Drugs and Dead Bodies in the Dark, Twisted Game We Happy Few
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The 1960’s continue to serve as fertile ground for fiction, from the television show Mad Men to the dark alternate history of Wolfenstein: The New Order. Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few shows us a dystopian view of sixties England, a troubled world where not only can you alter your present reality but also rewrite your own past.
The so-called “functioning” members of society rely on an anti-melancholic medication simply called Joy. Naturally, forgetting to take one’s medication can have huge consequences. Colleagues see you as a threat as you gain disturbing clarity on everything wrong with the world in front of you. Disrupting this poor idea of peace and normality is the protagonist, Arthur Hastings, a drone working for an information management office.
Between the disturbingly masked characters and the mindless routine of your job as an archivist selectively censoring news clips, We Happy Few’s theme of conformity is made abundantly clear in its initial minutes. Skipping the scheduled Joy dosage makes Arthur greatly upsets his co-workers and triggers an escape sequence that leads him to the outside world. Emerging from the underground office reveals a grim vision of a war-ravaged England, specifically a small coastal fictional city called Wellington Wells.
In keeping with the dark cartoon aesthetic of the initial scenes, Wellington Wells itself is portrayed as an almost dreamlike city, where its citizens walk in a daze while they attempt to carry on as if everything is normal, despite many gutted, unlivable homes. There’s dad’s chair next to a newspaper and a tea setting all laid out, even with overgrowth surrounding all the furniture. These locales often feel like a caricature of English urbanity as you admire the classic and ornate patterned wallpaper while a voice nearby sings "London Bridge Is Falling Down."
General exploration of the land automatically triggers quests, many of which have straightforward directives like disposing of a corpse or saving someone from an angry mob. New areas are unsurprisingly gatekept and passing those barriers involves finding the right items, whether that’s a power cell or an official’s key card.
Exploring and gaining access to new areas goes hand in hand with We Happy Few’s crafting system. It isn’t a system so much as it is a series of rewards for finding as many items as possible throughout the maps. Some crafting recipes like lockpicks and weapons make more sense than others items, the kind that require a bit of obtuse thinking. You pick up a roll of duct tape and suddenly you have a recipe for sneakers. It’s best to simply grab everything you find in the hopes of new recipe notifications to appear.
We Happy Few’s E3 2016 demo didn’t offer the opportunity to advance past Wellington Wells’ initial area, so its endgame and Arthur Hastings’ larger goals are still a mystery. Much will be laid bare when it reaches its next playable form on July 26 when it becomes available on Steam Early Access and Microsoft Game Preview.