Steal food, pop pills, and run from the cops in We Happy Few

One of my first acts in We Happy Few (opens in new tab) was to take down a woman who had hanged herself and dispose of her body in a garbage can. This completed an objective and left a comically oversized bag of rubbish poking out the top of the bin. I had tried to do the right thing and lay her down on my bunk bed, but that just left a dead body where I was supposed to sleep. Doing the right thing is only important in We Happy Few when you're being watched, you see. You're not trying to be an upright citizen, you're just trying to get the hell out of Wellington Wells.

Your story begins in 1964, but the real trouble started sometime around World War 2. Figuring out how this little corner of the UK became a drug-addled dystopia is a big part of the fun, so I won't spoil any of the scripted narrative moments Compulsion Games showed me at PAX East. Each of the three protagonists has their own story to pursue, and they'll all discover different secrets players can use to draw conclusions about this gnarled branch of history.

Each story is connected by the same procedurally mapped building blocks: streets, houses, back gardens, other quiet English village things. We Happy Few also has the standard assortment of survival needs to manage, including hunger, thirst, and exhaustion (don't worry, permadeath is strictly optional) and a crafting system to help meet them. I don't usually enjoy managing ever-depleting bars, but in this case it's a good way to keep you pushing the limits of social acceptability.

Since you're not in the forest foraging for berries like in many other survival games, open doors and unlocked cupboards are your primary means of shelter and sustenance. But food and other resources are in short supply around Wellington, and people don't take kindly to thieves: if anyone catches you pocketing their biscuits, you'll either need to beat them into submission or run for your life. This sets off a cascade of antisocial actions, raising the ire of your fellow citizens and authority figures alike. Promoting conformity-as-stealth was the coolest thing I saw in We Happy Few: sometimes your best bet is to just break the line of sight, sit down, and read the paper like a good "Wellie". Or do some pre-crime preparation by dropping Joy, the bliss-inducing drug that courses through the veins of Wellington society.

You'll understand why people on Joy are seen as less suspicious as soon as you take your first hit. Drab, patchy lawns become vibrant green and overcast skies burst into sunshine and rainbows. You even walk differently; my dour avatar began jauntily swinging his arms as if he was about to start Singin' in the Rain. It's hard to seem nefarious when you're promenading around like Gene Kelly - just watch out for those withdrawals, they'll make you act more like W.C. Fields.

Oh, and all the well-behaved citizens wear creepy masks, did I forget to mention that? Compulsion Games plans to release We Happy Few on Xbox One and PC later this year, or you can check it out in the Xbox One Preview Program before then. Just don't forget to eat, drink, and smile between puzzling over creepy social norms and plotting escape plans.

I got a BA in journalism from Central Michigan University - though the best education I received there was from CM Life, its student-run newspaper. Long before that, I started pursuing my degree in video games by bugging my older brother to let me play Zelda on the Super Nintendo. I've previously been a news intern for GameSpot, a news writer for CVG, and now I'm a staff writer here at GamesRadar.