When shown as part of the Microsoft E3 conference, We Happy Few was one of the games whose trailers stole the show. Based in a dystopian 1960s Britain, it was dark, witty, stylish and slightly disturbing.
Originally funded as a Kickstarter project, We Happy Few is now available as part of the early access programme on PC and consoles as a playable alpha. Alpha software is software which has been released very early in its development and offers basic functionality, often just enough to play the bare bones of the game, without much of the content of the final game. With We Happy Few, you get just enough of the game to make it playable and none of the promised story, which makes judging it tricky.
The game start with a prologue which sees you playing Arthur Hastings, an employee of the local town hall, whose job is to censor news articles. Arthur is a Welly, a resident of Wellington Wells, a happy bunch of people who remain that way by taking the drug Joy. After seeing a news article about him and his brother, Arthur decides to not take his Joy, so he can remember his brother, and as the drug wears off, it reveals to him that the bright, happy world he's been living in isn't quite so bright and happy. On realising that he hasn't taken his Joy, his co-workers brand him a "Downer" and call the police, forcing Arthur to flee Wellington Wells and starting the game in proper.
The main body of the game is a sandbox survival horror in which you have to survive while trying to achieve your main goals. Healthy food and drink are scarce, as are safe places to sleep, so you must scavenge to stay alive, either finding them or robbing the other inhabitants. Side quests open up along the way, offering you bonuses if you can complete them. There is a crafting system which allows you to build tools, healing items and clothing (so you can blend in with the locals).
The game world is large and divided into areas of Wellies and Downers. Each area is vastly different with the Welly areas bright, clean, colourful and well policed, and the downer locations drab, ruined and lawless. The areas are kept apart by checkpoints and crossing them is a challenge in it's self. Every time you start a new game, the areas are generated at random and new areas, houses and locations are produced.
Combat is a brutal and scrappy affair with improvised melee weapons and should really be considered a last resort due to the likeliness of injury to you and, if you have the permadeath option selected, ending the game.. This means that stealth is usually the best option, but this is different depending on the location you're in; in a location with Downers, skulking about is fine, but in an area where people take their Joy, strolling boldly down the street, wishing everyone a "Good day" is a better option.
The most exiting aspect of the game is the story, which is drip fed to you throughout the game. What happened to Britain to reduce the population to either ragged or drug addled wretches? The story has a dark, brooding aspect and is reminiscent of Bioshock or the original Thief games.
There are a few issues with the game as it stands. Although the voices and manor-isms of the characters are beautifully English, there are a number of continuity issues; no Englishman would ever use the words "candy" to refer to sweets or "mailbox" instead of postbox or pillarbox. Hopefully, this can be resolved with localisation as the game develops. Also, non-player characters (NPCs) can be rather inconsistent with their behaviour as can the generation of the houses and locations. The developers have said that, roughly 50% of the assets for the procedurally generated areas are in the alpha so, hopefully, this will be addressed in the final game.
At the moment, We Happy Few shows a lot of promise but is lacking in a few key areas which, due to the fact that it's an alpha release, is to be expected. If Compulsion Games is able to resist the pressure to rush the game out, and is able to take full advantage of its world, We Happy Few could be as iconic as Bioshock or Thief.