PAX East 15: Non-Conformity is Deadly in We Happy Few
Something about Wellington Wells is off. The streets are paved with rainbow cobblestones. The neighborhood is illuminated so well, there's no shadow to be seen. The denizens of the once fine town move about with precision and purpose that's a bit too uncanny to be real. That's because they're all high as a kite, and I am very much not.
The dangers of peer pressure have never been more real than in Compulsion Games' We Happy Few. The developer had an early, early, early build of its newest venture (a "first-person roguelike survival title") on hand at PAX East, and I jumped right into the demo fully aware that nothing was as it seemed, and that I would probably die very quickly. Before I ventured through the city's streets however, I had to get myself prepared for life topside.
My time with We Happy Few actually begins inside a bunker-ish base beneath Wellington Wells. Here, Compulsion's Sam Abbot walks me through the crafting mechanics. Like first-person titles Dishonored, Skyrim and BioShock, almost every drawer, fridge, garbage can, etc. can be searched for salvage. Ranging from things like bobby pins to alcohol, this salvage can then be used at crafting stations to create items like purified water, health and lock picks. You'll be able to find things like meat and coffee out in the world as well, but consumption of food and beverage topside comes at a cost. There's weapon crafting, too, though I don't see much of that in my time playing. Still, the survivalist will find plenty of goodies to search for and create to extend his time in-game. That is, as long as the citizens of Wellington don't get him first.
Immediately upon exiting my shelter, I'm greeted by an officer of the law clubbing a running man in a park. Every person nearby just goes about their lives as if this is commonplace in Wellington Wells. Apparently, it is. You see, the people of the burg above have a terrible secret they're trying to forget, and what better way to forget your past than to medicate into oblivion. The drug of choice is Joy, and it is everywhere. You know how conspiracy theorists tell you all the water is drugged to keep you complacent? In Wellington Wells, that's actually true, and the tax-paying public doesn't mind one bit. What they do mind are people who aren't part of the program, and that don't follow the rules of the realm.
It takes all of ten seconds for me to be discovered as not "One of us!" I don't know what it was exactly that tipped the people off my first time wandering the streets, but I do know that whatever it was must've riled them pretty fierce. Within moments, a flock of Joyous people were chasing me through the streets, swinging whatever weapons they had, hoping to convince me to be a good boy. They did not, and I paid with my life. The second time through the city, Abbott disclosed that doing anything outside of the realm of "rational" behavior would get me spotted and in trouble. Run too fast? Trouble. Open a door you're not supposed to go in? Trouble. Jumping instead of walking? Double, double, toil and trouble.
Of course, as Abbott would later show me, it's possible to get the gang off your back if you just show them how eager you are to join the flock. It's as easy as stopping in a Joy booth to take your daily dose, but then again, taking Joy does have its own issues. You can easily overdose, which causes you to lose a day of in-game time, if your drug tolerance is maxed out. There's a little meter tracking your drug usage, as there also is for food and water, all of which are crucial to observe. That canned meat you found might be rather helpful in curbing your appetite, but it also is likely laced with Joy, which can cause hallucinations if the dosage gets too high. You can also try to fight your way out of trouble and keep running until the people stop giving chase, but good luck with all of that, my friends. Good luck, indeed.
It's all very familiar to anyone who's played a title like Don't Starve or any number of survival titles on Steam, but it's the unique setting that really helps to set We Happy Few apart. The '60s mod era fashion is strikingly stylish, giving the game a hint of The Prisoner/Avengers (the British kind) meets Clockwork Orange kind of vibe, and there's just enough wrong with the architecture and scenery to keep you on edge. It's easy to create that kind of unease in a structured environment, but when the world is randomly generated, it takes some skill to craft a world that looks familiar and terrifying all at once.
Though just a build to show off the concept more than a concrete game, We Happy Few definitely captured my attention. The style is there in spades, and the mechanics Compulsion is hoping to implement sound promising. It's a long ways from being complete, but We Happy Few manages to bring some new ideas to the roguelike table, and I can't wait to see how it evolves over the next year.
We Happy Few will be available sometime in 2016.