We Happy Few, the latest title from Compulsion Games was the most mysterious and intriguing title at E3. The gameplay demo during Microsoft’s press conference introduced gamers to a dystopian universe where not everything is what it seemed. The residents of Wellington Wells have experienced a tragedy beyond belief and in order to forget these traumatizing events, they take a drug called joy which paints the world as a happy and cheerful place. We play as a man whose joy wears off and witnesses the horrors of this world first-hand.
After escaping from your neighbors who label you as a “downer” for not taking joy, you are free to roam the town of Wellington Wells. From the moment that I exited the bunker, We Happy Few became an overwhelming experience that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by. There are so many options within the game that were too much to comprehend within the 10-15 minutes that I had with the title. There are menu tabs for mission objectives, the map, crafting, and equipment. Granted, when the title is released as part of the Xbox Games Preview program next month, players will have more time to understand We Happy Few’s user interface.
Visually, We Happy Few is a stunning spectacle that feels reminiscent to the Bioshock franchise in terms of character models. The environments are also very appealing with the visuals changing depending on whether your character is on joy or is going through withdrawal. When you are on joy, Wellington Wells looks like a colorful city full of life and happiness. There are rainbows and flowers galore. When the character is off of his joy, the city looks dreary, complete with withered flowers, gloomy colors, and the dystopian aesthetic that the genre is known for. Many games have appealing graphics, but few have visuals that accentuate the themes of the title.
From a gameplay perspective, We Happy Few is a deep experience with many different mechanics that make the title unique. Players must keep their character hydrated, fed, and wide awake. You can find food to deal with hunger, water sources to replenish your thirst and you can sleep to combat restlessness. There is also a meter for when residents discover that your character is a downer. During these moments, you can run away, fight back, hide, or even take joy in order to evade pursuers. Although joy can help you blend in and escape, there are various side-effects that can plague your character.
Playing and watching We Happy Few are two completely different experiences. I waited on a line to play the game for about an hour. I watched the people before me play the game and I started learning the mechanics before my hands-on demo. Although I had a sense of how to play We Happy Few, picking up the controller had a different outcome. I was lost and confused during my time in Wellington Wells. In fact, almost immediately, the guards from the city started chasing me because I was a downer. I felt helpless, defenseless, and on the verge of death, but that didn’t deter me from trying to succeed. What followed was a tense struggle for survival in Wellington Wells. I fought a few citizens, sat down, read a newspaper and was constantly on the run. After a few minutes of surviving, my character ultimately met his end. He “went on a Holiday” according to the morning paper.
My time with We Happy Few ended in failure, but I haven’t been able to stop talking about the game since my hands-on demo. The game is a roguelike title with permadeath. It’s a game that I foresee me dying on countless occasions, but with each death, you’ll only get better. We Happy Few is twisted, dark, violent, and disturbingly beautiful in its own freaky way. Will you be a downer or will you embrace the life of a joy-riddled addict? There are so many possibilities and fortunately after my hands-on with the game, I’m left with so much optimism that Compulsion Games has the next big hit on their hands. In fact, when the game launches next month on the Games Preview program, it will surely be a “joyous” occasion.