We Happy Few has just come to Early Access on PC, Mac, Linux, and Xbox One, and developer Compulsion Games is celebrating with a delightfully horrifying trailer.
The trailer itself isn’t impressively long, and doesn’t show much minutiae of gameplay, but the mood is incredibly well established. It starts out with the patriotically-named Uncle Jack popping on the telly to give you some lifestyle advice for getting by in Wellington Wells, an alternate-timeline British town from a 1960s that apparently includes tesla-style lightning rays and an acid-ecstasy hybrid called “Joy”.
There’s the main city, Wellington Wells, and the Garden District, a ghetto established for “Downers” (those off Joy, or whom Joy has broken; the drug-lingo in their name is not accidental). When in Wellington Wells, you’ll have to take Joy or drink from the Joy-addled water supply in order to fit in, but when in the Garden District, you should stay off the drug. Both have consequences. Joy makes everything beautiful and cheery, but the comedown is jarring. In the trailer, we see the player hit a pinata with a bat only to be splashed by blood; he looks again, and the candy everyone’s gobbling up is really the entrails of the animal he just caved in. Gruesome.
Compulsion is aiming for a mature story. From the game’s description: “[The characters] are flawed and not particularly heroic, warped by the trauma their world has been through. Each character has their own storyline that reacts to the events of the world around them, and their place within it. Our stories are definitely not appropriate for children, but are laced with dark humour, hope, and even a spot of redemption.”
The “dark humour” is certainly present in We Happy Few. “Make FRIENDS with your fellow citizens,” Uncle Jack implores, as we see you shake hands with someone in one shot, which quickly cuts to you throwing an electric grenade at them in the next. “TALK to them,” hardly leaves the narrators mouth before someone in a sailor outfit runs out of a building to inquire “What the fuck are YOU doing here?” And “Visit them” is suggested as your character climbs in through someone’s back window.
The trailer ends strong, as Uncle Jack finishes his speech: “If you just do like everyone else is doing and take your joy you’ll have a splendid time! And if you don’t… one less mouth to feed, eh?” And cackles over ’60s gameshow music while the most disturbing shots cycle. E.g. we see through blinds a man stab another, smaller man with a syringe, and several shots pass before we see the aftermath: The smaller man waving happily from inside, and the larger man right at the window, cocking his head to take you in.
We Happy Few has many suspicious things– like the local delicacy, “V[ictory]-Meat”, and the supposedly lethal “Plague Mushrooms”– as well as a local history we don’t understand. The game’s largely wrapped up in solving that mystery: What happened here? Why was this the answer?
Right now, Early Access has little in the way of story, and is light on mechanics. Much of the survival management seems like an unwanted distraction from exploring this deranged world. But a lot is promised: Procedurally generated world, optional permadeath, multiple game modes and play styles (stealth, conform, fight), crafting, etc. We’ve already seen some of these, as well as individual characters having different triggers to set their violence off.
We Happy Few is available for Early Access now for $29.99. Full release TBD.