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e3 2016 happy spotlight

Arthur Hastings is having a horrible day. An old newspaper article revives dark memories about his brother, and rather than taking his medication Arthur decides to throw the pink pills in the trash. As he walks through the office, Arthur starts to discover things he never noticed before: the welcome party decorations he’d set up for a coworker have been unused and abandoned. There’s hardly a single person in the office, and mountains of paperwork threaten to crush the desks they’re piled on. Even the birthday party Arthur attends is strange: the piñata squishes and crunches, and when Arthur smacks it his hands get splattered in blood. The world pales as reality takes over, and the piñata candy that Arthur’s coworkers devour become the entrails of a rat.

Arthur Hastings is having a horrible day, and without Joy it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Compulsion Games’ We Happy Few made a strong first impression during the Microsoft E3 Briefing on Monday. The action-horror game seems to tribute dystopian architects like George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and (at least in style) Ken Levine. We Happy Few is the second title released by Compulsion Games, and judging by the reviews for its 2013 title Contrast, the studio takes some great inspiration from contemporaries like Playdead, Irrational Games, and Bethesda Softworks. If you’re a fan of gritty dystopian games like Dishonored and the Bioshock series, you’ll get a kick out of We Happy Few.

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Monday’s demo showed that the game isn’t a carbon-copy of Levine’s work. In a pivotal plot moment, Arthur is given an important choice: to remember his brother Percy, or to take his mind-numbing Joy medication. Guillaume Provost, the Founder of Compulsion Games and player of Monday’s demo, made the obviously plot-progressing choice and threw the Joy away. But the fact that there’s an option to take this drug””to “take the blue pill” and keep living in the Matrix””seems like an interesting innovation. Is it possible to play as Arthur hopped-up on happy pills from beginning to end? If so, how would that be different from playing an intricate “Game Over” screen?

Looking back at the Kickstarter video on the studio’s website, it appears Compulsion Games has even more innovative features to offer. The game’s setting, the charming 60’s English village of Wellington Wells, is expected to change each time the player respawns or a new game is started. According to Provost, We Happy Few is designed to be challenging enough for the player to “die a lot” before completing the game. This means players will face entirely new environments, “from the topology of the terrain, to the road arteries and the houses that fill up those networks,” every time they mess up. On one hand, it’s a very interesting and innovative concept. On the other hand, it sounds infuriating if the player needs to find any particular place. It mostly depends on how difficult the game really is.

The demo was presented as part of a briefing for Xbox Game Preview: a program where players can buy and play games before their release date, as well as offer critiques and advice to the creators. We Happy Few will be available on Xbox Game Preview starting July 26.

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