Two years in early access saw Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few transform from procedurally generated survival sim to Bioshock-esque narrative drama, with appropriately schizophrenic results.
It presents an interesting spin on the ‘What if the Nazis won the war?’ trope, with the beleaguered Brits placated with a drug called Joy that makes everything seem wonderful, despite the truth being anything but.
When tripping balls on Joy, the world takes on the psychedelic rainbow hue of an acid trip. Without it, you can see through the veneer to the ruin and squalor beneath, glimpsing a nation in an acute state of post traumatic stress disorder, desperate to forget some terrible secret about what happened to all the children.
The sinister, cartoonish visuals are the main draw, and while the homage to Bioshock is a little on the nose – there’s even an achievement for killing a guy called Ryan Andrews, a reference to Bioshock antagonist Andrew Ryan – Compulsion has created a world that’s genuinely fun to spend time in.
Gameplay, however, is less impressive, with dated stealth mechanics – think early 2000s Splinter Cell – and combat that’s lightweight and detached. The survival elements feel jarring and unnecessary in a narratively focused game – when you’re trying to track down your long-lost brother, finding and eating a bunch of rotten potatoes, then crafting some medicine to cure your food poisoning, feels like frustrating busy-work. And once you’ve solved the game’s mysteries, there’s little replay value, making the procedurally-generated elements largely superfluous. It also suffers from far too many clipping glitches and frame-rate issues for a product that’s spent so long in beta.
An engaging premise and lovingly crafted post-war dystopia make We Happy Few worth a look, but it leaves you wondering how good it could have been if Compulsion had committed fully to a single vision, rather than shoe-horning in two at the expense of both.
First published in City A.M.