Guns are just a tool for killing in every other shooter, but that’s not how it is in developer Squanch Games’ High on Life. These tools of destruction talk with their mouths as much as their barrels, which fits the bizarre alien world imagined by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland. High on Life falls into some of the same comedic pitfalls as Roiland’s other work, but that perspective has led to one unique first-person shooter.
Although it is very much its own thing, High on Life can somewhat be compared to the underrated classic Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath since both are unconventional shooters with living armaments that take place on otherworldly planets. However, High on Life’s combat loop is a little more traditional since it intelligently borrows some of the genre’s recent trends in order to establish a more familiar mechanical foundation within its one-of-a-kind wrapping.
This isn’t evident from the outset since the game strangely puts its worst foot forward and only equips players with a pistol early on; there’s not even a standard melee attack until an hour or so in. But it picks up when it starts slowly introducing new tools like the grappling hook, dash, rocket slide, and jetpack that all give the firefights a welcome sense of momentum where zooming around is the norm. High on Life’s presentation implies that it isn’t just a standard, run-of-the-mill shooter, and these extra tools help give it more life so it can live up to that characterization. None of these gadgets are completely new within the space, but they fit within its world and clearly demonstrate how it isn’t another boots-on-the-ground military shooter full of gruff soldiers with M16s and buzz cuts.
M16s don’t usually blabber or shoot out slime, either, which is another avenue where High on Life’s weirdness shines through. Three of the four main guns fit the roles of pistol, shotgun, and machine pistol, while the fourth blasts out little helpers like a grotesque version of Ratchet & Clank’s Agents of Doom glove. While standard weapons at first, their alternate fires and functions open up new possibilities. For example, the shotgun can fire out a large disc that bounces between enemies and even be used as a platform when embedded into certain walls. Meleeing the disc even continues its combo chain, rewarding players with fast reactions. Each has multiple functions like this, both in and out of combat, which makes it a bit deeper than other shooters where the guns are just guns.
It’s not as robust as other entries in the genre, though. On top of being a little buggy, the upgrade and mod systems lack options, meaning they only hint at a broader sense of customization that disappointingly isn’t there. Its stingy shield pickups are also inconsistent and don’t gravitate toward the player, which can be frustrating when it gets chaotic and there’s no time to carefully walk over each one. But these problems tend to fade into the background since zipping around and killing slimy aliens is generally thrilling enough for its nine-hour runtime.
These chatty guns are as integral to the story as they are to the gameplay, but their dialogue isn’t as clean as their marksmanship, which translates to the game as a whole. High on Life’s general sense of humor is very much in line with the other parts of Roiland’s existing oeuvre, most notably Rick and Morty, where improvisation, vulgarity, and absurdity are king. These can sometimes synergize well and lead to decent bits worth a brief chuckle or at least an amused nasal exhalation. Almost none of it is laugh-out-loud funny, yet a decent portion of it is mildly entertaining enough to move the plot along.
However, there’s still too much that depends heavily on impromptu ramblings. Many characters haphazardly run through their lines or draw them out, often stammering or giggling in ways that make it obvious that the actor is making it up in the moment. While this can lend the dialogue some authenticity, it’s just too much of a crutch here, especially since it often ends in some trite punchline about masturbation, sex, or pooping. Those kinds of gags can still be hilarious, but not when they’re all too often the endpoint, an inevitability when constantly drifting away from the script. This is most clearly seen in its Adult Swim-esque nonsequiturs that play on the hub city’s TVs and almost exclusively traffic in this style of overused humor.
These rants aren’t as honed as written jokes and Roiland is the most guilty of it here since he plays the main gun, Kenny. Listening to him stutter through his parts that he is obviously forming on the spot is quite annoying since it’s the same schtick in the same Morty voice he has been doing for years. Going off on tangents about Konami or drawing out what should be a simple response just feels like filler, which was also a problem in Trover Saves the Universe. High on Life isn’t as obnoxious as it could be since it has a cast of other likable main characters that mostly seem to stick to their lines and deliver them well, but its overreliance on this type of humor has more than worn out its welcome.
Its brand of comedy might be a bit played, but High on Life still has quite an identity. With a vivid and extraterrestrial setting, combat that uses its bizarre tools well, and a straightforward campaign that doesn’t demand to be played eternally, Squanch Games’ first shooter is impressively able to claim its own space within the genre. It’s a space full of obscene toilet humor and swearing pistols, but a space it has nonetheless earned.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 7.5 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.
Disclosure: The publisher provided a PC copy for our High on Life review. Reviewed on version 22.214.171.124.