High on Life Review: Space Cowboy

High on Life is nothing if not unique, though its writing and mechanics only go so far.

High on Life is a blinding cacophony of colors, goopy fluids, and crass jokes, all of which combine into one of the most baffling experiences of the entire year. That's both good and bad as High on Life is certainly a unique experience, though the humor and shooting start to overstay their welcome. 

High on Life comes from Squanch Games and the mind of Justin Roiland, best known as the creator of Rick and Morty. You take the role of an unassuming twenty-something human, stuck home alone with your overbearing sister when your parents travel out of town. Any weekend plans you might have had go out the window when an alien cartel called the G3 invades Earth and starts kidnapping humans to use as drugs. 

Image via Squanch GamesImage via Squanch Games

Next thing you know, you're an interstellar bounty hunter using a talking gun called a Gatlian, and a rather offensive one at that. High on Life's story and aesthetic are by far what gives it such a unique flair, and there's an obvious comedic tone the game adopts early on and runs with. 

If you've watched or played any of Roiland's previous work, you know exactly the kind of humor I'm talking about: calling an alien a spacist (space-racist), riffing on pop culture references, joking about your sister getting an alien boyfriend, or attempting meta-commentary on the very nature of video game design. 

The real issue is that High on Life's humor is more fitting for a TV show, often breaking the fourth wall and "speaking at" you rather than immersing you in the experience. It really feels like an elongated Rick and Morty episode, and for every genuinely smart joke that lands, there are usually three or four that fall completely flat. 

The shooting in High on Life, ironically, runs into the exact same problem; it comes out of the gate strong but fails to provide anything truly new or interesting across the roughly 10-hour experience. 

Image via Squanch Games

Mechanically, High on Life is your pretty typical first-person shooter, with each gun having a basic fire option and a special attack. Where things get more interesting is in the game's the traversal options, which help make combat feel more fast-paced and frantic. 

There's a nice cadence to movement in High on Life, and once you unlock the second weapon, Knifey, you gain the ability to grapple to ledges, floating insects, and more. This opens up a ton of options in the semi-open environments, letting you flank enemies with ease or swoop down on them from above. 

The Gatlians themselves also bring some nice variation to the mix. Not only do they serve as new weapons but also as new voices to help guide you through the experience. This does mean, however, that there are fewer weapons in High on Life than you might find in a typical shooter, as each one is designed to be especially unique. 

Your starting companion, Kenny, is essentially a pistol, but later on, you'll unlock a Gatlian that functions almost exactly like Halo's Needler, a shotgun, and a kind of crowd-control Gatlian that shoots out little creatures. 

Image via Squanch Games

But it becomes apparent after a few hours that High on Life simply doesn't have the enemy variety to compliment its weapon variety. There are a handful of basic enemies and each "bounty" you take on typically introduces one variant of those types.

Unfortunately, High on Life has a tendency to throw dozens upon dozens of the same enemy at you at any given time. Combat encounters drag on too long as you face wave after wave. The core shooting of High on Life feels great, and each weapon is distinct, but it's hard to enjoy those aspects when you're gunning down the same fodder for hours on end. 

While High on Life is a mostly linear experience, especially in its combat encounters, there is some degree of explorability to the game's environments. Each map has a number of Luglox Chests to find, that hold either collectible cards or currency to buy upgrades. Between each bounty, you'll return to the alien metropolis of Blim City, and wandering around yields some hidden conversations and events, although these don't have much bearing on the overall experience.

High on Life Review — The Bottom Line

Image via Squanch Games

Pros

  • Strong, unique visual aesthetic.
  • Surprisingly fun gunplay with weapons that all feel distinct. 
  • Opening hours show promise with some genuinely good humor.

Cons

  • Humor can be hit or miss and fails to evolve in a meaningful way.
  • Serious lack of enemy variety. 
  • Second half relies heavily on backtracking and doesn't bring anything unique to the mix.

High on Life is a game that's so obsessed with "riffing" on the video game medium that it loses a bit of its identity in the process. In a quest to become a kind of "anti-video game" video game, High on Life falls into some of the same pitfalls that it pokes fun at. 

There's quite honestly nothing egregiously bad here; the story has a strong setup with some genuinely funny gags, and surprisingly tight shooting and exploration back it up. 

The real issues arise as you get further into High on Life, and the game's humor and shooting both start to grow stale. I wish High on Life evolved more and put more complexity into its second half, which is sadly too focused on back-tracking. If you're a fan of Roiland's previous works, you'll likely find a lot to love here, and even if you're not, this a shooter with a unique aesthetic and sense of humor you won't find anywhere else. Just be aware that your hours of fun might come with a healthy dose of frustration. 

[Note: Squanch Games provided the copy of High on Life used for this review. Featured image via Squanch Games.]

Our Rating
7
High on Life is nothing if not unique, though its writing and mechanics only go so far.
Reviewed On: PC

Contributor

Published Dec. 24th 2022

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