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High On Life review: Disgustingly funny with surprisingly deep combat

Imagine if guns could talk - seems to have been the original pitch for High On Life, the newest creation from the mind of Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and his studio Squanch Games. The title made its first appearance at Xbox's June showcase earlier this year and it was quite clear right then what sort of tone it aimed to bring to the experience. I was instantly intrigued by its unique nature, but also skeptical as it is the studio’s debut first-person shooter.

Rick and Morty is not a show I actively watch. I realized that it's not my kind of humor after binging through the first season and left it at that. But for some bizarre reason, consuming the same kind of humor with all its absurdity in the form of a game is much more enjoyable for me. High On Life counts as the second title of the developer I've played. I had a wonderful time going through its VR title Accounting+ a few years back, so I thought I had an idea about what I was going to witness in High On Life.

I got the chance to play the PC version a few days early to see exactly what this game is about, and while the style of humor was spot on with what I had in mind, it's the gameplay that caught me off-guard. Read on to find out what I thought about this absurd, sci-fi Metroidvania shooter by Squanch Games in this spoiler-free review.

High On Life screenshot

Guns That Talk

Earth is on siege by an alien drug cartel looking to use humans as a way to get high. A simple premise to get your head around. Thankfully, things aren't as depressing as that Torchwood arc with the same plotline, because two teenage siblings, sentient armaments, and a homeless bounty hunter are on the job to save the planet. Quickly donning the suit of a bounty hunter, the silent protagonist, which is you, goes on a journey to take down this G3 Cartel one head member at a time, kicking off the completely crazy, galaxy-spanning adventure that is High On Life.

The Gatlians, an alien species that look and function very much like Earth guns, become your companions for the entirety of the game, with each one presenting a wholly different personality that oozes charisma. Justin Roiland himself voices Kenny the pistol - with almost the same voice and mannerisms of Morty from Rick and Morty - while comedians like J. B. Smoove, Tim Robinson, Betsy Sodaro, and David Herman take other major roles to provide perfect comedic timing.

Sure, weapons with personality have been used in games, with the scale ranging from Borderlands' basic line-repeating firearms to the GLaDOS potato attachment, but to base an entire game out of this idea is an absurd endeavor. "But why not?" seems to be what Justin Roiland and the team at Squanch Games have said, and just as absurdly, it is a smashing success. Following a back and forth between a Gatlian gun and another NPC, many times I would wonder about how the conversations would have gone holding a different alien, as many interactions are crafted for each weapon.

High On Life screenshot

You can't help but smile at opportune fourth wall breaks or lines where you can hear the voice actors breaking character to hold back laughter. Only a game that doesn’t take itself seriously could include goofs and come out looking even better without embarrassing itself.

I had a hard time walking away from NPCs because right when you think they are done, even more lines filled with entertaining idiocy are spewed out, triggering your weapons to also reply. The amount of recorded voice lines is staggering with no sign of repeats. I don't think I could have finished the game in time for the review if I had held myself back at every encounter to try and listen to everything.

It's also not every day that you see a menu option to make enemies and guns talk less. Story dialog will still occur as usual even with this adjustment, but it is possible to reduce or outright disable random dialog from triggering. Having too many conversations was not a problem for me, I loved the backseat driving, random quips, and (sometimes) helpful tips. Anyone wanting peace and quiet while scrounging for more unlocks can adjust the chatty-ness to their liking.

High On Life screenshot

For those worried about the novelty running out from having an excessive jokes per minute count from something that's right next to your face all the time, I'm glad to say it certainly did not for me. This is thanks to the studio knowing when to take the foot off the wisecrack pedal, letting the exploration and action elements take over, or simply letting you walk away.

While your experience may vary, I was smiling, chuckling, or at least expelling air out of my nose at the ridiculousness of what was happening for most of the campaign. That isn't to say it’s all a big joke-fest without a well-built storyline with twists, turns, and character development either, it’s there, it’s just not handled in the ways you normally expect.

High On Life screenshot

Alien Worlds

Squanch Games have delivered a good collection of vibrant worlds for visiting while you’re out completing bounty hunting missions. There are brightly colored sci-fi cities, neon-lit underground neighborhoods, alien jungles with eye-watering color clashes, a completely ordinary desert with no sandworms whatsoever, and more. The environmental artstyle reminds me a little of The Outer Worlds’ planets. Each area is much larger in size than they first appear too, supplying a shocking level of openness for exploration. High On Life’s Metroidvania elements show up here, with weapon abilities acquired later in the game providing access to new areas and hidden elements in previously visited worlds.

Your teleporting home acts as a base of operations, and it’s here you return to when a mission is accomplished to rest and select your next target. This is also where your sister and a grouchy ex-bounty hunter reside to make up a new “nice and happy” space family. The studio has not missed the opportunity to insert greatly uncomfortable family conflicts to take part in for entertainment value.

Like the environments, aliens also come in weird and wonderful shapes, usually with rounded corners and a touch unstable. No, I’m not describing a certain operating system. You can find everything from a 30-year-old child that wants to get shot and a slave secretary that keeps being promoted because you keep killing her bosses, to a prospective drummer that only speaks in farts. All in a day’s work in High On Life.

High On Life screenshot

The vibrant art styles can paint environments with a false sense of peace and harmony though. One of the early missions is a journey to a picturesque jungle you'd expect to see from an RPG level involving cutesy animals. But instead, you meet enslaved alien teddy bears. When your guns and NPCs open their mouths to talk, the stark difference in what you're seeing and hearing only makes situations even more hilarious.

Even the in-universe TV shows and adverts are full of Roiland's work, featuring hilarious parodies of news, infomercials, and reality TV that are always worth stopping and watching. Watch an especially memorable advertisement about THIS™ above. Trippy dream sequences, a shootout with ants at a Western saloon, paperwork speedruns at an office, a boss that tries to delete your save file, and a dine-and-dash kidnapping situation at a Space Applebee’s are just a taste of High On Life’s charm.

High On Life screenshot


As I said in the intro, even with talking guns in my face, it was the gameplay that surprised me the most. Amusingly enough, id's rebooted Doom games are what come to my mind when trying to compare the experience thanks to High On Life’s agile movement systems, melee executions, and distinct weapons with alt-fire modes. The controls aren't as tight as I would like them to be here though. There's a certain floaty-ness to movement that keeps it from reaching the heights of the best AAA high-mobile shooters. Nonetheless, High On Life's combat mechanics and creativity are all in the right places to produce great action sequences.

As the story progresses, the game hands you a grappling hook, directional dodging, air dashes, a sliding mechanic, magnetic boots for wallrunning, a multitude of special weapon abilities, plus a few more surprises, and it's not just for taking down the alien cartel either.

The combat rhythm gets increasingly complex as you unlock each of the four unique sentient weapons with special abilities that add to your arsenal. The Gatlian guns have traditional fire modes like pistol, shotgun, and SMG sure, which should be familiar to any FPS player, but it's the alt-attacks and special abilities (known as Trick Holes, because why not) where things get really interesting. It starts off simple with the ability to send enemies into the air and juggle them for more damage, but soon I was putting up time slowing bubbles, slinging 'destructo discs', and even firing the newborn babies of a Gatlian at tougher enemies to mind control them, all at the same time.

High On Life screenshot

The Gatlians' performance anxiety makes these special attacks reload slower during combat, making sure to not let you spam your way to victory. Combining the various abilities and movement options to takedown groups and bosses in style is a satisfying endeavor. Time also slows down briefly when using the weapon wheel and when taking aim with powers, making it a touch easier to get combos going in the heat of battle.

Environmental puzzles can be found all over the planets you visit. Thankfully, as someone who is not a fan of first-person platforming, these moments aren't overly complex, simply needing a special attack of a specific weapon or use of parkour action. At no point was I confused about what to do when faced with puzzles, actually finding them to be short and sweet breaks from the action.

That grappling hook I mentioned is in fact another sentient weapon named Knifey, a disturbingly violent alien that lives its life on your hip looking forward to gutting more things and loving every second of it. Enemies close to death can be finished off in (cartoon) graphic detail using Knifey - once again, very Doom-like - resulting in filled health and shield bars.

High On Life screenshot

While it is possible to mow down everything with brute force, different types of enemies can be dealt with more easily by using specific Gatlian gun attacks. Some foes stay back and lay covering fire, big brutes rush you with high armor, snipers take potshots from afar, while smaller aliens go for supporting roles like healing or supplying shields. All these elements combine to make combat enjoyable and exciting, with each new unlock making you think of new ways to annihilate cartel members.

