If you haven’t been paying attention, Compulsion Games released a playable demo for their upcoming game, We Happy Few, on the Xbox One store last week. You get one go on it, for an hour or two, unless you want to pre order the full thing. I gave it a spin, despite all the warnings, and you know what I found?
I’m very impressed with We Happy Few.
It’s got all the hallmarks of a damn interesting game – a unique art style that isn’t relying on photo realism to move units, a well thought out survival system, a decent voice acting and sound team, topped off with a story someone put more than five minutes of thought into… which is more than I can sadly say for most AAA titles these days.
Of course, the comparisons to Bioshock have popped up already, which I suppose is inevitable when you’re gunning for a faux-cheerful dystopia with drug addicted crazies running around, but all of it seems strong in its own right.
It’s not a clone, it’s an inspiration.
One thing I was pleased to see was the assurance that no, this isn’t the entirety of the game, and most importantly, not to panic about the lack of story. This is very obviously pre-alpha gameplay (there’s even an option to send feedback to the devs if you find any glitches or bugs) and it’s definitely not representative of the final build. I was seeing a lot of accounts damning this game for not being a solely single player narrative, and I too, worried for a minute. Whilst I admit, I was surprised at the gameplay revolving around survival, after playing the demo, it seems to make a lot of sense. The inhabitants of Wellington Wells are out for blood, and it’s not safe to return home.
The setup, from the very beginning, is intriguing. There are multiple shout-outs to things like 1984 (I’m fairly sure the main character and Winston share the same job), and while it appears to start in domestic bliss, there’s that beautiful level of unease. Your first introduction to the world is censoring old newspaper articles, obscuring anything that makes Britain look bad, in the aftermath of what appears to be the Nazis winning World War II. The eerie flashbacks and the insistence of all around you that “Joy,” needs to be taken, and quickly. Coworker Pru, who’s gone on holiday and never returned. The other man beating his son behind closed doors, because he refuses to take his Joy. And then, of course, there’s the lovely “pinata.”
Everything has that lovely air of cognitive dissonance, the feel that something is very, very wrong in Wellington Wells. Arthur, in particular, seems to be blocking out the death of his brother with the Joy pills, and I’m interested to see how this is going to be developed in the main narrative. I spent a lot of time wandering around the Garden District, among the poor and deprived Wastrels, who for some reason or another, don’t have access to Joy pills, and was particularly creeped out by it all. Arthur will spout random gibberish at them, and will get a reply in kind; I’m not sure whether he was trying to blend in or divert attention away from himself, but either way, it worked. We Happy Few has the weight of its predecessors and inspirations to bear, and I’m hoping it can live up to those standards, no problem.
The survival mechanic is a bit of a weird one, and it feels out of place in such a small setting, so I’m hoping we’ll travel further afield. Wellington Wells isn’t the most welcoming of places for Downers, so it’s obvious they can’t go home, but it seems alarmingly easy to detect and thus be tossed out into the street. Some of the items are ensuring Arthur looks a bit more like the inhabitants, a Fancy Suit or a Torn Suit and other various crafting bits, and I assume to sell or trade. Some of it are for the weapons, others for patching yourself up after you’ve got in a scrape, and the rest is food and water. Neglect those, and you’ve got your usual hunger/health/sleep/dehydration meter, but you can also get sick from rotting food, which is a good way to stop the player from cheating. Inventory management is along the lines of the old Resident Evils, where you have to play Tetris to fit everything neatly into the rectangle. Combine that with weapons crafting and lock picking, we’re in for one hell of a ride.
The combat seems… interesting, in this one. I never quite managed to discern what set the Wellies or the Wastrels off – I was wandering about, and had snuck into a house to steal some supplies, and managed to grab a few things undetected. Then, when I went upstairs and tried to take something that looked communal, all hell broke loose, and I couldn’t run away or hide at all. Every single enemy in the area was suddenly out for blood, and Arthur subsequently got beaten to death with their bare hands. It’s more than a bit unnerving, and since I hadn’t managed to craft any weapons yet, that was the end of my playthrough. Apparently, you can only access the demo once (as in, turn off your Xbox, then go back to it the next day) even if you haven’t played the whole thing, which really isn’t a great idea. On the whole, I was very impressed – the setting we’ve got is definitely interesting enough, but what worries me is the survival meters.
I wasn’t playing for very long, but the hunger and hydration meters seemed to be falling very quickly, over the space of a day and a half, and this is coming from a Sims veteran. I’d have to be constantly topping them up to make the warning labels go away, and considering I was playing on the easiest setting, without knowing how much you had to conserve resources, this worried me a little. Games that are pointlessly difficult annoy the shit out of me, and constantly scrabbling to survive could detract from what looks to be a damn good story that deserves all the attention I can give it. I don’t think the game would be better without it, per se, but it either needs to be fine tuned, or given a lot of practice. I don’t mind a steep learning curve, but when the point of the game really feels like the story, it remains to be seen how much I’ll enjoy it.
Overall? I think this game has the potential to be something fantastic. When I finally get my hands on the whole thing, I’ll let you know.