative and characters aren’t all completed, it’s a wonderful start to what could be a truly fantastic game. Outside of the gameplay, the world of “We Happy Few” is brilliantly thought out, with great character models and settings to explore throughout the game. Flashbacks and newspaper clippings open more of the backstory of Arthur and of Wellington Wells, and each nugget of information I found was an interesting puzzle piece of the world around me. There’s a great counterbalance between the need to conform, while also rebelling against the drug-infused ideals of the society, that keeps the game interesting. So far I’ve really enjoyed my time exploring the story and “We Happy Few” is one of those rare game that could be very exciting to watch grow in an early access program.
Obviously if you are easily annoyed by glitches and bugs you should avoid opting into the early-access version and simply wait for the final build, but if you like to watch a game develop than this would be a great game to tryout.
Compulsion Games has the perfect setup for this game to thrive. The story is wonderfully entertaining, the setting provides a perfect blend of intrigue and impending doom, and the horrific bobbies and tortured citizins of the society are thrilling to interact with. If you haven’t picked it up yet, and want to see this prologue introduction I keep mentioning, you can check it out below.
For everyone else, the game is already a big hit on STEAM and can be found here.