We Happy Few

PC, PS4, Xbox One

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Pub­lisher TBC De­vel­oper Com­pul­sion Games For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Canada Re­lease TBC

Sur­vival games are hardly in short sup­ply, nor are projects with a fetish for Bri­tish iconog­ra­phy. But with its fol­low-up to

Con­trast, Com­pul­sion Games has blended th­ese two over­worked ideas into some­thing en­tic­ingly dif­fer­ent. So whereas most re­cent ex­am­ples of the genre tend to be pop­u­lated by enemies li­able to kill you on sight, We Happy

Few al­lows you to hide even un­der di­rect sur­veil­lance by mod­i­fy­ing your be­hav­iour.

“I wanted to work with para­noia,” cre­ative direc­tor Guil­laume Provost tells us. “That’s one of the el­e­ments I felt was un­der-tapped in games from a me­chan­i­cal stand­point. We looked at dif­fer­ent gen­res, and dif­fer­ent games within the [sur­vival] genre, and we wanted to cre­ate a so­ci­ety that was a bit deeper than your typ­i­cal zom­bie game, where char­ac­ters just walk around and attack you on sight. We wanted there to be a logic to the way the world worked, and one you needed to learn through dif­fer­ent play ses­sions.”

We Happy Few, then, is a game for those who have been dis­ap­pointed in the past by an NPC’s fail­ure to re­mark on the fact that you’re rudely climb­ing on the fur­ni­ture dur­ing their de­liv­ery of im­por­tant plot ex­po­si­tion. Com­pul­sion is still work­ing out ex­actly how beady-eyed We Happy Few’s ad­ver­saries will be, but they’re al­ready more alert than most. Hang around star­ing at some­one and you’ll be asked if any­thing is wrong. Con­tinue to act out of sorts and you’ll find your­self at the cen­tre of un­wel­come at­ten­tion.

“They’ll come out and call out the ac­tiv­ity that you’re do­ing that they find sus­pi­cious,” Provost says. “So if you’re jump­ing up and down, they’ll ask you, ‘Why are you do­ing jump­ing jacks?’ We’ve cat­e­gorised all the dif­fer­ent things the player can do in terms of ba­sic and ex­tended ac­tions in the game, and we’ve de­cided whether that was sus­pi­cious or not. For ex­am­ple, if you stand still in the mid­dle of the street and don’t move for a while, peo­ple are go­ing to stop and ask if you’re OK. If you stand still in the mid­dle of a store, no one’s go­ing to bother you.”

The rea­son for

this watch­ful­ness is that the masses are blissed out on a drug called Joy, and have lit­tle tol­er­ance for down­ers like you, who refuse to take your medicine and be­have. The setup evokes the false utopias of 1984, Brave New World and even In­va­sion Of The Body Snatch­ers, build­ing up the sense of para­noia Provost hopes to con­vey. And the drug it­self also per­forms a use­ful, if un­savoury, me­chan­i­cal func­tion.

“One of things that you can do if you’ve at­tracted sus­pi­cion by, I don’t know, break­ing into a house, say, is lower the sus­pi­cion of the peo­ple around you by ac­tu­ally tak­ing

drugs,” says Provost. “You get a vis­ual ef­fect for it, but it also re­ver­ber­ates around the way peo­ple see you and be­have around you. The prob­lem is, it comes with a con­se­quence. So while tak­ing drugs is a way for you to level the play­ing field and lower the sus­pi­cion of peo­ple around you, you’re also go­ing to go through a phase of with­drawal or over­dose if you take too much, and also those [states] have con­se­quences in the game as well.”

It’s im­por­tant to Provost to let the player ex­pe­ri­ence the in­tox­i­cated state of the other char­ac­ters in We Happy Few, since he feels too many games sim­ply present their utopias, or dystopias, as some­thing in­ac­ces­si­ble – just a back­drop to the ac­tion tak­ing place. To that end, Eng­land’s dis­tinc­tive red tele­phone boxes have been re­pur­posed as Joy dis­pensers; given the game is set in an al­ter­na­tive 1964, you should never be far from one. In We

Happy Few’s timeline, some­thing ter­ri­ble has oc­curred in the re­cent past that peo­ple want to for­get, and Joy is a way of do­ing so.

