High On Life Review
Comedy is tough to execute in video games, and even if done well, it still needs strong gameplay to back up the jokes. High on Life falters on both fronts. Though it swings for the fences on presentation and tone, the mediocre action, grating humor and dialogue, and less amusing technical hiccups made me want to keep its sentient guns in their holsters.
Conceived by Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland, fans of that show or his other works can expect a similar brand of relentlessly over-the-top, extremely adult comedy. As a human teenager turned intergalactic bounty hunter following an alien invasion of Earth, you must save humanity with an arsenal of talking alien guns. These weapons, voiced by Roiland and comedians including JB Smoove and Tim Robinson, talk your ears off to the point of annoyance, with your primary gun, Kenny, being the biggest culprit. Sometimes their banter doesn’t even make sense, such as a gun complaining about not being used in ages when I’d used them seconds ago. Thankfully, you can reduce weapon chatter via a menu slider, but it represents one of my biggest issues: I didn’t find High on Life funny.
High on Life screams at you for hours about how hilarious and messed up everything is through tiresome dialogue exchanges that take potentially amusing bits and run them into the ground. The humor isn’t so much about setting up clever punchlines as it is about reiterating the same basic gag with a barrage of expletives until it, hopefully, becomes funny. It usually doesn’t. What’s more, everyone feels like slight variations of the same crass caricature, whether it's your irresponsible older sister or freeloading bounty-hunting mentor. The game pokes fun at everything, including making fourth-wall-breaking wisecracks about game design and the industry in general. However, it also does little to freshen up the tropes it lampoons. Ripping on a pipe puzzle for being by-the-books without doing anything unique itself makes the joke feel hollow and hypocritical.
Though it never had me in stitches, High on Life has a few humorous bits. I smiled at the aggressive banter of a family of loud-mouthed construction workers, and a head-turning reference to a popular restaurant chain offers a fun visual gag. Obtaining special discs that summon small diorama-like areas that serve as large, singular jokes garner some of the better laughs, as do a sprinkling of unexpected celebrity cameos.
High on Life’s humor whiffs more than it hits, and the gameplay isn’t far behind. The shooting feels passable enough to offer mindless fun, but it’s not great. Melee executions evoke Doom’s glory kills without the satisfying snappiness. The limited arsenal of living weapons have primary and alternative firing modes. Kenny, for example, fires standard pistol rounds and can unleash mortar-like goop balls that launch groups of targets airborne to juggle with bullets. My favorite weapon is Gus, a shotgun that fires a large disc that ricochets off enemies. In a neat twist, you can strike this disc to extend its momentum.
Combat begins as a drag but picks up as you acquire more guns, and I enjoy combining their talents. Unfortunately, the enemy variety is disappointingly small, so most encounters feel the same. As the adventure progressed, I began avoiding optional firefights when possible since they started feeling more like busy work. Boss fights are just as flat, and some throw way too much at players, leading to several cheap deaths.
Outside of battles, you’ll explore a minimal selection of planets that offer large explorable hubs featuring Metroid-style ability gating and decent platforming challenges that utilize your jetpack. Although they look good from an artistic standpoint, they feel surprisingly lifeless with NPCs that act more as signposts to deliver questionably funny quips. High on Life desperately needs a map or compass, as the zones are large and confusing enough that it’s easy to get lost. I often wandered searching for inconspicuous warp gates to return to HQ. The lack of a map is also egregious because planets have stores that sell exclusive upgrades, but locating these needles in a haystack is a chore. One shop offered a cool upgrade I couldn’t afford, and when I returned later to buy it, finding the store again became a hassle I eventually abandoned.
High on Life also suffered from numerous technical shortcomings during my time with it. On top of general hitchiness, I sometimes encountered enemies that froze or snagged on geometry. I had to restart one lengthy firefight when a pair of flying enemies got trapped behind a wall, halting my progression. Prompts can sometimes break, such as when I missed out on rescuing a captive human because the command suddenly disappeared. Grabbing a collectible once launched me into the skybox, forcing another reset. A post-launch patch seemingly ironed some things out, but I still encountered several wrinkles.
Despite multiple shortcomings and my general aversion to the game’s writing, High on Life has occasional glimmers of potential. I’d like to see a sequel polish and improve upon this foundation. I’m always itching for more creative takes on shooters, but High on Life is a reminder that “different” doesn’t always mean “good.”