We Happy Few hands-on

Play this game with subtitles. Even if you are British, the ‘cor blimey’ cockney colloquialisms are turned up to the max in We Happy Few, the upcoming first-person shooter from Compulsion Games. 

In the lengthy We Happy Few demo available at E3 this week, you take on the role of one of the game’s three protagonists, Arthur, playing through a decidedly non-procedurally generated space. While We Happy Few has been available via early access on Steam and Xbox for a while, now under the publisher Gearbox’s tutelage a more directed single-player experience is on hand, while roping in the survival aspects and, indeed, the procedural levels for later adventuring.

The obvious point of reference is Bioshock, with a tilted world gone awry, populated by sad denizens who will mostly just attack you on sight. The exact story premise is not entirely clear, but there’s a drug called Joy that masks the sorrows of the world, like the spoiled food everyone has to eat. But the bliss that Joy grants is not infinite, and coming off of it or getting a bad batch can permanently ruin your day. (And, yes, make sure to search toilets for precious potatoes and crafting materials.) 

It’s way less of a power fantasy than Bioshock with not a plasmid in sight. What there is is rotten food that sates even as it makes you sick, dirty bandages that ebb bleeding wounds but cause infections, and flimsy branches that break after a few swings, if you decide to fight. Running and stealth are often the smarter options when faced against the unhappy many. 

Fighting is sometimes inevitable, however, like a literal cage match that has Arthur face off against a disgraced former coworker who was caught plagiarizing you at the newspaper.  Actually, Arthur knows a lot of the people you encounter personally.  As Arthur choked out a deranged guard, he let out a guilty quip about this was revenge for tumbling his blocks in kindergarten. Everyone has a name in this game. Melee combat, with bashes, blocks, and a shove felt a bit clumsy, perhaps to reinforce the stealth elements, where even activities like picking a lock carry sound penalties that can alert the Joy-less vagabonds. And watch your stamina, especially if Arthur is taking on more than one foe.

While the maps weren’t huge, there is a fair amount to explore, wth some hidden caches to be found, along with plants to harvest, water to drink, and phone booths to pilfer. To be reductive, it felt like a compound of Bioshock and a game like Don’t Starve.  

If you’ve read up on the early access version of We Happy Few and decided it’s not for you, you might want to give it another pass when it comes out. That said, even with the combat quibbles, there was a lot to enjoy as I scavenged for parts, hid in the high grass, and listened to some Clockwork Orange-style droogs chatter about.

But, really, turn on the subtitles.

We Happy Few leaves Early Access for official release on August 10th, coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux.

For more great videos from the E3 show floor, be sure to like and follow us on Facebook!