We Happy Few Preview: 10 Minutes of Drug-Fuelled Mayhem and Updated Impressions

We Happy Few Preview: 10 Minutes of Drug-Fuelled Mayhem and Updated Impressions

Richard Walker

We Happy Few has been through an interesting development journey. Initially thought to be a heavily story-driven BioShock-alike, some were surprised to learn that Compulsion Games' follow-up to Contrast was actually something completely different. Ostensibly a survival game married to a smattering of light narrative elements, We Happy Few's early access phase demonstrated to Compulsion that it wasn't exactly what players had hoped for.

As we near the game's launch on 10th August, it's clear that the developer has taken this feedback on board and put a greater emphasis on story. As such, the paradigm has shifted, pushing We Happy Few's survival gameplay into the background in favour of increased narrative insights into each of the game's three playable characters and the decaying, archetypal English town of Wellington Wells. The survival elements haven't been completely nixed, however. You can still eat and drink, but it's no longer essential for staying alive; you'll just lose the buffs that food and drink imbue.

“We learnt that players really liked the handcrafted encounters, and the game being more roguelike, more systemic,” Narrative Designer Alex Epstein tells us. “It was always going to have a main narrative, but they told us that they were less interested in hardcore survival and more interested in an adventure story. So we had an adventure story which we hadn't shown people that we've fleshed out, we've deepened it. So now there are the audio flashbacks that you have, [and] there are many, many more encounters."

These audio flashbacks are delivered via collectible masks you'll find at various junctures during We Happy Few's pitch black story, and the encounters you'll have with the drug-addled residents of Wellington Wells will vary between outright hostile and desperately unhinged. We Happy Few centres on Arthur, Ollie, and Sally, all of whom are working to mount their own quiet rebellion against the repressed masses, as well as the authority keeping them in check with the ubiquitous hallucinatory drug, Joy.

Within the dystopian retro-futuristic 1960s London town, you'll have to blend in to avoid unwanted attention at any cost, and Arthur sticks out like a sore thumb in his impeccably pressed suit. After surviving the same fraught escape from Arthur's office and an ensuing confrontation with violent enemy faction the Headboys that you may have already played in We Happy Few's early access version, you'll need to shred your suit to tatters so that you can pass unnoticed. And Arthur is used to being ignored.

Second playable character Sally, on the other hand, is used to being the centre of attention. Formerly a famous 'It Girl', her glamorous style a facade hiding a difficult past and the skills of a gifted chemist. Sally is able to evade enemies or incapacitate them using a powerful cocktail of drugs administered through her handcrafted syringes. Unlike third playable character Ollie, Sally isn't particularly adept in combat encounters, but Ollie, the former soldier with an imaginary friend named Margarette, relishes any excuse to stove in heads with his cricket bat.

You'll play as Ollie upon aiding Arthur during one of his main story encounters, and the mad Scotsman is well-equipped to take the fight directly to any wastrel foolhardy enough to cross him. He's the most combat-centric of We Happy Few's three protagonists and a man with a vendetta against the powers that be, as well as the malevolent TV presence of big bad Uncle Jack. Ollie sees himself as the only man capable of uncovering the dark truth behind the collapse of Wellington Wells, and he's keen to give Uncle Jack a bashing too.

Arthur, Sally and Ollie will all meet during We Happy Few's story, but their account of events during their encounters won't always necessarily line up. “Arthur meets Sally, [and] he has a story chain, there are three times they meet, and each time you see the same scene, but it's not really the same scene,” Epstein cites as an example. “They remember it differently; Arthur interprets what she said in different ways. The game is about how we remember things in not the way they literally happened, and how it suits us to remember [certain things]. Everybody has a different memory.”

How much Joy you decide to take will also have an impact on how We Happy Few's narrative unfolds, affecting conversations and perceptions, but enabling you to pass amid the drug-fuelled citizens. There'll be other key decisions to make, and Epstein notes that Arthur will have a major choice to make at the game's conclusion too.

While the game could still use a little extra spit and polish, We Happy Few is looking to be a deliciously dark, knowingly weird and surreal experience told from three differing perspectives. The decision to embrace the narrative side of the game and pare down the survival component could end up paying off in a big way too; We Happy Few is a far more gratifying prospect in its current state than it was when I first played it via early access. Here's hoping that the story proves compelling enough to reel us in when We Happy Few launches next month.

  • I'm going to get this but it probably won't be at launch, because I've got too many other games that I need to finish before-hand so can't justify picking it up for a while :(.
  • ill go ahead and predict this game will bomb sales wise
  • Wonder what this game would have been like if they hadn't AAA'd the shit out of it. Apart from the art style it looks pretty generic.
  • Gonna wait for a SALE for this. Like T I'm swamped with PS3/PS4/VITA backlogs. Gonna clear all that before September...
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