Comedy is hard to execute in a video game, and even when it’s done well, it still needs strong gameplay to support the jokes. High on Life falters on both counts. While it swings for the fences on presentation and tone, the mediocre action, jarring humor and dialogue, and less than amusing technical hiccups made me want to put its sensitive guns in their holsters.
envisioned by rick and morty From co-creator Justin Roiland, fans of that show or his other work can expect a similar brand of consistently over-the-top, extremely adult comedy. As a human teenager turned intergalactic bounty hunter following an alien invasion of Earth, you must save humanity with an arsenal of alien guns. These weapons, voiced by comedians including Roiland and JB Smoove and Tim Robinson, serve as a point of annoyance, with Kenny, your primary gun, being the biggest offender. Sometimes their jokes don’t even make sense, like a gun complaining about not being used in ages when I used them seconds ago. Thankfully, you can reduce the weapon crap via a menu slider, but this represents one of my biggest issues: I didn’t find High on Life funny.
High On Life screams at you for hours about how hilarious and messed up everything is through exchanges of throwaway dialogues that take potentially amusing bits and run them into the ground. The humor isn’t so much about setting up clever punchlines as it is about repeating the same basic gag with a barrage of profanity until it’s hopefully funny. This usually doesn’t happen. What’s more, everyone feels like a slight variation of the same silly cartoon, whether it’s your irresponsible older sister or free-loading bounty-hunting mentor. The game pokes fun at everything, including its fourth-wall-breaking sense of humor about game design and the industry in general. However, it does little to refresh the tropes it lampoons. Slipping on a pip puzzle to stay in the middle of the book without doing anything unique makes the joke feel hollow and hypocritical.
Although it’s never bothered me, High on Life does have its share of comedies. I smiled at the offensive banter of a family of loud-speaking construction workers, and a head-turning reference to a popular restaurant chain provided a fun visual gag. Getting special discs that call out little diorama-like segments that serve as big, eccentric jokes produces some of the better laughs, as does a sprinkling of unexpected celebrity cameos.
Life’s High’s humor hits more whims than it does, and the gameplay isn’t far behind. The shooting looks passable enough to be mindless fun, but it’s not great. The melee execution kills the glory of Doom without the satisfying flamboyance. The limited arsenal of live weapons has primary and alternate firing modes. Kenny, for example, fires standard pistol rounds and can fire mortar-like rounds that launch groups of aerial targets to juggle with bullets. My favorite weapon is the Gus, a shotgun that fires a large disc that blasts enemies away. In a neat twist, you can hit the disc to speed it up.
The combat starts off as a drag, but picks up as you gain more guns, and I enjoy combining their talents. Unfortunately, enemy variety is disappointingly small, so most encounters feel just that. As the adventure progressed, I started avoiding optional firefights when possible because they started to feel more like busy work. Boss fights fall flat, and some throw too much at players, leading to many cheap deaths.
Outside of battles, you’ll explore a minimalist selection of planets that offer large explorable hubs featuring Metroid-style ability gating and decent platforming challenges that make use of your jetpack. Although they look good from an artistic perspective, they feel surprisingly lifeless with NPCs acting as signposts that deliver suspiciously awkward quips. High on Life is in dire need of a map or compass, as the zones are large and confusing that it’s easy to get lost. I often wandered off looking for unmarked warp gates to return to HQ. The lack of a map is also serious because there are planetary stores that sell special upgrades, but finding these needles in a haystack is a chore. One store offered a great upgrade I couldn’t afford, and when I returned later to buy it, finding the store again became such a hassle that I eventually gave up.
High on Life also suffered from several technical shortcomings during my time with it. On top of the general hiccups, I occasionally encountered enemies that froze or got stuck on the geometry. I had to resume a long firefight when a pair of flying enemies got stuck behind a wall, blocking my progress. Signs can sometimes be broken, such as when I missed rescuing a captive human because the order suddenly disappeared. Grabbing a collectible once launched me into the skybox, causing another reset. The post-launch patch fixed a few things, but I still encountered a number of wrinkles.
Despite the many shortcomings and my general disdain for game writing, High on Life does show occasional glimpses of potential. I’d like to see a sequel polish and improve on this base. I’m always itching for shooters to get more creative, but High on Life is a reminder that “different” doesn’t always mean “good.”