Discussing the highly-anticipated dystopian survival horror game.
So it’s that time of year again in which excitable children in adults’ bodies congregate en masse to witness video game developers clumsily shill their products with all the stage presence of an open mic night performer stumbling over an insipid cover of “Wonderwall”.
E3 never tries to deny its transparent and feeble attempts to connect with the youth of today; gaudy show floor antics often see awkward white men cracking jokes your dad wouldn’t laugh at and old, out of touch business executives cynically self-aggrandising about just how well their console has sold and conversely, how badly the competition’s doing – as if compensating for a lack of something in particular.
There’s also, invariably, a curious display of impostor syndrome, as individuals whose typical job it is to sit in an isolated room and repeatedly bash their heads against a keyboard until something resembling a video game manifests, are unceremoniously thrust into the cross hairs of an audience of fickle press members and forced to explain exactly why we should all care about their product. Remember: these aren’t salespeople trying to pedal their wares, these are artists and creators trying to get your attention, so be nice.
Oh yeah, it’s a bit like Gears of War, but with fewer demons and more abstract representations of the player’s subconscious, is it? Well, that sounds very clever, doesn’t it? Now tell me more about why I should shell out fifty quid on vague promises and flashy CGI trailers that even you can’t explain properly!
No, no: I’m just being glib. E3 is a wonderful event seasoned with the best flavour of corporate pandering and exhaustive hype culture one could imagine! I can get excited about video games, honest!
So maybe I should talk about a game that I am looking forward to, right? Well, that would have to be We Happy Few.
We Happy Few is an up-coming first-person survival horror affair developed by Compulsion Games following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year – from which they managed to raise upwards of $200,000.
We Happy Few ostensibly chronicles the mishaps of a discarded Monty Python character as he attempts to flee the dangers of a society addicted to a state-mandated hallucinogenic drug aptly named ‘Joy’. Upon refusing to take his daily dosage, the hapless defector is quickly and humorously labelled as a ‘Downer’ by the drug-addled community of lunatics and junkies.
Boasting narrative similarities to John Carpenter’s They Live, the gameplay footage revealed so far shows the protagonist tapping into a painful memory and subsequently lifting the veil of this narcotic that’s kept it repressed and forgotten for so long.
The tidbits of information we’ve been given so far about We Happy Few have been enough to intrigue me: particularly in the presentation and environmental world-building.
We Happy Few appears to present itself as a retro-futuristic dystopian sci-fi set in a vibrant watercolour of an alternate nineteen sixties English metropolis – as seen through the rose-tinted lens of a zombified and stifled civilisation reeling from the effects of World War II.
From the footage released during the Microsoft press conference, we can gather that We Happy Few is taking a decidedly unique approach to the survival horror genre. This dichotomy of perceiving the environment from an altered perspective as a result of rampant substance abuse and the eerie cheerfulness of the non-playable characters is both terrifying and fascinating.
A blanket of dark humour is brilliantly employed in the trailer to subvert the Kafkaesque nightmare that seems to be unfolding, as the player-character stumbles down the rabbit hole of secrets involving a fractured society numbing the horrors of their past.
Thematically similar to George Orwell’s 1984, there are threads of lore in We Happy Few that indicate government manipulation of the truth to subdue the proletariat. The idea of the upper echelons of society controlling public discourse and the status quo with dubious pharmaceutical practices prescribed for any emotions other than – dare I say it: joy? – is both palpable and frightening.
The art style is evocative of twentieth century propaganda material: paying close attention to high contrast lighting and colour, and featuring walls plastered with terse platitudes designed to lull the masses into a false sense of security – basically it’s like a cross between Terry Gilliam’s classic film Brazil and Bioshock, so colour me excited!
In a sea of endless survival horror games riding on the coat-tails of popular YouTube let’s plays crafted with the sole intent of making you scream like a school-child and not much else, it’s refreshing to see a game that’s approaching the genre with a broader, more speculative kind of horror.
A brand of horror that (hopefully) captures the fears and distrust we all harbour towards our own government and giving us the agency to experience the surrealism of a drug trip designed to pull the wool over our eyes.
It’s medication time, folks: are you ready to take the pill?