High On Life Review: Comedy is said to result from tragedy plus time, but in video games, the actual tragedy is the gap between good comedies. Thankfully, I had the impression I’d hit the jackpot when High on Life first started, and my talking gun mockingly told me I was doing a fantastic job while shooting dancing aliens in the face.
Although it occasionally indulges in lackluster potty humor and has bugs and performance issues, it mainly succeeds in being the kind of weird space satire I’ve always desired. High on Life is a game that just knows how to have a good time, and there really aren’t enough of those.
Whether I was talking with my shotgun about the virtues of science and formulas, dousing myself in alien poop to sneak into a secure facility, or strangely watching a full live-action movie from the ’90s on a nearby television.
This hilariously inappropriate first-person shooter prioritizes its absurdist plot and cast of characters and steadfastly rejects to take itself seriously. You start a ludicrous interstellar voyage to exact revenge against the extraterrestrial drug gang responsible after Earth is overrun by revolting aliens that kidnap humans to be used as psychoactive narcotics.
The exceedingly impolite weapons themselves, who serve as both your means of doing havoc and the story’s most crucial characters, are with you the entire time. The adventure’s animated weapons, or Gatlians, are the best part. They include Kenny, the easily agitated pistol voiced by Justin Roiland doing his trademark Rick & Morty impression.
Sweezy, the foul-mouthed sniper rifle that appears to be a reference to Halo’s Needler, Creature, who uses his rapidly developing offspring as ammunition, and my personal favorite, Gus, the surprisingly wholesome shotgun voiced by JB Sm.
While some took a while to win my heart, sharing a 16-hour voyage with these gentlemen who held me up to my face was a great justification for a tonne of funny discussion and character development. I really didn’t want to have to put my new best buddies back in their holsters by the time the credits rolled.
That’s large because of High on Life’s generally strong writing, which also includes a lot of stupid jokes, profanity-filled rants, and TV screens playing silly programming that could have easily been taken from one of Rick & Morty’s Interdimensional Cable episodes.
One level has an alien that follows you about and drones on for what seems like an eternity before you finally gain the ability to kill him. Another compels you to have a substantial supper at Space Applebee’s for no apparent reason.
You may also discover a theatre showing the 1990 real-life film Demon Wind, which features commentary a la Mystery Science Theater 3000-style from some local aliens. You better know I saw the entire thing. The narrative is only roughly eight hours long if you have the attention and willpower to push through despite these enjoyable side activities.
It only makes sense that my first playing took me over 16 hours, partly because I was having so much fun during that time. I never knew when I might run into something insane, like when I teleported a stretch of motorway onto a jungle planet and watched the occupants of the cars that had been taken with it slowly devolve from a group of aliens with road rage into an insane cult that sacrificed their own to appease the asphalt gods.
The entire thing is packed with so much silliness, and it’s always exciting to spend time planet-hopping through it.
That An Fps So Ludicrous Also Has A Lot Of Heart Is Astounding
High on Life has a lot of jokes that are either lowbrow, sophomoric, or pearl-clutchingly irreverent, so it won’t be funny to everyone. But it really worked for me as a fan of vintage comedic video games like Borderlands 2 and South Park: The Stick of Truth.
Even for someone with a very high tolerance for it, there were times when the excessive profanity and shock comedy felt forced or overdone, but the hilarious portions and crude dialogue were more frequently successful.
When the grunt foes disrespectfully twerk in your direction while they are still engaged in combat, it’s difficult not to chuckle, you know? But it’s impressive that the plot of High on Life ends up having a lot of heart for a shooter with such an absurd and purposely irreverent premise.
Though mostly to exact revenge on my Gatlian friends, not to defend humanity, I had a true drive to destroy the alien drug cartel due to my genuine enjoyment of bonding with Gene and the washed-up bounty hunter turned mooch couch-crasher.
Slinging your companion’s weaponry in firefights is extravagant and oftentimes messy, which fits in perfectly with High on Life’s entirely chaotic feel. I was concerned that combat would consist of little more than using pea shooter Kenny to clean up mindless ants in the early going because weapons are a touch inaccurate, and opponents flop around the battlefield firing gloop at you.
