We Happy Few dev on why the game changed from a survival sandbox to action-adventure

When it debuted in early 2015, We Happy Few's '60s-inspired, psychedelic artstyle and dystopian setting reminded many of BioShock - which did pretty much the same thing by combining a '50s aesthetic with sci-fi horror. To many players' dismay, the gameplay wasn't BioShock-y at all; instead of a linear story, We Happy Few was a survival sandbox. But now, that's changed.

"The early reception we got, everyone was so enthusiastic and we started getting comparisons to games like BioShock," producer Sam Abbott told Game Informer in a recent interview. "We were 15 people at the time. So that’s an order of magnitude different from the team that built BioShock. We sort of looked at that and thought we had two options: we can keep building the small game we were thinking of. Or we can say, why don’t we give it a go? Why don’t we build the game we think people are expecting?"

Now, We Happy Few is quite different than the version fans have played at shows like PAX or on Xbox Game Preview. For starters, it now has a linear story. You start out as Arthur, a man who is shaken from a long-term, drug-induced stupor by memories of his deceased brother, before jumping to the perspectives of two other people waking up. All seek to escape the city of Wellington Wells, which has fallen into disrepair and decay since it became reliant on Joy, the aforementioned mind-altering drug.

Survival gameplay has been pulled back and is now part of a buff / debuff system. Eat food, rest, and take care of yourself, and you'll get a buff. Try to plow through the game without stopping and you'll get a debuff. Abbott said the team tried at one point to completely remove the survival elements in order to make the game a straight action-adventure, but that it didn't feel right.

"It felt hollow because the game is about a society that’s dying," Abbott explained. "They’re running out of food. They’ve drugged the water. Everything is laced together thematically and we felt if we removed the food and water completely, then we would be missing a crucial part of the thematic experience."

For those who liked We Happy Few as a survival game, it will still feature a few staples of the genre: the layout of Wellington Wells is procedurally generated so that no two games will play the same, and for the hardcore, a permadeath mode so that when you die, it's back to square one. Developer Compulsion Games also has plans to launch a tweaked sandbox mode sometime after the initial release.

With a buttload of changes behind it and an August 10 release date for PS4, Xbox One, and PC looming, We Happy Few is closer now to what many imagined it would be than when it debuted. We'll find out soon if the wait and hassle were worth it.

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Sam Prell

Sam is a former News Editor here at GamesRadar. His expert words have appeared on many of the web's well-known gaming sites, including Joystiq, Penny Arcade, Destructoid, and G4 Media, among others. Sam has a serious soft spot for MOBAs, MMOs, and emo music. Forever a farm boy, forever a '90s kid.