We Happy Few from Compulsion Games is a first person survival horror set in a alternate 1960’s British town. A place where a totalitarian government uses chemical mind control to keep its people in line. It is available now as an early release edition (i.e. not finished) on Steam Early Access, GOG.com, Humble Store and Xbox One Game Preview.
Out of the many Dr Who episodes I watched as a child, only a few really stand out. The one I remember most vividly, mainly because I found it very unsettling, was the one where DW encounters the ‘Happiness Patrol’. A weird society where being sad is a crime and secret police hunt down ‘killjoys’. So, it’ll come as no surprise when I say that I absolutely love ‘We Happy Few’, which shares more than a few of the same themes.
Set in an alternate world were the Germans managed to invade Britain during WWII we find our protagonist waging a continuous battle against depression, substance abuse and paranoia. Where the people’s worst enemy is the black dog of depression caused by some horrific past event that has traumatised each and every single person. A nation of people dependent on an anti-depressent, called Joy, which is so powerful it causes them to completely forget their own past and live in a perpetual state of chemically induced euphoria, even when the world around them is crumbling. In this game, the characters are so terrified of remembering their past that they persecute and viciously beat anyone not seen to be taking their Joy.
Yeah, this game is dark. It is also stylish, slick, horrifically unsettling, violent and most importantly, very enjoyable. The unsettling atmosphere of the game is held by playing on a host of deep routed societal and psychological fears. For example, mental health and the use of psychoactive treatments, the fear of losing one’s self to an outside force, the fear of abandoning reason to group mentality and having to cope with the consequences of your actions. To name but a few.
The game starts with you, the ‘hero’, hard at work in the office, but during your routine daily grind, as a censor of historical texts, you are reminded of a past memory, which is so profound that you do not want to wash it away with your daily prescription of Joy. Thus, you are labelled as a ‘downer’ and outcast from society; and so begins your quest to escape.
The game plays as a typical first person survival affair. You have to explore and find basic means to survive (food, water, sleep), improve and upgrade weapons and objects, all whilst trying to escape from the town. This in turn drives the narrative and you become embroiled in a larger battle against the powers that be. This is all pretty standard stuff and we have seen this before in lots of other games, but that is the point. The game mechanic is simple and familiar. This allows the player to concentrate their attention on the world around them and the fantastically surreal characters that inhabit it. That being said, there is a unique game mechanic, which involves the game procedurally generating a whole new town everytime you die. Meaning that each time you die you not only have to start from the very beginning but also in a completely new town. I understand the reasoning behind this feature but I don’t really want to play the same content over and over each time I die (I simply haven’t got the time). Thankfully, you can turn this off. If you do, you’ll just respawn in a safe area in the same town.
Exploring this horrifically dark and nefarious world is fantastic. The style and quality of the graphics are excellent; probably the best I’ve ever seen coming out of an indie studio. The sound is great. But it is the characters and narrative that make this game stand out. The Uncle Jack character is so horribly good to watch and makes for an excellent villain, especially when the uncharacteristic comments he makes (when his Joy is wearing off) show him to be as much a victim of this world as the main hero. Really excellent story telling, I love it. I can’t wait to see the finished version.
Compulsion Games‘s We Happy Few from is available now as an early release edition (i.e. not finished) on Steam Early Access, GOG.com, Humble Store and Xbox One Game Preview. To find out more you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter.