Dec. 17, 2022

High on Life Review

High on Life Review

High on Life Review (Xbox Series X)

Release date: December 13, 2022

Publisher: Squanch Games

Developer: Squanch Games

Platforms: Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows 

Rating: 9/10


Originally announced back in June 2022, High on Life was showcased as the third major title from Squanch Games, a studio founded by Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, several years ago. Despite having a two-month delay, which these days often means a "Kiss of Death" more than anything, the game finally launched in full last week exclusively on Microsoft platforms. After spending days glued into it, I gotta say that High on Lifeis a much-needed addition to the FPS genre that is just downright addictive. 

High on Life opens with a take on the classic retro shooter as a means to introduce the controls and set the tone for the comedy that's to be expected. After zooming out of that game, you come to learn you are playing as a 20-year-old gamer who is struggling to find some direction in life and tends to over-indulge in gaming. Amidst planning a massive party with your sister in the absence of your parents, an alien ship warps into your neighborhood, piloted by the infamous G3 Cartel, an intergalactic gang that has come to Earth to harvest humans as drugs. In an effort to defeat them, and apply your gun-toting FPS skills, you assume the role of a galactic bounty hunter and with the help of several talking weapons called "Gattlians", set forth on an epic adventure to eliminate those at the top of the cartel and save humanity. 

High on Life can be played in a linear fashion, where you stick to the plot, or in open world where on top of the aforementioned, you can freely explore the universe, collect loot boxes, and upgrade your character. In addition, the game incorporates a very simplistic user interface and also doesn't overly hold your hand, thus allowing you to explore without limitations. Many games will give you a clear marker when you have an objective and High on Life gives you an option to enable that, rather than a default to it. Throughout my own gameplay, I didn't bother using it much as the world is built in such a way that your main objective pathways are clearly constructed. 

The weapon mechanics can feel a little limited early on in the game, but as you discover more Gattlians, of which there are four, you also learn new abilities that keep the gunplay from going stale. To add to this, the game progression adapts to the fact that you've adapted new abilities, therefore making each boss battle quirky and every new enemy wave a glorious spurring of wicked hacking and shooting. Furthermore, each of these weapons have their own voices and fleshed-out characters so as you traverse through space, it feels like you've got an unorthodox sidekick with you at all times. You can also purchase modifications for them which can be accessed and equipped in the start menu, further enhancing gunplay. 

On a strictly technical level, the gameplay is incredibly smooth. The controls don't experience any sort of delay between the controller and screen. Additionally, the base control settings are adequately laid out to provide wonderfully fluent gameplay. Your interaction with objects is fairly limited, which enables an added layer of that previously stated fluency. In all honesty, I was really surprised to play a first-person shooter that wasn't a buggy mess upon launch.

The world itself has some cute and funny characters along the way. Many of the character designs are typical of those you've seen from the creator already. While the NPCs are standard across the board, the more expanded secondary and tertiary characters have some wittier dialogue. Each of them also has that signature Rick and Morty humor attached, which 90% of the time is great, but misses enough for it to be noticeable. The instances where it misses the mark often had me cringing a bit as those scenes felt like the creators were trying too hard to keep the comedic roll going. Regardless, the humor does land well and also makes for some truly entertaining boss fights. Rightfully so, I can understand that it won't land with everyone. In fact, the comedy has been such a large factor that it's influenced whether people give the game a fair shot or not. 

In regard to the comedy, High on Life doesn't shy away from not only dark humor but mocking the current state of gaming and pop culture. In fact, when you load up the game, it clearly states that any bugs encountered are on purpose. In another instance where you land on your first world, you'll encounter a TV playing an interview with an actor who fornicates with turtles and is subsequently bombarded then murdered by the audience for admitting it. There are even a few snarky jabs at mainstream gaming news outlets, which I absolutely adored. If you've watched any of Roiland's productions, you know he's not afraid to explore darker, more satirical comedy. It was a breath of fresh air in this respect, as the last game I can really recall successfully breaking those same barriers was Borderlands 2. In this sense, despite the linear and somewhat simplistic gameplay style, I found myself absolutely enamored by this game simply for its "dare I say" references. 

The bigger impact of a game like High on Life is that it introduces prospective players to something fresh in the first-person shooter genre. As of late, it feels as though every FPS game has been trying to emulate the formula popularized by Call of Duty. We've seen many franchises go down this path, such as Halo, which in my opinion had a wonderful FPS mechanic before 343 Industries took over. While this formula has been tried before, it's one that is rarely explored due to how hard it is to master. Even then, this take is still fresh when compared to the Borderlands franchise as it is not just other characters initiating the comedy, but mostly your handheld weapon. Furthermore, it's adaptive play options can appeal to any kind of player, whether that be the seasoned Call of Duty veteran or the open-world adventurer.

Honestly, this game made me feel like a kid while playing. The bright colors, paired with the relaxing synthwave music and crude yet satirical humor, made High on Life a genuinely enjoyable game. As mentioned, while the gameplay may strike some as a little basic, it felt balanced and complimentary when paired with the dialogue and overall character motivations. This simplistic gameplay is polished though, never making me feel as though I was playing an unfinished product. Dare I say, this game really feels like the developers had a genuine passion behind the scenes and their joy comes through in the final product. There are not many modern games that come to mind that invoke that. 

High on Life is a fun intergalactic shooter that offers a fresh take in the first-person shooter genre while simultaneously incorporating the humor that made Rick and Morty a staple in modern comedy. Ignore the critic reviews on this one because this game is well worth it if you're looking for an exceptional balance of familiarity, uniqueness, and comedy. 

High on Life is a Microsoft exclusive available on the Xbox One, Xbox Seres X/S, and Windows for $59.99 or as a Day One release on Xbox Game Pass.


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