Early hands on with We Happy Few, the next game from the makers of Contrast

Canadian developer Compulsion Games made a name for itself with a 3D platformer called Contrast, which arrived on Xbox One last year. Compulsion's sophomore effort We Happy Few takes place in a darker, more sinister setting. In a twisted alternative history version of 1960s England, everyone is required to be happy at all times. Fail to follow the rules or take your mandatory Joy medication, and your fellow "Wellies" will feel compelled to kill you. You'll have to learn to hide in plain sight as you seek a way out of the manic and dangerous world of Wellington Wells.

We Happy Few is officially in development for Windows PC, but it has a great chance of arriving on Xbox One via Microsoft's ID@Xbox program as well. The game's Kickstarter campaign just reached full funding, with a few days left for backers to help with stretch goals. We've spent some time with the pre-alpha version of this gorgeous first-person adventure. Read our impressions to get an idea of the dystopian society that Compulsion is building in We Happy Few!

Waking up in Wellington Wells

We Happy Few is a first-person adventure game with Roguelike elements. The game generates a new world map every time you play. You only have one life to live, which should lead to tension when swarms of brainwashed people take offense to your dress or demeanor.

We Happy Few pre-alpha

Players can unlock and play as one of three Downers – people who have stopped taking their happy pills. We started out as a tall, thin fellow who could be a businessman. Having ceased to take his Joy, our hero suddenly feels remorse for the brutal things he did while under its influence. He wakes up in the run-down bunker that he calls home and must find a way to escape from the city.

Emerge from the bunker and you'll find an area in ruin. Buildings and walls have crumbled, with plant life growing untended. Poor people called "Wastrels" populate this portion of the city, their clothing dirty and ragged. Initially, they take offense to our hero and will attack if they get a good look at him. You might have to kill one and take his clothes to fit in…

We Happy Few pre-alpha

Wander far enough and you'll reach a bridge manned by mask-wearing policemen. The city beyond the bridge looks much nicer. The streets have rainbow-painted lanes and the storefronts are all open for business. Walking around, you'll encounter well-dressed "Wellies" whose faces are hidden behind creepy white masks. Feel free to engage in overly-pleasant small talk – just don't do anything that will cause them to become suspicious and turn on you.

As you explore the city and look for a way out, you'll have to deal with the basic survival needs of hunger and thirst. I found a pump behind a ruined house and a sink inside of a nicer business that provided water; I could also fill a bottle with the stuff. The game also features an elaborate crafting system in which players can create lock picks, bandages, and other tools.

We Happy Few pre-alpha

Be happy or else

By law, everyone in Wellington Wells must take their Joy drug. I scored some of the stuff from a red dispensary booth. The drug carries numerous side effects such as occasionally blurred vision. And if you take too much, you'll overdose and wake up back in your bunker. Some NPCs like the Doctor can tell whether you're on the stuff though, so you'll definitely have to take it at some point.

Practically everywhere I went in Wellington Wells, the friendly voice of Uncle Jack boomed out of a television or radio. Jack reminds you to follow the rules and jokes about the painful death that awaits anyone who dares to be a Downer. Will we meet Uncle Jack in person in the final game? I hope so. Somebody needs to beat the smugness out of that guy!

We Happy Few pre-alpha

Kickstarter success

We Happy Few recently reached its Kickstarter funding goal of $201,353. Compulsion will definitely be able to continue work on the game (currently in playable pre-alpha status) and bring it to market on Steam. We can only hope that console ports will follow (again, Xbox One looks quite likely).

Stretch goals that have yet to be reached include a sandbox mode and realistic weather. If you'd like to help out, be sure to back the campaign before it ends on the morning of July 4.

Paul Acevedo

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!