There's an extremely easy litmus test to know whether you'll enjoy High On Life. Do you:
a) Enjoy first-person shooters?
b) Enjoy Rick and Morty?
If you answered "yes" to one of the above, there's a good chance you'll like the latest anarchic adventure from Squanch Games. If you answered "yes" to both, then you're almost guaranteed to enjoy it.
(If you answered "no" to both, nothing here is going to change your mind.)
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: December 14, 2022
Genre: First-person shooter
High On Life comes courtesy of Justin Roiland, co-creator of the animated sci-fi comedy Rick and Morty, and the mastermind behind the well-received game Trover Saves the Universe from a few years back. Like Trover, High On Life proposes a ridiculous concept, then mines it for every possible ounce of comedic value. Unlike Trover, High On Life is chock full of traditional gameplay - and, to its credit, actually builds on the traditional FPS format in a few creative ways.
To be fair, High On Life assumes that you're already a Roiland fan, and that you're ready to see a few beloved FPS tropes skewered. If neither one of those is true, the game will probably get on your nerves before the end of the first mission. There are also some technical issues that ruin the game's immersion, and they crop up on a regular basis.
However, High On Life aims to be both a comedy showcase and a slight evolution of the FPS formula, and it manages to succeed on both counts. It's not the deepest or most polished game you'll play this year, but it might be the funniest. Read on for our full High On Life review.
High On Life review: Gameplay
The elevator pitch for High On Life is remarkably straightforward, once you get past the initial weirdness. You play as an everyday slacker, stuck at home with your much-more-successful sister while your parents are out of town. A sudden alien extraterrestrial catapults the two of you onto an alien world, where you team up with a variety of sentient, talking guns to hunt down the lawless evildoers threatening the human race.
It seems almost reductive to call High On Life a traditional first-person shooter, but once you get past the novelty of supersaturated alien worlds and talking, cursing guns, that's essentially what it is. You collect a variety of guns, including a standard pistol, a shotgun, a rapid-fire device and more. You explore a bunch of different levels, from a bustling city, to a lush jungle, to grimy seaside town. You collect money, which you can exchange for health and ammo upgrades, as well as a variety of platforming tools and mods. HIgh On Life may look bizarre, but you've almost certainly played something like it before.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, as the game uses familiar FPS tropes as a starting point, then builds on them. The simple fact that each gun is a fully fleshed-out character is a surprisingly excellent conceit, since each one has a different commentary on whatever story mission you're currently undertaking. You won't want to stick with the same firearm for too long, simply because you'll want to hear each one's backstory and quips.
Beyond that, High On Life also offers a lot of variety through the guns themselves. Kenny, for example, starts out as a standard pistol, with a limited amount of ammo and an aim-down-sights secondary firing mode. Over time, though, you can upgrade him with a bigger clip, or an improved firing rate, or ricochet shots. Doing so means you'll have less currency to upgrade guns such as Gus, who can suck enemies toward you and fire area-of-effect shots, or Sweezy, who acts like the Needler from Halo, firing off tons of tiny projectiles that can latch onto enemies and explode later.
There's also Knifey, a bloodthirsty knife who doubles as an Indiana Jones-style whip for platforming challenges. He helps give the levels a sense of verticality, but his absolutely unhinged commentary will elicit either guffaws or uncomfortable silence, depending on the player. If it's the latter, High On Life may not be the game for you.
High On Life review: Story and humor
Dissecting humor is a dicey proposition, as it runs the risk of completely ruining why something is funny in the first place. Still, High On Life sells itself as a comedy game first and foremost. As such, it's worth examining whether or not the game will actually make you laugh.
The short answer is "yes." The longer answer is "yes, if you're predisposed to like Justin Roiland's humor style."
To put things in context, High On Life kicks off with a story that would feel right at home in an episode of Rick and Morty. While planning a house party with your sister, a belligerent alien cartel shows up right outside your door. Apparently, humans make a pretty potent narcotic, and the aliens want to essentially turn Earth into a living drug ring for fun and profit. You team up with a collection of talking guns called the Gatlians, who also have a bone to pick with the cartel, and become a bounty hunter. From there, it's a planet-hopping adventure with a lot of observational humor along the way.
In fact, "observational humor" is arguably the backbone of the whole game. As you travel from location to location, you'll fight a variety of alien soldiers, from killer robots, to giant ants, to a boss with drills for hands. ("How do you eat?" Kenny asks him, before realizing that it's a strange question from a talking gun, who also has no hands.) Before, during, and after each fight, they'll toss a variety of deadpan one-liners your way. Whether you find them hilarious or grating depends a lot on whether you like the Adult Swim style of humor.
Personally, I laughed out loud when a dying enemy proclaimed, "I wish I'd spent more time at the office!" I chuckled when two standard-issue enemy soldiers broke the fourth wall by proclaiming that they were probably the strongest enemies in the game. (They were not.) I especially got a kick out of a sequence where a friendly narrator told me to use the double-jump ability - then launched into an expletive-laden rant when he realized that the ability doesn't exist.
On the flip side, there aren't many traditional jokes in High On Life with setups and punchlines, beats and timing. Much like Rick and Morty or Trover Saves the Universe, the game expects you to find casual conversation with a lot of profanity inherently funny, simply because it's juxtaposed against high-concept, life-or-death sci-fi situations.
As always, I think the "Two Brothers" sketch from Rick and Morty is a pretty good indicator of whether you'll like this kind of thing. If you don't, however, High On Life may feel much, much longer than the 12 hours or so it will take to reach the end.
High On Life review: Visuals and sound
Justin Roiland recruited an all-star comedy cast for High On Life, including himself, JB Smoove, Betsy Sodaro, Laura Silverman, Dave Herman, the Red Letter Media guys and more.
As such, you probably won't be shocked to learn that the voice acting is absolutely top-notch, with spirited and occasionally sidesplitting performances from everyone involved. (Michael Cusack as Knifey is a particular standout. You'll see why.) The game's visuals are equally memorable, with vibrant colors, interesting alien designs and a general sense that you've stepped into one of Roiland's animated shows.
The game isn't as tight as it could be from a technical perspective, though. While the game never crashed during my playthrough, it did frequently stutter, lag, and not render assets properly. One boss fight got off to a particularly anticlimactic start when the ground below me simply disappeared instead of shattering into a million earthen chunks. I had to restart at least one section because an enemy wouldn't spawn properly. Squanch has been assiduous about patching the game since launch, so we'll see how many of these issues the company can iron out.
High On Life review: Verdict
Much like Trover Saves the Universe, High On Life is an earnest attempt to see the silly side of gaming - and it's occasionally really, really funny. The shooting mechanics are solid, and maybe even a bit better than they strictly have to be. The character design and dialogue do a lot of the heavy lifting, and they're more than entertaining enough to see the game all the way through.
While I don't think High On Life is for everyone, I do think there's a niche audience that will absolutely adore it. By now, Squanch Games has demonstrated that it can successfully combine animated sitcom humor with traditional gameplay. I can only wonder which genre the company will decide to tackle next.