STAFF REVIEW of High on Life (Xbox One)

Monday, January 16, 2023.
by Josh Morgan

High on Life Box art High on Life was first shown off at the Xbox/Bethesda Games Showcase during the summer of 2022 and it immediately climbed to the top of my most anticipated list due to its colorful art style, shooter mechanics with talking guns, and of course, its raunchy humor. Right away I could tell that the humor would be a hit with me, and I knew this would be a divisive game with the media and the public. Because for some reason there are some people that just don’t find aliens with butthole faces playing the drums on the street very funny. I don’t want to know those people, I’m glad we don’t hang in the same circles.

High on Life was developed by Squanch Games, a studio led by Justin Roiland, the co-creator of Rick and Morty from Adult Swim/Cartoon Network. If you’re not familiar with his work, you are not alone. I’ve seen clips of Rick and Morty and have found what I’ve seen funny, but I’ve never watched a full show. Not everyone likes this kind of humor, and after watching a few gameplay videos, specifically the “Meet Knifey” trailer they released, you should have a good idea if this game's subject matter and humor will be your thing or not. I don’t want to talk about the humor too much because it’s subjective, and I’d rather focus on the core gameplay, story and graphics, which I don’t think are getting enough of the spotlight. Just know, if you don’t laugh when you find out there is an achievement to carry a gallon of 'alien cum' throughout the whole game for no reason then you probably should stop reading cause this game is not for you.

The story is a typical one if you strip away all the crude humor and talking guns. You are an average teenage human and get thrown into an intergalactic war to save the human race. You are teamed up with a veteran bounty hunter past his prime, and with his mentorship you take over where he left off and are on a mission to save the galaxy. If you add back in all the crude humor and talking guns you get a much crazier story. Humans are being used by aliens to get high. The G3 Cartel (the bad guys) have also discovered an alien race of talking guns and they are using them to expand their drug empire across the galaxy. You get Kenny, your first Gatling (the talking guns) and he immediately saves your life from the G3 invasion. Upon reaching the first alien you are recruited by a washed-up bounty hunter to take down the G3 Cartel’s high-ranking officers and eventually the main boss himself, and you do it all with a gallon of alien cum in your pocket.

As you progress through the 11 to 15 hour story you’ll unlock more guns, more abilities, and you’ll be leaving a trail of G3 Cartel in your path. I think if you were just to concentrate on the story you could probably finish it in under 10 hours, but you can easily spend double that just exploring, watching the videos, and listening to NPC's in the city. There are a lot of funny conversations and videos scattered about the levels and they are always worth interacting with. For instance, I came across an alien race that looked like a care bear and one of them was cut in half. He was dying and scared and didn't want to be alone. So, I stayed with him until he died. As I walk away, he yells at me for leaving, and shames me for being inconsiderate. I stay by his side for another death scene, and I go to leave only to be heckled again for leaving him during his dying breath. I don’t know how long you can keep this up, but I stopped after three deaths before I moved on. The whole time I was walking away he was yelling and swearing at me. I almost felt bad.

“Any glitches or bugs you encounter are intentional satirical references to other games with glitches or bugs”

That’s the opening warning as the game is booting up, but luckily my time with High on Life resulted in very few bugs or glitches. I played a bit of the game before the day one launch patch and the framerate was a jittery mess for a few days and I saw online that Squanch Games had announced a day one patching coming, so I briefly stopped. That patch came and from there on out it was smooth sailing for the most part. The framerate stays at a stable 60FPS until you get into a few of the boss fights and intense encounters with multiple enemies. Even then it’s barely noticeable for someone like me, but anyone that is more receptive to framerate drops you might take more notice than I did.

The lack of HDR is a bit of a bummer, and I really think that the colorful palette of the environments really would have benefited from it because that’s where the graphics shine, the environments. As you advance the story the first alien location you come across is a city with vibrant colored buildings and neon lights. You’ll travel to a few more locations as you take on the G3 Cartel. Jungles, deserts, busy cities, and empty slums are the main locations of the game. Oh, and a Space Applebee’s.

Even though the story revolves around the human player that you control, all of the dialog from your perspective is delivered through the Gatlings. Kenny, the first gun you come across (voiced by Justin Roiland himself) is the main character of the story and he carries most of the dialogue between you and your enemies. If a boss talks some trash before a fight, whichever Gatling you are holding is the one that fires back a comedic response, and all of the voices are fantastic and have very different personalities. Not only do they have different personalities, but they also have different shooting mechanics and special abilities that let you really switch up the gameplay. The alternate firing of the Gatlings is called the “Trick Hole” and they can be used for traversal and for dealing out additional damage to the G3. This is where High on Life kind of turns into a Metroidvania style game because early on there are some areas that you cannot access until you unlock a certain Gatling and use its Trick Hole.

Kenny is the starting gun you get, and he performs mostly like a pistol, and his Trick Hole is called the Glob Shot. The Glob Shot is a thick ball that you can use precise aiming to rotate platforms to access new areas, and you can shoot it at enemies to bounce them up in the air when they are behind cover to juggle them with more shots. The shotgun type Gatling is Gus, voiced by J.B. Smoove. He works like a typical shotgun for his primary firing ability, but his Trick Hole is shooting out a saw blade that bounces off enemies and sticks into walls to use as platforms. The third gun that you come across is Sweezy and she is a machine gun style that performs a lot like the Needler from the Halo games, but also has a Trick Hole that deals out an orb that causes enemies to move in slow motion. Once I unlocked Sweezy there was no going back to the other Gatlings unless I was stuck reloading at a bad time. I pretty much used Sweezy for the rest of the game.

There is a pawn shop in the main city where you can purchase upgrades for your Gatlings, but honestly, I forgot it even existed and barely upgraded my guns during my playthrough. In there you can buy more ammo capacity and small tweaks to the Trick Holes of the Gatlings, but they are very small changes and I don’t think they are necessary. I unintentionally skipped past 90% of these upgrades and I was able to play through and enjoy the story completely. I do plan on playing through again to mop up some miscellaneous achievements and maybe then I’ll experiment with the upgrades a bit more. To be honest I think I just forgot the pawn shop existed, maybe it would have been a better choice to be able to upgrade weapons in the bounty hunter portal in your house.

High on Life is a fantastic addition to the Xbox catalog. Even if it wasn’t in Xbox Gamepass I would be recommending you play this game for its story, Metroidvania exploration and Trick Holes. Since it’s included with Xbox Gamepass it’s a no-brainer to check out. If you are a fan of the Roiland style humor then you are in for a real treat. There were so many times I had to pause the game and set the controller down because I was so shocked by something that was said or done. It was a pleasant surprise to be caught off guard like that in a game and I really look forward to what Squanch Games does next. Hopefully it's a sequel to this must play game.

**High on Life was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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