December 13, 2022
In a year featuring a range of deeply immersive and serious RPGs and action adventures, we have had some light-hearted games that have helped to break up the heaviness, but at the end of 2022, High on Life is the perfect palate cleanser for those wanting just let loose and have some fun. Squanch Games‘ biggest game to date was Trover Saves the Universe, and while not perfect by any means, it showcased what co-creator of Rick and Morty, Justin Roiland, could pull off in the video game medium.
High on Life sees Earth overrun by aliens, as the evil Garmantuous and his G3 cartel has invaded our planet. From there, you meet Kenny, a pistol with all the nervous ramblings of Morty, and end up travelling into space in an effort to defeat the despot and return things to some sort of normality. It’s a fundamental plot brought to life by the excellent writing, both in the humour fans of Roiland are familiar with, but also in the way it pokes gentle fun at the tropes of the FPS genre, along with other nods to games featuring Italian plumbers and more.
It’s easy to discount the latest entry from the studio as a lesser FPS because of the vulgarity of its humour, but underneath all the dick and fart (and ejaculate) jokes, there’s a gratifying game at the heart of High on Life, especially in the various gameplay elements that always bring the fun. What’s noticeable after the first few bounties is how the various guns you find add layers to both combat and movement. Even Kenny has some great abilities, like the ability to launch glob at enemies that send them into the air, but can also be used to knock down bridges and platforms to get where you need to go.
Knifey is an incredible addition to your arsenal, and is so obsessed with stabbing anything that moves, and even full-on orgasms as you chop up a boss after a showdown. His bloodlust is off the scale, and while his constant chatter about cutting up flesh might get too much for some, he’s a vital weapon when it comes to not only dispatching enemies in melee, but also destroying the various slimy chests you’ll find to gain pesos (the game’s currency) and collectable cards based off the Garbage Pail Kids. All of your weapons talk, and will do so sporadically throughout. If you do get fed up of them talking, the option to turn it off is available when travelling across the galaxy.
My favourite gun is probably Gus, a shotgun-type weapon voiced by JB Smooth of Curb Your Enthusiasm fame (or the MCU’s Spider-Man movies as the teacher Julius Dell). He launches a metallic disk at enemies that can be hit repetitively like Captain America’s shield, or used as a platform to reach higher locations. There’re a few other weapons that have other abilities, such as Sweezy’s ability to slow down time and fire needles through surfaces, but it’s how they all come together (and can be switched seamlessly in combat) that make for a lot of fun when exploring the weird and wonderful worlds you’ll encounter.
The fundamentals of movement are straightforward enough to most players of FPS titles, although crouching is oddly done by pressing down on the D-pad. It’s not a deal-breaker, but when you usually do so by clicking the right stick or one of the four main buttons, it can make moving through vents and tight spots slower. Apart from that, getting around is a ton of fun, especially when using ziplines and the alien bugs to pull yourself from one to another, using the air as a means of both travelling and getting an aerial advantage on an enemy. When engaging in a fight, the range of weapons and opportunities blend together for such an enjoyable time.
High on Life doesn’t change the genre, but it does provide a refreshing alternative to the seriousness of it. There’re fun mods that can be equipped to your guns by spending money at the pawn shop, but it is the variety of the locations that give you different ways to approach the smart level design and enemy encounters. There’s no denying just how beautiful planets are, bursting with colour and detail. You’ll have to fight waves of alien thugs, and completing the bounties (as you’re a cool af bounty hunter now!) by killing the bosses, both of which let you off the chain and use your skills however you wish. There’s also a surprising amount of variety in enemy and boss attacks, so you’re rarely using the same weapons and abilities all the time.
Other additions to the game include the use of laser disks. These let you move across locations faster, but they can also be purchased. One such disk gave me the chance to solve an environmental puzzle where I had to shoot panels to move pipes. Once I’d solved the puzzle, an alien female was finally able to do a massive shit from one end so that her boyfriend could happily devour it at the other. It was disgusting to watch the guy take a worrying amount of pleasure from it, but I couldn’t help but laugh as the dialogue poked fun at the trope of small choices and actions having bigger impacts later in the game, implying by letting this monstrosity of events happen, it could affect later events.
If you’re not a fan of Rick and Morty’s awkward and occasionally vulgar humour, High on Life won’t be for you. There’s a ton of dialogue that should never be heard by anyone under the age of eighteen, but if you’re fine with this, shame on you. In all seriousness, I found myself laughing all the time, whether it was something one of the weapons said to me, something I’d read on a street sign (Little Shit-aly, ffs), or my new alien friend Gene’s fascination with the obscure 1994 movie, Tammy and the T-Rex, starring the delightful Denise Richards. The humour is going to divide players, but if you’re OK with Roiland and co’s brand of crass yet intelligent humour (believe me, it exists), you’ll have no problem laughing continuously throughout.
High on Life is a deceptively smart game when it comes to the mechanics of gunplay and traversal, and while there’re a few niggles with movement, it’s ridiculously fun. Squanch Games has managed to capitalise on the mistakes Trover made, as well as find holes in the FPS genre to create an enjoyable shooter filled with gross humour that never failed to make me laugh. There’s not a ton to do outside of the main story, but that doesn’t mean that the writing or structure of it ever failed to give me something to like.
Fun traversal and combat
Some smart ideas
Colourful and rich environments
Some odd button choices
Humour will put off some people
High on Life is filled with some fun mechanics and great writing, and while it doesn't reinvent the genre, it makes it more enjoyable.