High on Life is a new first-person shooter from Justin Roiland’s Squanch Games. It aims to blend a sci-fi setting with Metroidvania-inspired exploration and Roiland’s signature comedic style popularized by Rick and Morty. Unfortunately, the game ultimately fails to deliver on almost all of those fronts and vastly overstays its welcome despite a brief playtime of around ten hours.
The main selling point of High on Life is Roiland’s involvement. Not only is he a co-creator of Squanch Games, but he reportedly worked extensively on the game’s premise and development and provided numerous voices alongside talent like J.B. Smoove, Tim Robinson, Betsy Sodaro, and Tom Kenny. The extensive scope of Roiland’s involvement means that the game is completely saturated with evidence of his involvement.
I’m generally a fan of Roiland’s work on the likes of Rick and Morty, Trover Saves the Universe and Yacht Rock, but High on Life ended up being one of the most annoyingly written games I have ever played. The core gimmick of High on Life is players wielding a small cast of talking guns as they play, which results in the player constantly being bombarded by crappy witticisms and one-note characters only meant to be hilarious because of their silly voices.
It is important to note that players can decrease the frequency of their guns and enemies speaking, even going so far as to disable non-necessary lines completely. However, this does not completely fix the problem because of how insistent High on Life is that it is hilarious. The game finds its writing so important and high quality that it frequently forces players to sit and listen to lengthy dialogue sequences. In between each mission, the player is forced to stand and listen to two characters bicker with one another, sometimes upwards of nearly ten minutes at a time. These sequences can be especially brutal to sit through since their arguments tend to repeatedly cover the same irrelevant and uninteresting topic of the player character’s sister dating an alien.
Even if the game’s writing is annoying, however, it has the potential to be saved by having solid gameplay. High on Life’s gameplay comprises first-person shooter combat and exploration, but neither is captivating. The game’s combat is particularly hampered by its over-simplicity and repetitiveness.
Throughout their playthrough, players build an arsenal of four weapons, including a semi-automatic pistol that can shoot enemies into the air, a shotgun that sucks enemies toward you, an automatic pistol that acts like a needler from Halo, and a gun named Creature that spawns little aliens that attack enemies or can be used to mind-control one briefly. High on Life successfully builds each weapon to have its own feel and strengths on the battlefield, but the game’s combat is so simple and easy that even on the highest difficulty, there was rarely a reason to use a particular gun. Players are able to pick their favorite and just use it throughout the game without any thought.
High on Life also suffers from insufficient enemy variety to keep its combat interesting. There are only a handful of enemy types throughout the game, and the player is introduced to all of them within the first couple of hours. Once they are all seen, the combat never changes significantly to keep things interesting or push the player to adapt. High on Life goes to great lengths to give players options through movement abilities and alternative weapon fires, but there is never a reason to use them when most enemies need to be shot in the head once or twice.
The boss fights are similarly repetitive and uninspired. They each offer a brief cutscene to introduce their personality and have unique battle arenas, but none but the final boss take more strategy than jumping and shooting. The boss fights also seem poorly balanced when considering the Creature weapon, which allows the player to constantly shoot out minions all over the arena while dodging attacks. The minions then run and swarm the boss, dealing constant damage to them and trivializing boss fights.
Players hoping for interesting exploration in High on Life will also likely be left wanting. Players visit a few alien environments that are as generic as they are poorly structured throughout the game. When playing through levels for the first time, the layouts are so constricted and confusing that players will find themselves frequently only able to navigate them by following the game’s glitchy mission waypoint.
A short way through the campaign, players can return to levels to further explore them with the new movement techniques they’ve unlocked. These include items like jetpacks and magnetic boots, fire modes from the player’s guns like a knife that can grapple, platforms shot from their shotgun, and minions going through tubes and vents. With how linearly the levels are laid out, however, exploring them is often a frustrating struggle of finding paths through the level that don’t always seem intentional on the part of the developers. Add to that that there is no desirable award for exploring, and doing so quickly feels like a waste of time and effort.
It is impossible for me to imagine what High on Life offers potential players who aren’t die-hard fans of Justin Roiland’s comedic style and voice acting. Anyone who isn’t thrilled at the idea of having Roiland constantly chattering in their ear for a dozen hours straight will likely find the game’s incessant need to force itself on the player annoying. With the addition of uncompelling combat, frustrating exploration, and a lack of anything else to offer players, High on Life is one of the most annoying, derivative, and slogging experiences in years. The only thing that keeps it from being entirely forgettable as an experience is how ingrained its annoyances get in one’s mind.
High on Life is available on December 13, 2022, for PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.
High on Life
- Rating - 3/103/10
Anyone who isn’t thrilled at the idea of having Roiland constantly chattering in their ear for a dozen hours straight will likely find the game’s incessant need to force itself on the player annoying. With the addition of uncompelling combat, frustrating exploration, and a lack of anything else to offer players, High on Life is one of the most annoying, derivative, and slogging experiences in years.
Arron is a writer and video editor for But Why Tho? that is passionate about all things gaming, whether it be on a screen or table. When he isn’t writing for the site he’s either playing Dungeons & Dragons, watching arthouse movies, or trying to find someone to convince that the shooter Brink was ahead of its time.
March 20, 2023