It doesn’t help that High on Life is almost always relatively simple to complete, even in the hardest setting. You’re given plenty of chances to replenish your health and shield, and approaching bullets are almost always sluggish enough to be easily evaded.
Fortunately, things start to get much more fascinating if you get new weapons like the jetpack or other intriguing fighting options (like Creature’s ability to mind-control adversaries on the battlefield or Gus’ ability to suck up lesser bad guys directly in front of him and then blast them to bits).
There are still lots of things to be angry about, such as the weak enemy diversity, the sporadic appearance of hostile aliens, or the bizarre choice to make the crouch button on the d-down pad’s button the default button (you can rebind this in the Ease of Access section of your Xbox settings menu).
The fun is in coming up with inventive ways to get rid of the bad guys in each region because these creatures don’t exactly provide the most enjoyable combat experience. Like how you can utilize Kenny’s glob shot skill to hurl foes into the air and then juggle them with bullets until they explode, or how you can use Sweezy’s object-piercing rounds to eliminate adversaries that are hiding behind cover (or stuck in the environment).
It’s undoubtedly less polished and more chaotic than your ideal shooter, but it makes for a fun playground for executing absurd and hilarious kills, which fits well with High on Life’s spirit.
This Is A Decent Sandbox For Executing Hilarious Kills
The alternate-fire modes of your guns—terrifyingly dubbed their “trick hole”—which give them functionality in addition to murdering things, make them reliable companions for getting through each level when you aren’t using them to shoot things.
Gus can shoot his spinning blades into walls to create platforms, Kenny can use his Glob Shot to push obstacles out of the way, Sweezy can fire bubbles that slow time in a specific region, and more. I wasn’t expecting it to be so much fun just to run around looking for treasures and hidden loot boxes.
Backtracking is a useful use of time in Metroidvania games since, as you unlock weapons and skills, you’ll get access to new regions and mysteries in places you’ve already been. Exploring also earns you alien Pesos, which you can use to enhance your weapons and bounty hunter outfit and gain valuable benefits like an improved version of Gus’ enemy-sucking skill that allows him to rip off their armor and give it to you.
High on Life also features several wacky and memorable boss battles that act as loopy climaxes to each stage and pit you against various extraterrestrial criminals. Not only are these bouts the only ones where I feel challenged in-fight, but the bosses you face and the ridiculous tasks they give you to complete are usually always hilarious punchlines to whatever the villain’s overall plot was.
So much so that I really felt a little sad about having to kill them brutally. I had to pause during a boss battle to allow myself to giggle at the ironic humor of the bad guy’s punishment since it was the kind of treacherous attack I had never anticipated.
A further example of meta-humor may be found in High on Life’s disclaimer, which states that any problems or glitches you may come across are “intentionally sarcastic references to other games with bugs and glitches.” The game is indeed prone to bugs and performance issues, which, while rarely severe enough to stop the fun, were a constant annoyance, so I didn’t laugh as hard as I should have.
As of the time of this writing, a performance patch has been implemented that seems to have resolved the majority of the problems. However, while playing on an Xbox Series X, I am still occasionally experiencing minor framerate dips during stressful situations, such as some of the more intricate boss fights.
Regarding bugs, they’re mostly petty irritations, like when a character locked up on me. I couldn’t discuss it with him until I reloaded my save or when a few foes persisted as invisible creatures after I killed them.
High on Life is a reckless, crazy shooter that shines with its outlandish humor, stupid setting, and foul-mouthed weapons that hold the entire thing together most of the time. The sci-fi adventure starts with a bit of sloppy combat, especially in the first act, and occasionally feels unpolished.
Still, as you get access to various tools of destruction and movement possibilities, it rises to the challenge. Although not all of its jokes have a satisfying punchline, this crazy voyage is still worth your time because it features memorable boss battles, interesting alt-fire powers and exploration, and many more bad movies than I anticipated.
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