‘We Happy Few’ (early PC access) review: There’s a pill for that

Beta for ‘We Happy Few’ is strangely terrifying

If you ever needed a pick-me-up, Compulsion Games’ “We Happy Few” has just the mind-altering, reality-distorting, morally horrifying thing for you. It comes in capsule form and its effects include euphoric joy and the ability to ignore the dystopian world in which you live. Oh, and maybe just a touch of psychosis.

Decked out in psycho pop art only to rapidly transition into the more muted colors of depression and squalor, “We Happy Few,” though still in development, is a bit of a whiplash when you jump into it. When you first load in, the world seems a bit outdated (not unlike “Bioshock”) but fairly innocuous. It’s only once you start playing that you realize something — well, everything — is far more sinister than it appears.

The early access (which was provided free by Complusion Games via Evolve) kicks off with a little bit of story that introduces us to one of the main characters (the developer said there would be multiple upon full release). The gist is simple: The population, for reasons not yet revealed to the player, takes a constant dosage of a pill called Joy. Its effect is straight-forward: It causes you to see the world in a glorious light, unaffected by harsh reality. The playable character, upon discovering some alarming news, is given a choice: Take your pill, or don’t. An obvious choice, really.

As the drug’s effects begin to wear off, you see the world as it truly is: disgustingly horrifying. And since you can’t hide your utter fear of what you see around you, you flee the confines of your office, finding yourself in a dank, depressing sewer.
As mentioned, the early access offers little in the way of story, leaving that for the official release (slated for sometime in 2016, but that’s just an estimate at the moment). The disturbingly zany introduction last but a few minutes. The greater, more open-ended world is where the fun begins. (Well, after you make your way out of that dank, dark sewer.)

The game’s style, like the rest of its aspects, veers wildly between survival adventure and roguelike consequences. And that’s not even mentioning the stark contrast in its visuals, which range from gorgeous fields of flowers to rotten corpses on the street.

While it’s never really explained what the end goal is, you do begin your journey through this procedurally generated world with a quest log. To start off with, you’re simply tasked with collecting items. But since this game utilizes survival tactics, you’re also tasked with making sure you have food and water and medical supplies should you need them.

Which you will, because it seems the residents of Wellington Wells don’t much care for you, as if they can detect that you’ve stopped taking your Joy. Get to close to some, and a little icon pops, alerting you to the fact that, if you don’t move away, this random NPC will start attacking you. You do have the option of running or fighting, but both come at a cost. If you run, you’ll tire yourself out, requiring you to find someplace to sleep to regain your energy. If you fight, you also lose energy, but you risk getting hurt by these vicious neighbors of yours. (Most residents on the streets aren’t too dangerous, only baring their fists, but others will make short work of you if you aren’t careful where you tread.)

The general idea is to play it safe, only sneaking into homes if you know they’re clear or you can hide from the occupants; generally, it’s best to ignore and walk past residents on the filthy streets. However, you won’t collect any loot this way, which may hinder your ability to craft better material to wear and/or use in your adventure. (The crafting functionality is simple enough — think “7 Days to Die” — even if you can’t seem to find anything useful from any body you loot.)

And the early access takes no pity for your poor decision-making skills. You die because you got into a fight you couldn’t win? Start over back in your lovely sewer. You ate some rotten food to sate your hunger and then die from food poisoning? Back to the sewer. Die from starvation/dehydration/lack of sleep? Start over, my friend.

In the end, while the early access for “We Happy Few” really doesn’t tell you much, you’re given enough of a taste to know you’ll want to play more. Its dystopian take on a drug-addled population seemingly under police control is intriguing, and the way you interact with the city and its residents is downright terrifying. You constantly find yourself making morally ambiguous choices because, if you don’t, death is just two steps behind you, ready to put you out of your misery. (Not to mention your crazy neighbor with a cricket bat.)

Editor’s note: The beta access for “We Happy Few,” reviewed on PC, was provided by Compulsion Games via Evolve PR. Early Access is available on Steam for PC. The game also is slated to be released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in April 2018.

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