Hands-On Preview: We Happy Few - A Promising Look at an Unsettling Community

Coming off a trippy and unsettling reveal trailer last week, Compulsion Games’ second title and latest project We Happy Few shows the studio working in plenty of new environments (compared with the studio’s first game, Contrast), a completely different style of gameplay, and working within a time period/style that hasn’t been explored to great depth in video games.

While on the show floor of PAX East 2015, DualShockers had the chance to get a hands-on preview of the title, getting a first glimpse at gameplay and being introduced to a world set in an oppressive alternate-history of 1960s London.

The title takes place in the confines of Wellington Wells and stars a commune of citizens addled by the drug “Joy” that forms its citizens into creepily-aware drones.

We Happy Few takes on plenty of new ideas through its unique setting and, in particular, a feature-set of gameplay mechanics that will focus heavily on player survival in the walls of Wellington Wells.

In a demo played hands-on, the developers gave us a brief glimpse through an early build of the game, with creative lead Guillaume Provost explaining that the demo shows what can be considered a “sandbox” version of the game’s core mechanics.

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Dropping players into an initial underground area that may act as more of a hub world, a ladder inside the underground area then leads into the open areas of the community — immediately it’s easy to see that Wellington Wells is a place that you will want to fall in love with from its lush visuals alone, but it won’t be easy with its citizens hanging around.

Once there, players then seek to survive and find a way out of the area; from the demo it seems simple, but it actually adds plenty of dynamics to make each run through the game’s world different.

As each run through is procedural-generated with a new iteration of Wellington Wells to go through, the city comes to life with plenty of beautiful lighting and strong art direction to bring home the idea of this world resembling the familiar to the 1960s era we may know, but clearly still far removed in this alternate timeline.

Survival in the community comes down to the needs of the player carefully monitoring a variety of stats, some simple as thirst and hunger needing food and water in order to survive.

Others can be more complex stats like the level of “Joy” that a player takes in from drug-dispensing phone booths, or a crafting system that provides assets such as lock picks, bandages, and more; both for keeping players alive and finding ways to stay alive from the main threat: a village of drug-addled citizens always on the watch for players.

While roaming around, the citizens are always on the alert for players and their actions within the town — walking around and generally keeping the peace won’t be much of a trigger to the denizens of Wellington Wells.

But actions in the town come at a cost — running and crouching will raise suspicions and looking for food in trash cans will catch some eyes. The citizens of Wellington Wells are always on the alert, and even if their overly-cheery attitudes and creepy face-masks weren’t unsettling enough, the challenge comes down to maintaining a player’s vitals and look for a way to escape.

Taking the concept of survival in an unusual setting, We Happy Few‘s core mechanics are placed in the checks and balances of players actions versus their consequences.

This consequences can manifest in numerous ways: whether it be looking for supplies to acquire food and water and alerting a horde of citizens on their tail, or utilizing the Joy phone booths to take pills to decrease awareness by the Wellington Wells citizens at the cost of a players hunger and thirst (not to mention the possibility to overdose).

With Provost explaining what drew Compulsion Games to the game’s creation and specifically wanting to make a game set in this time period, he also mentioned many of the inspirations and other works that played heavily into the ideas behind the game.

These works include Clockwork OrangeAustin PowersBrave New World, 60s-era episodes of Doctor Who, and other sources, which help recreate the game’s time period while also establishing its bizarre totalitarian society that is meant to make players uneasy throughout the experience, an idea so far that seems to fit perfect within the world and time period.

Making a great first impression with its unsettling trailer that is at once charming and cheerful but deceivingly violent, We Happy Few shows a unique deviation compared to Compulsion Games’ work with Contrast, especially in how the studio is approaching its release by relying heavily on community feedback.

Provost even mentioned the studio’s considerations of an Early Access-esque release and a planned session for users to play an early demo and provide feedback.

While some of the game’s objectives are still a bit unclear and the game is still in a very early state, the setting of Wellington Wells already shows promise in its concepts and an inviting setting, even if its drug-fried citizens are anything but.

The title may have an unusual world that’s been racked by drugs and horrible invites, but so far it shows that it could be one wild trip to have.

We Happy Few is currently in development by Compulsion Games.

Concept art images provided by Compulsion Games.

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Ryan Meitzler

Ryan is the Editor-in-Chief at DualShockers and has been a lover of games as long as he can remember. He holds a BA in English and Cinema and lives in New York City.

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