High on Life Review

It might be wrong to accuse a videogame of intoxication, but when it comes to Squanch Games’ High On Life, there’s certainly a whiff of inebriation emanating from its presence as you stare bemuse-faced at it. Oh wait a second, disembodied monster heads who are fused to guns as attachments, talking and spitting swearwords, pop-culture references and fourth-wall breaking swerves at you?  Yep, High On Life has a dangerously high BAC-type level of stupid and gratuitous blabbering for you to raunch on, to a degree approaching critical overdose. What this means in plain speak, is that it’s a comfortingly raucous FPS that is pleasingly short, explosive like an undesirable bowel habit, and is verbally over-the-top, but does its ebullient mouthiness payoff handsomely, or will you want to play it on mute?

High On Life, the brainchild of Justin Roiland, the co-architect of Adult Swim’s Rick and Morty, is an FPS where the weapons sport ugly monstrous faces, who cuss and spew unrelenting babble at you. The humour is either love it or leave it, but it does a pleasing job at catching you off guard at times, especially when it makes references to aspects of its own design and other videogames.

For instance, there are a few surprising Hollywood stars that show up, and through one of the Gatlians, an indie game from another developer is given a thorough recommendation. It’s these sprigs of surprise that keep High On Life from getting too stale, even when the humour has gotten stale. Nods to other videogames within a videogame isn’t new, but when it’s done well like High On Life does it, you can appreciate its ability to offer up a memorable experience despite its cloying tendencies.

Alien invasions are run-of-the-mill in artistic media, so how would you like a story pertaining to an alien invasion where soul-sucking invaders want to use Earth’s citizens as hallucinogenic dope? The G3 are the source of alien scourge this time, and they want to hurtle down to earth and make you all their narcotic indulgences.

You are a nameless bounty hunter, who is tasked with taking down a handful of G3 bigwigs. You will team up with an eclectic bunch to achieve your mission, including your sister Lizzie, a typical teenaged party girl, who wants to put on a swell shindig before the G3 alien invaders invade earth to ruin all the grooves. There’s a legless bounty hunter called Gene, who is technologically savvy and engages in tantrum-fuelled arguments with Lizzie. Then there’s Clugg, the mayor of Blim City, who will help you track down key members of the G3 armada.

That’s not all, you also have a posse of speaking weapons known as Gatlians to engage with throughout your quest. The Gatlians are a diverse bunch, both in terms of their personalities and when they are put to practical use.

Kenny is your primary pee-shooter type Gatlian, he’s blue, he talks a lot and he’s insecure. You will get to know Kenny quite a lot, he’s got ceaseless quips, but he’s got good intentions and his involvement in the story becomes more pronounced as the game unfolds. Kenny’s speciality is the glob shot, which is suggestively gross as it shoots out a huge green spew like liquidised green boogers, but it is great for collapsing bridges, and for forcing your foes into a state of levitation so you can pick them off with his primary spew shots.

 Knifey is a stab-obsessed maniac, who is the lone melee weapon in the game, and he’ll be used to cut off enemy shields and gut bosses once they’ve been vanquished.

Gus is  googily-eyed, green and the chilled one of the crew. He boasts an explosive shotgun-like brunt with every shot, and its secondary fire shoots out metal platforms you can use to climb walls.

Sweezy, a mean-talking, no-nonsense Gatlian who looks like a fish with amethyst crystal spikes jutting out of the top layer of her body. She has time altering abilities that can slow down fast-moving turbines, and her crystal shards can pierce through enemy cover.

Creature has adorable blue offspring that can help you solve environmental puzzles. His babies will act like leeches, attaching themselves to G3 goons and literally sucking the life out of them, as well as the ability to turn folly against each other. Creature is the most satisfying to use, as seeing his babies latch onto enemies to drain them of their life, is irresistibly satisfying and using the little ones to solve puzzles makes this Gatlian ideal for compulsive use.

Lastly, there’s Lezduit (a quirky name alternative to saying let’s do it), the most powerful and prestigious Gatlian, who is capable of levelling swarms of G3 scum with one powerful surge that will need to be recharged temporarily before it can be used again.

The array of weapons at your disposal is fantastic and you’ll enjoy experimenting with each of them. You might bemoan the slim arsenal, but with the abilities they each possess makes them all very worthwhile to use in different situations. Each weapon has its purpose in High On Life.

