‘We Happy Few’: Building a Darker Story With a Joyful Face #E32018

Funding Kickstarters for games fills a lot of game playing patrons with anxiety nowadays, and rightfully so. It’s often that money for crowdfunded games is abused, misused, or just plain lost. Even so, I was extremely ecstatic to closely follow Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few from the beginning, ever since its art style and premise charmed me way back in 2015.

After getting to play an advanced preview of it, I’m excited to say that We Happy Few makes a case for the benefit of community input and crowdfunding for digital games.

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If you aren’t familiar with the development process of We Happy Few, you should know that the team has always been comfortably open with fans about the process. We Happy Few is set in mod 1960’s Britain, in an alternate history wherein the British empire surrendered to Germany during WWII. Residents of Wellington Wells, a city in England (and, potentially, everywhere else), are required under threat of force to take Joy, a hallucinogenic drug that makes its takers become delusionally happy, ignoring all negativity around them.

Since the game’s explosive trailer during Microsoft’s 2015 E3 conference, the game’s story and gameplay have taken an upswing in detail and precision.

The preview I got to play placed me as Arthur Hastings, a busy censor who archived and deleted unsavory bits of news to hide them from the residents of Wellington Wells. This was already known from the trailer, but the game’s plot since has gone much, much deeper.

Your brother, Percy, was taken as a child by German forces, and now that you’re off your Joy, you are determined to find him.

This shift in complication from the story is welcome, and the game handles is beautifully. Little clues and conversations as you walk past NPCs key you into the situation, and do a fantastic job of worldbuilding. In previous early access builds of the game, NPC’s largely ignored you, beat up on you, and repeated various stock phrases as you walked past. We Happy Few’s newest vertical slice encourages you to snoop around town, gather objects, and pay attention. The dark, quaint surroundings are filled with little tidbits that show exactly what went wrong for England to lose all of their children.

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The gameplay’s improved too. You still operate in first-person, and finding a way around stealthily has become much more fun with intuitive controls. I played on a mouse and keyboard, and I found that crouching, sneaking, and hiding were seamlessly held together, and made for realistic lying low while the police and other thugs sought me out.

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Combat is also more intuitive in the build, and gives a fairly interesting change in mechanic – I can choose how brutal I want to be to my enemies. Weapons in the game are clearly delineated as being lethal or non-lethal, which gives players the chance to mix up how they want to play. It also makes interaction with NPCs far more interesting. This is coupled with the fact that Wellington Wells is never quite the same in each playthrough – it’s somewhat procedurally generated, which is great – games with interesting, captivating stories often ignore replayability, and it feels like Compulsion really considered that as a factor here.

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My biggest gripe is that crafting takes place in such a separate part of the game. Most of the item crafting done in the game is done in a separate, full-screen menu. In a game where stealth and survival are key, it’s easy to get taken out of the feeling of being trapped and paranoid. That said, finding items you need in order to craft has been made much, much easier by this new iteration.

We Happy Few has had some shaky challenges since its initial Kickstarter – an unexplored world, some clunky mechanics, and limited scope. However, the game’s come a long way, and I’m excited to get to play the full version.

We Happy Few releases on August 10, 2018 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Attendees of E3 will also get to play the same preview that I got to experience this week, so definitely do yourself a favor and try it out!

Interested in hearing more about what games to keep an eye on? Make sure to keep up with Geeks of Color for plenty of news about E3 and other gaming announcements and previews!

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