The game also offers upgrades that improve or alter Gatlian and suit abilities to fit your needs. Using the galaxy's currency of choice, Pesos, is how you buy these, and the easiest way to get more is by exploring the nooks and crannies of the various worlds on offer. While it's nice to have some incentives to check behind every alien tree and crate, for those that despise hunting for secrets, it's certainly possible to go through the campaign without any upgrades if your shooting is up to par, or if you opt for the Story Mode difficulty.

Performance and bugs

High On Life performs well, but not to the level you'd expect from a game that isn't going for ultra-realistic graphics. I played it on a Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (16ACH6H) that houses an RTX 3060 Laptop GPU with 6GB VRAM, an AMD Ryzen 7 5800H CPU, and 16GB of RAM. At 1440p with maxed out Very High settings, the game averaged about 40FPS. Dropping Post Processing and Shadows options a little made things smoother by maintaining 60FPS in most environments. There aren't any ray tracing effects included here to affect FPS this much either.

High On Life options screenshot

I also tried the title on my PC which has an RX 580 with 8GB VRAM, AMD Ryzen 3700X 8 core, 16 thread CPU, and 16GB of RAM. In 1080p, reaching 60FPS using mostly Medium settings in this setup was possible, though expect to see performance dips to happen in boss battles when large amount of particle effects hit an aging GPU such as this. Reducing anti-aliasing is a bad idea overall though, with severe shimmering seen at anything lower than High.

Unfortunately, buggy levels made me restart checkpoints a handful of times. These included a couple of doors that sealed shut thinking I was already inside (I was not), a level refusing to load after an important mission, and once I had my weapon hand stuck in place while I could still move. Thankfully, autosaves happened right before each of these instances, so no progress was lost when reloading the level. Still, the game has virtually no loading screens after first entering a biome, so having to access a menu to reload a checkpoint because of a door not opening after an engaging session can put a damper on spirits.

Continuing the bug talk, a weird audio problem keeps intermittently popping up when characters speak. When triggered, the start of a voice line has a spike in volume for a brief moment before going back to normal, and this continues for the entire conversation. It does not hamper the experience too much, but it’s still an annoying bug to slip through QA for a game that puts so much importance on dialog and delivery. The studio is readying a day-one update with bug fixes, and hopefully at least some of these issues will be resolved by it.

To end this section on an even lower note, a field of view (FOV) slider is entirely missing from this first-person shooter. Thankfully, my days of getting headaches due to low FOV are mostly past me, but the number of times I've had to jerk my mouse around trying to locate enemies when they were right next to me has been way too high. I'm sure a fix for this will be made available by the PC community minutes after the game's launch, but it's astounding to not see this in a 2022 shooter.

High On Life screenshot


High On Life is unique in the way it has mashed together ideas from many genres, and somehow ended up with an actually engaging and, more importantly, funny product. Squanch Games could have easily squandered things by slipping up its Doom-like combat or having humor that’s too cringy to even laugh at. Having played far too many serious and gritty shooters in recent times, this was a breath of fresh air to experience.

As you would expect, Roiland and Squanch Games' style of vulgar and shock humor is present loud and proud, making jokes out of the most disturbing situations. Of course, this is coming from my own tastes in comedy and action. It's funny how the shock humor of Rick and Morty does not appeal to me, but the same style of delivery in a game is hilarious. If you think Roiland's humor may not be for you based on his other works, I would have normally said to not take a chance spending $60 on this. But with Game Pass being involved, this is definitely something to take a chance on. High on Life might surprise you just like it surprised me.

Unfortunately, the sporadic bugs, the slightly floaty movement, and lack of an FOV slider are what drag the game down from being an instant recommend. I spent around 10 hours in High On Life to complete the campaign with a large chunk of its secrets also in my grasp. The game definitely did not overstay its welcome. I would say someone only focusing on the main goals could race through it in less than seven hours, but a completionist would need at least 12-14 hours to find all secrets and upgrades.

High On Life launches on December 13 across Steam, Epic Games Store, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S for $59.99. It will also be available on Xbox Game Pass, PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming services on day one.

This review was conducted with a pre-release Steam copy provided by the developer.

High On Life
Humor Gun dialog Environments Creative combat
Somewhat buggy Loose movement No FOV slider
December 13, 2022


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