Late summer is a lull season in video games: most, if not all, of the major gaming conferences over, and companies are preparing for the holiday rush. While this can seem kind of disadvantageous to people who report on video game news, it does give a certain sort of spotlight to indie games. And when your game looks like this, it’s bound to catch a few wandering stares.
Compulsion Games is one of the new indie game companies trying to carve out a name for themselves. Their first foray into the field—2013’s Contrast—introduced players to their unique style, allowing players to walk through a lovely film noir-esque setting. Alongside that, they included an interesting game mechanic that allowed the protagonist (a lady, too!) to turn into shadow, allowing her to reach areas created by other shadows that couldn’t be reached by using a physical form. Unfortunately, the game suffered from many of the problems a first-time game does: bugs, glitches, confusing puzzles, and a sort of lackluster story. They took the criticisms to heart, and with the
lessons they learned, mechanically speaking, Compulsion set out to surpass everything they did in Contrast with We Happy Few.
The game itself takes place during the mod 60’s in a dystopian England where the citizens of Wellington Wells are controlled by being on a constant high thanks to the drug Joy. Players must survive in the fictional town as a “downer”: one who refuses to take Joy. To do this players will scavenge through Wellington Wells looking for supplies to aid the resistance while additionally playing the part of someone who is a “normal” person controlled by the drug; the ultimate goal being to leave Wellington Wells completely.
I love, love, love the style of this game! Even in beta footage that isn’t as bright and colorful as the trailer, the atmosphere is incredible, and it’s still very colorful. (I’m totally into this recent trend in games actually utilizing more than a sepia filter for those “realism” points.) And I do have to say, even though I’m kind of getting some Bioshock Infinite vibes off of it (I have no idea why…), given the state of the current market, it does feel like a rather original story.
But, and this is a big but, I have worries. There’s very little information out—a beta version is only being released to a select few—so I can only make assumptions, but the game seems a little… gung-ho about utilizing mental illness as a prop. It’s entirely that this game is supposed to be sensational in the vein of gems like Reefer Madness, but using mental instability as a gameplay mechanic as well as a villainizing tool comes off as really gross, similar to those disgusting tropes used by shows that bring in mental institutions and psych wards as plot devices. Which is to say that these things may be effective for a narrative, but they’re utilizing tropes that we should be moving beyond by this point. Additionally, while the game does actually seem to be diverse in that there’s more than white people, one of the Kickstarter goals actually had an option to make the in-game characters more pale. I don’t know if that was a joke, but fucking seriously? An “authentic English” experience doesn’t mean fewer, or more pale, people of color. Cue me rolling my eyes forever. That goal wasn’t met, but just the fact that it was written is really telling.
Despite these troubling flaws, I’m still interested in seeing how the game fares. At its core, We Happy Few is a survival game, and since I’m completely spent on Slender clones and 5 Nights At Freddy’s sequels, I’m excited to see this new aesthetic come to play. While Compulsion is definitely more AAA inclined these days rather than indie, I do hope they learned a lot from Contrast, and I hope they continue to learn, especially in terms of storytelling and themes. If you’re interested in following the game’s progress, keep tabs on them through their Kickstarter, or visit their website here!