There are times where you want your weaponized chums to shut the hell up at points as the whininess of Kenny for instance, is akin to burning your unmentionables with scorching wax, yet the rapscallions in your arsenal pop with charm, although all of them have come down with an incurable case of potty-mouth, making the humour one-note and continuous, like a relative droning on about their problems over the phone at you. It’s appreciable that the banter between the Gatlians is lively and assists in making you more invested in their distinctive personalities, but sometimes you’ll wish that all the Gatlians were more like Lezduit – y’know, because he only says his name and he’s otherwise quiet.

The main hub base in High On Life is the house you share with Lizzie and Gene-the latter of whom is often seen slouched on the sofa watching TV. In this house you have access to a bounty board, where you can turn in your bounties and gain access to portals that’ll warp you to worlds where G3 targets are stationed.

Outside exists the metropolis of Blim City, populated with residents who hang about on their own. During the story you can rub elbows with the city folks, finding specific persons of interest and interrogating them about the whereabout of G3 bosses. During free roam, you are able to find vendors to upgrade your equipment and visit a shop to attain new items.

There is very little engagement in Blim City outside of the story, which is a shame as it does look like it could be brimming with activity and interesting goings on, but it’s instead a hollow husk for buying a few necessities and passing through to other areas.

Elsewhere, there is a grotty sewer network, dank wastelands with poisonous goop, suspicious laboratories and various battlegrounds dazzling with the game’s titular hues. Nothing is particularly remarkable about the locations you visit, but there is plentiful loot and crystals to nab, so you’ll get your riches at least.

What does provide satisfaction navigating each world, is the grappling rope you unlock early in the game, where you can latch on to floating wasps and fling yourself gracefully through the air with the occasional dash covering an extra boost towards the ground you want to land on.

Adding to the act of getting around is the jetpack. You can bolt into the air with the greatest of ease, but you need to keep a keen eye on the fuel bar, as you can only boost upwards a few times before it’ll need recharging.

Also, towards the end of the game another gadget will be introduced to you in the form of anti-gravity boots, where you can walk along walls, but unfortunately their usage is infrequent, and they come across like a tacked on extra.

There are a few instances where your grey-matter is put to the test in High On Life, but they don’t come along often. The main puzzle type involves you arranging pipes to connect a flow of energy. You’re introduced to them by a minor character who needs your help, so you proceed by solving a short section of these puzzles. A little later there’s a larger puzzle to solve with these pipes, but afterwards they never pop up again.

Boss fights are eccentric but aren’t all that taxing, you simply send a barrage of weapon fire their way and eventually they will fold, but they love swooning you with attacks where you need to leap out of harm’s way or use your tether to latch onto the wasps and Spider-Man your way around the arena until you recover your health if it’s low. The final boss is quite the hallucinogenic treat though, shame the other bosses weren’t given anywhere near as much zaniness.

Let’s not beat around the privet hedge here, High On Life isn’t a great looking game, but the vibrancy inherent within its environments is commendable nonetheless. The worlds seem to take on a narcotic haze that fits the premise beautifully. The soundtrack echoes the far-out vibes too, though one track is suspiciously like a piece of music in one of the Danganronpa games. Generally, the presentation is cohesive with the game’s story and all the weirdness and psychedelics it gives off.

Energetic and unashamedly profane, High On Life exudes an uncanny, self-referential and blisteringly mouthy charm, that can make it a seductive pleasure to experience. The unending quips and humour from the Gatlians can get soured by repetition, but the arsenal packs a pleasing punch with weapons that are multi-functional and useful traversal equipment makes exploring a breeze. The worlds do feel dimmed by a lack of activity and attachment, but the brief runtime helps all its component parts breathe easily without overstaying their welcome.

Conclusion

High On Life certainly isn’t an intellectually profound game or a deep and meaningful one (despite a quasi-emotional end-game), it’s just an FPS that wants you to laugh and indulge in silliness for a little while. As long as you jive with the game’s grooves, you will like what High On Life has to offer, but be warned – when you’re playing a game that’s high on its own supply, sometimes it won’t think straight and it’ll leave you yearning for something more.

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This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.
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Good
  • The Gatlians bite just as good as they banter
  • Great psychedelic presentation
  • Self-referential and pop culture humour is welcome
Bad
  • Gratuitous swearing grates hard
  • Not enough free roam activity
  • It’s hard to connect with the characters
7.4
Good
Written by
Although the genesis of my videogame addiction began with a PS1 and an N64 in the mid-late 90s as a widdle boy, Xbox has managed to hook me in and consume most of my videogame time thanks to its hardcore multiplayer fanaticism and consistency. I tend to play anything from shooters and action adventures to genres I'm not so good at like sports, RTS and puzzle games.

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