We Happy Few's E3 stage demo feels like an entirely more nightmarish, combat-free BioShock

Well this will be the first game of E3 2016 to incite a legitimate shudder, then. We Happy Few’s first-person tale of survival in an oppressively happy world – the British city of Wellington Wells has enforced a policy of drug induced good-humour in order to protect itself from the guilt of a horrific act committed to fight off a German invasion in World War 2 – looks frankly, downright horrible. The grinning, institutionalised oppression is one thing, but it’s the uneasy shifts between chirpy, drug-induced façade and horrendous, violent reality that really unsettle.

Our hero starts the E3 stage demo – seen at the Microsoft press conference - as a cheery drone, merrily editing newspapers with a ‘Redactor’ machine. But a couple of skipped doses of the mandatory Joy drug, and he’s veering wildly between whimsy, paranoia, and brief visions of outright atrocity and murder. The stylised, chunky, painterly art style makes everything that bit more horrible through juxtaposition, but when the fallacy of perception versus reality is expressed by a piñata turning into a dead rat when smashed to pieces (and its insides greedily eaten by the assembled crowd regardless) it really doesn’t matter how it’s drawn.

There’s a real sense of early Rapture and Columbia running through the whole demo. The seamless world-building, the permeating social hypocrisy and sense of isolation, the arrestingly horrible, matter-of-fact unpleasantness… It’s all very familiar, but also entirely, refreshingly alien. This is unlikely to be a game where you’ll ever feel safe, or comfortable, but it looks like it’ll be one hell of an enigmatic nightmare to navigate. 

Check out every announcement and full summary details on our Microsoft E3 press conference page.

David Houghton
Long-time GR+ writer Dave has been gaming with immense dedication ever since he failed dismally at some '80s arcade racer on a childhood day at the seaside (due to being too small to reach the controls without help). These days he's an enigmatic blend of beard-stroking narrative discussion and hard-hitting Psycho Crushers.