Life's a Strong Drug
From the creator of Rick and Morty, High on Life is a hilarious game with solid mechanics and a quirky world
High on Life is a low-maintenance combat experience that weaves the conventions of a Metroidvania into a decent cover-based shooter. In contrast to predecessors like Borderlands and The Outer Worlds, this game is actually funny. It doesn’t pretend your choices matter, and it wants only for you to have a good time.
Kenny, the anthropomorphic gun, welcomes you to Blim City, where pesos are legal tender and aliens eat humans to enjoy the best highs. Go for a walk around town and your experience will rival that of watching Rick and Morty’s ‘Interdimensional Cable’ episode. Demonstrating a great sense of humor, creative weapon design, and general artistic prowess, High on Life earns its mantle as the funniest game ever made without abandoning good mechanics.
The game opens up with superficial gameplay, and good decisions here and there, but the game itself and its mechanics pick up after the first third. Narrative-heavy open-world games benefit from complex gameplay, no matter how much the development team invests in art, so the immediate simplicity of the game made gameplay feel a little hollow, though it didn't take long for the positives to outweigh the negatives.
Welcome to the Cosmos
Complete with destructible enemies, the intricate game world is vibrant, quirky, and fun to explore. Each major map features warp bases (stations) where you can warp to different locations rather than walking there, which is an easy hack to achieve greater diversity across an otherwise small space.
The UI works to support players in feeling further immersed in their invaded-Earth and space atmosphere. Instead of developers limiting UI, it reflects the reality in which the characters live. When you open a menu, you’re accessing your spacesuit’s interface. The only major UI curveball I experienced was having to summon objectives to see them. Otherwise, the game did what it needed to do and stayed out of my way.
When not mowing down your enemies, the game offers the occasional puzzle, including “pipe puzzles” that are actually challenging because they’re three-dimensional.
Creative Arsenal Design
Apart from the fact that they are sentient talking guns, the “Gatlians” are the most unique parts of gameplay. Each gun yields a new platforming ability that expands the map. Instead of double-jumping, climbing, dashing, or some other upgrade you’d find in a Metroidvania, every gun you receive is a weapon and a gadget. Enemies evolve and grow more challenging only after your arsenal's power increases, whereas more complex combat experiences might reverse that order.
The different weapons have only implicit use cases for enemies, so I used only two guns for most of the game, but the gadgets take inspiration from games as the humor does: Kenny is a carbine with a noob tube attachment, so that makes him pretty dependable. Sweezy allows you to slow time within a spherical field, similar to the ring from Braid. She’s one of Halo’s “needlers” with an important distinction: to earn an explosion, you must melee the enemy full of needles, and I thought that was a pleasant touch I would’ve liked to see in Halo.
Another neat aspect of the game is that it’s, essentially, DOOM with half the weapons, keeping gameplay intuitive. Each gun has good passive upgrades that help with pacing. Score half the chests, and you should have plenty of money to buy most upgrades for every gun. Finally, the developers eventually toss you a silly “BFG”, close enough to the end of the game to keep it from spoiling the entire experience. For laypeople, the BFG is a weapon from the DOOM series that wipes out large waves of enemies, but it has only three bullets.
Solid Mechanics Streamline Cover-Based Gameplay
High on Life offers an arena-based arsenal in a cover-based context, which doesn’t make for a reflex-intensive experience. In a typical cover-based shooter, you cower behind cover to heal until you’re well enough to fight. The idea is to optimize defense by remaining as distant from enemies as possible during skirmishes.
High on Life optimizes its arsenal for arenas in the sense that the weapons encourage players to stay close to enemies. For example, the second unlockable weapon, Gus, is a shotgun. Sweezy encourages you to punch enemies full of needles. Creature spawns helpers to keep the pressure off. Many of the gadget abilities are effective at destroying multiple enemies at once. The weapons tell you to stay close to the action, but the environment and mechanics tell you to stay away.
The game partially addresses this by forcing players into arenas and bosses half the time. I had the most fun in these two contexts. Many bosses were easy, but one was interesting enough from a graphical perspective to make me feel like I was in 'Ripley’s Believe It or Not' or something.
That this game can’t copy DOOM is possibly the impetus for various innovations, but in combination with one of the coolest arsenals I’ve seen in my gaming career, the commitment to a cover-based environment makes for a refreshing experience where being in the middle of the action doesn’t reward you.
An Easy and Comedic Game
As painfully strong as the humor starts off, it can’t resist devolving into curse words by the final third of the game. For the most part, a great cast makes this game feel like Rick and Morty without Rick, so if you enjoy the show you're in for a good time here. Voices I was excited to recognize were those of Joel Haver, a sketch YouTuber, and Michael Cusack from Smiling Friends.
There are also moments I particularly enjoyed, where High on Life makes fun of detective mechanics in other AAA games by wasting your time with similarly inane activities, except these activities will make you laugh.
The story loses focus near the end, but it never loses steam. Not only was I laughing at regular intervals the whole time, but I enjoyed a genuine investment in what was going to happen to these characters.
High on Life is among the easiest games I’ve played. I pulped all bosses except for one who killed me a dozen times. Every other task in the game is easy enough on the hardest difficulty so that DOOM veterans to clean house without breaking a sweat. In fact, I didn’t die once until I was a third of the way through the game, though to its credit, I died more regularly as it progressed.
Near the beginning, shootouts are little more fun than watching them in Rick and Morty. Headshots are satisfying to achieve, and the most common enemies have the biggest heads, but other heads require a suspicious number of bullets to destroy.
The last few levels are nothing beyond smorgasbords of random enemies. More than anything else, they take a long time. When you reach the post-game, the BFG will have rendered you too overpowered to enjoy combat.
High on Life is a fun, cinematic, and immersive experience that’ll keep you laughing until the final boss. Justin Roiland achieves one of his signature mid-sentence burps, but you’ll need to reach the last level to hear him do it. As distant from my personal Top 10 as it is, it’s easily the funniest game in my library.
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