We Happy Few is about drugs and Nazis and whatever you want it to be

Dave Tach

If you're going to reveal a game, you'd be hard pressed to do better than developer Compulsion Games did in February 2015, when it unveiled a beautiful, fantastic, terrifying trailer for We Happy Few. With a mixture of live-action and computer-generated footage, it introduces a hyper-stylized world reminiscent of 1960s Britain. Everybody in We Happy Few's seemingly idyllic town looks happy. They saunter down the streets, giggling, laughing. For some reason, though, everybody's wearing a mask. Also, they're on drugs. Lots and lots of psychedelic drugs.

The player isn't high, everybody around him knows it, and nobody likes it. Especially the guy who beats him out of his house and onto the street with a frying pan. Also the guy who knocks him unconscious with a shovel isn't a fan, either. I didn't know what We Happy Few was about, exactly, but in less than 90 seconds, I knew I wanted to know more. A few months later, in a faraway setting accidentally tied to the game's story (OR WAS IT? ? ?

? ), I got to play the game at Gamescom 2015. Instead of getting more excited, I walked away confused. At PAX East 2016, We Happy Few had a shot at redemption. I saw a revitalized version and got some context, and that experience went much smoother. It's become a real game in the intervening months, and what I saw reinvigorated the interest that the first trailer sparked. Now I know why I walked away scratching my head, too.

We Happy Few is a complicated game that poses challenges and questions in equal measure. But you have to learn how to play it first. Of schnitzel and confusion In August 2015, I boarded a plane that flew over an entire ocean and landed in Germany, which is a whole other country with different words for almost everything. A few days into Gamescom and infinity orders of schnitzel later, I walked into the basement of a centuries-old church, where a couple dozen Xbox Ones sat beneath a brick ceiling and support arches. It was the kind of room I'd only visited in video games. (Except better. Video games don't have currywurst.

) As I wandered around a windowless room illuminated almost entirely by the cool blue glow of TVs flashing video games, I turned a corner and saw We Happy Few. Someone sat playing on a low stool, and I watched over his shoulder as a game that looked just like the trailer unfolded. When he set the controller down, I…

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