But whether you’re

get­ting high or try­ing to con­vince peo­ple that you are when you’re to­tally lu­cid, nei­ther cur­tails your abil­ity to crack open heads with a stolen trun­cheon and take what you need by force. The re­sis­tance you’ll face will make the game sig­nif­i­cantly harder to play, of course, and whether you opt for the vi­o­lent path or the stealthy one, your fo­cus will still be on sub­sis­tence. Your knowl­edge places you in the mar­gins of so­ci­ety, where ac­quir­ing what you need to sur­vive will be more dif­fi­cult. Even the wa­ter sup­ply, it turns out, is spiked with Joy. So if you want to keep a clear head, you’re go­ing to have to be care­ful.

“We had to think very hard of what you would do in a sit­u­a­tion where you were in a city in which you were os­tracised,” says art direc­tor Whit­ney Clay­ton. “Ev­ery­thing is built up to­gether so that the me­chan­ics have to work with the set­ting and vice versa.”

“We wanted to make a world where the cit­i­zens ex­pect you to be ‘proper’, and that’s a big deal, right?” Provost adds. “Their en­tire so­ci­ety is based on de­nial, on pre­tend­ing that things in the past didn’t hap­pen and that ev­ery­one fits in their nice lit­tle happy box. So it made sense for us to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where they would be very sen­si­tive to the dif­fer­ent ac­tions that you do in the game.”

Adding fur­ther com­pli­ca­tion to this del­i­cate bal­ance is Com­pul­sion’s de­ci­sion to pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ate the game’s ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments. How, we won­der, has the stu­dio solved that prob­lem?

“We’re still work­ing on it!” Provost laughs. “It’s one of the big­gest things that we’ve strug­gled with. I haven’t felt that any­one has cre­ated an ur­ban pro­ce­dural en­vi­ron­ment that feels like a city and not just generic build­ings re­peated over and over again. But the con­cept of sur­vival in an ur­ban so­ci­ety, when that so­ci­ety is not a postapoc­a­lyp­tic de­stroyed place with no food and wa­ter left any­where, there’s a more in­ter­est­ing blend of things that we needed to work our way around.”

Com­pul­sion’s am­bi­tion is to cre­ate a game that is as re­playable as it is at­mo­spheric, one ca­pa­ble of sur­prises ten or 20 playthroughs in, but one that doesn’t com­pro­mise its sense of place in or­der to do so. It’s a lofty goal, and one shared by 2013’s Sir, You Are Be­ing Hunted, an­other game built on pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated Bri­tishisms. That game couldn’t quite sus­tain its magic, how­ever.

“I think we’re get­ting to the point where there’s a feel to the city,” Provost says. “I think the ques­tion for us is just mak­ing sure that we can scale the con­tent to a size where there’s no rep­e­ti­tion in any di­rec­tion, and that’s a chal­lenge for a team of our size.”

But while the team may be small – sig­nif­i­cantly smaller than the BioShock team, Provost stresses, ref­er­enc­ing com­par­isons to Ir­ra­tional’s game af­ter the re­lease of We Happy

Few’s first game­play trailer – it’s work­ing ef­fi­ciently. “Since Con­trast, now we all know how ev­ery­one works and we all work to­gether a mil­lion times bet­ter than we did be­fore,” Clay­ton says. “Not that it wasn’t great be­fore, but it’s just what nat­u­rally hap­pens when you hang out in a lit­tle room for years [laughs].” Per­haps there’s some­thing in the wa­ter?

“Their en­tire so­ci­ety is based on de­nial, on pre­tend­ing things didn’t hap­pen”

Cre­ative direc­tor Guil­laume Provost and art direc­tor Whit­ney Clay­ton

The game’s cit­i­zens have a jaunty spring in their step and seem more than sat­is­fied with their lot. But there’s a dark un­der­cur­rent of de­nial at play, and the ever-present threat of vi­o­lence to­wards any­one who doesn’t com­ply

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