High On Life review - Failure to squanch

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High on Life cover art

Sometimes, you can find an odd amount of enjoyment in the things that used to make you laugh as a kid. Juvenile humour is often at its best when it serves a point and has clarity. This is what makes those 20 minutes bursts of Rick and Morty work - It is over the top and sincerely childish but uses it as a framework to talk about much more. High On Life tries so much of the same material but rarely captures the brevity and heart it begs you to find.

It's a game with meta-depth, from inside jokes to secret endings. This being said, there's never really a reason to keep looking when its single biggest selling point is also its biggest weakness. High On Life is a game that feels built to watch a single clip at a time, scrolling through your TikTok feed. It's a barrage of content that rarely grounds itself in any of the greater themes that made the likes of Rick and Morty stand out.

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For all its jokes, High On Life often feels like one big punchline for a joke that never comes.

You get it??

High On Life starts with you playing a video game inside a video game. You're a teenager fresh out of school with no ambition and no job. Your sister crashes in, announcing she will be hosting a party at the house as your parents have just gone away. Just moments after this, aliens invade, killing your neighbours and threatening to imprison humans to manufacture them into drugs. This advanced alien race seeks to turn earth into one big drug den. The only thing getting in their way is you and an alien talking gun named Kenny that you found on the ground.

Kenny in High on Life
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High On Life is fundamentally a power fantasy, although the power is less super strength and more finding out you're double-jointed. You are definitely powerful but it means a little less when you are kitted out with guns next to a guy shouting about the low low prices of "Alien Cum". The world is constantly taunting you for even playing it to begin with.

In order to explore that world, you are granted the role of a bounty hunter. The previous owner of your suit has set himself up in your house and now has a working bounty hunter machine to pick off the game's main bosses. In order to free Earth, you must take down the alien cartel holding them hostage and you do this by grabbing official bounties, travelling to their location and killing them.

Chatterboxing

One of the game's central gimmicks is how its weapons work. Every gun in the game (and a particularly evil knife) is a member of a race known as the Gatlians. They have also been wiped out like the humans and are teaming up with you to take down the cartel responsible. Your character is functionally silent in High On Life so the roster of weapons does all the talking and fills up almost every inch of silence.

Kenny shooting in High on Life
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This can be genuinely funny, allowing the weapons to all have their own personalities and quirks. It allows for Justin Roiland's very unique brand of humour to shine and often feels semi-unscripted. The game just throws jokes at you and hopes that some of them stick. Unfortunately, this is incredibly hard to sustain and feels dry very quickly.

Some of the best humour comes from the tense silence after the punchline. When you can sit on something and really think about it, the joke can hit you in waves. High On Life feels incredibly uncomfortable with this tension. It cuts everything immediately and never really hopes you get really invested in one train of thought or concept. It starts a million dishes but never quite finishes one. This style of humour works in a smaller format because, when the 20 minutes are over, you are functionally forced to take a break. High On Life doesn't stop.

In service of this, the entire game is treated with this cool, detached sense of irony. You are constantly pushed into situations where it feels like the game is saying "ha, you cared about this? What a loser". There is plenty of space where this can work well but when you stop caring, all of that extra detail feels pointless. High On Life is a game that begs you to care about it just so it can make fun of you for doing so.

At least the guns feel good

The gun's personalities match how they work. Kenny is energetic and fiery, but also a bit nervous. He shoots standard green bullets but can hit a big glob of the stuff on a cooldown. Knifey is erratic and can kill in a single shot. Gus is laid back and calm so he is a shotgun that can pull enemies towards him. They all have special moves that help you get around the world.

Shooting in High on Life
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High On Life takes some of its world design from Metroidvanias, having you constantly see new areas and vantage points that you can't quite reach yet. So much of understanding the world is realising you don't have the right tool just yet. This gives you a reason to explore an area after you've defeated the boss and gives an organic way of teaching you how new gear works.

Guns feel smooth and snappy, having just enough variation to keep you entertained through the 7 or so hours it takes to get through the story. This being said, their chatter will likely get on your nerves. When played for ten to twenty minutes at a time, it can be quite charming but it never has the depth needed to carry you through the whole game. It feels like it's pinging from one gimmick to another, without ever landing on something more substantive. I always feel just a few steps away from something much bigger before the game pulls the rug from under me and moves on to the next fart joke.

High On Life
Though it has plenty of great ideas, High on Life is too overbearing and never quite commits to its best moments.
Xbox Series X

A copy of High on Life was provided by the publisher