“High On Life” Review
Let’s be very clear about something: The sci-fi first-person shooter High On Life (Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC) is absolutely, positively not a Rick & Morty game. Sure, it’s made by Squanch Games, the studio co-founded by Rick & Morty co-creator and voice actor Justin Roiland, who uses his Morty voice to voice one of Life‘s main characters, Kenny. And it has the same kind of weird, off-the-cuff, ribald, but also clever sense of humor as Rick & Morty. But it is absolutely, positively not a Rick & Morty game.
Though it might as well be.
In High On Life‘s single-player campaign…
the only way to play…literally, you’re a gamer who has to take up arms when alien drug dealers invade Earth, looking to turn humans into a controlled substance (apparently our high is out of this world). But it’s not just your experience with first-person shooters that’ll help you survive, it’s also Kenny, Gus, and your other friends…who are aliens, and guns, and sentient, and talkative, and can aid you in becoming an even better shot by helping you become a bounty hunter.
I told you, it’s very Rick & Morty.
Though it’s also very Borderlands, and very Ratchet & Clank, and even sometimes rather Doom Eternal.
At its core, High On Life is a somewhat open world shooter, though more like Ratchet & Clank than Borderlands in that you still have one way to go, you can’t just wander off wherever you like.
But it’s also like Doom Eternal in that you have shields that are recharged by picking up containers of yellow goo, not by just waiting for them to recharge automatically like they do in Halo Infinite. Though that’s reversed for your health, which does regenerate over time.
High On Life also recalls Doom Eternal in how you have a dash move that works both on the ground and in mid-air. Though it’s not the only navigation tool Life cribs from other games. Your knife can latch onto ledges and pull you up like Spider-Man in, well, Spider-Man (though not to the same extent), or use flying bugs to swing from, or even connect to ziplines like when you rode the rails in BioShock Infinite.
Oh, and your knife talks, too.
But where things in High On Life get unique,
albeit a little Ratchet & Clank-y, is how your weapons are not your usual fare. As I mentioned, they talk, and not only make jokes, but also give you helpful tips in regards to where to go or what you should do next.
More importantly, they all have secondary and tertiary functions that aid you in both getting around and taking out the enemies you run into. Take the aforementioned Kenny, for instance, who, at first, seems like a basic space pistol (albeit an effective one, not an afterthought like pistols in most video games). But he can also lob globs of goo, which can send enemies flying or knock certain barriers out of the way.
Similarly, Gus — who is voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s J.B. Smoove — is a shotgun that can also suck enemies towards you like the GRP glove in The Callisto Protocol. It can also shoot large sharp discs that can slice enemies in half like the Saw Launcher in Far Cry New Dawn, or be embedded into certain rock walls and then used to climb up.
And the others are also gross and weird, GROSS AND WEIRD! I mean, unique and effective.
Where things get really clever…
in High On Life, though, is when you use your guns’ other skills and yours to get around, and in interesting combinations. Like when you have to swing on a bug then mid-air dash so you’re close enough to one of Gus’ discs to grapple onto it and avoid falling in acidic green gloop. Sure, it’s less stressful when you get the jetpack, but even then, there are limits to its range…
And if that’s not enough to convince you this gets pretty out there, it also pulls elements from Pikmin, Mass Effect, and Batman: Arkham Origins. Though not at the same time.
As silly as High On Life may get, though, it would be a mistake to not take the threats seriously. There are enemies who will swarm you from all sides, bosses who require you to be both observant and resourceful, while the platforming can be as tricky to figure out as anything you might face in a Ratchet & Clank sequel.
Of course, just as Rick & Morty‘s jokes occasionally don’t land, so too does High On Life sometimes falter as well. To start, the button layout could be more intuitive. Or at least have the option to be customized.
Take your scanner, for instance. This is primarily used to highlight waypoints that show you where to go. To activate it, you press down on the D-pad. Unfortunately, as in so many games, waypoints only remain highlighted for a few seconds. Which means you constantly have to move your thumb from the right thumbstick to the D-pad, thus ceasing any forward motion.
Then there’s all the platforming, which never works as well in first-person as it does in third. Sure, it is pretty forgiving here, and thus not as frustrating as it could’ve been, but it can still be a bit aggravating sometimes.
Serious gunfighters might also…
have issues with High On Life. And not just because, as I said, the game’s outlook is silly. The gunplay isn’t as precise or as realistic (relatively speaking) as it is in such serious shooters as Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare II or Battlefield 2042. Instead, it’s a bit loose, and somewhat more forgiving, and thus more akin to the shooting in Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands, Serious Sam, or Splatoon 3.
High On Life also has a problem so common that I basically just cut and paste a version of this paragraph into every relevant review: Some of the text is too small. If you sit at a reasonable distance from your TV — y’know, like your mama told you to — you’ll have trouble reading some of the weapon descriptions, the subtitles, and other bits of text.
Then there’s this no brainer: High On Life is not for people who hate Rick & Morty (or, for that matter, Roiland’s other sci-fi ‘toon, Solar Opposites). Not only, as I mentioned, does Kenny sound exactly like Morty, but the Morty-ness permeates every aspect of the game, from the way characters look like aliens that Rick and Morty have seen during their travels, to how you have to do weird things sometimes, like do paperwork.
Roiland even uses the same voice for Kenny as he does for Morty, complete with his usual “making this up as I go” style, and occasional utterances of “Aw, geez.”
Of course, these issues won’t bother everyone. Especially that last one if you’re reading this review, since you probably already know it’s made by Roiland and Squanch Games, and is rather Rick & Morty-ish. It’s not as if the trailers made it look all serous, like Tom Clancy’s Rainbox Six Siege. Or even Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction; y’know the alien one.
High On Life is as silly and weird and clever and offbeat, and ultimately as effortlessly fun as, well, Rick & Morty. Call it Rick & Doom-y if you will. Or Tiny Morty’s Wonderlands. Or just squanchy. Because while this may not be Rick & Morty: The Game like The Simpsons Game was like an episode of The Simpsons in video game form, or how South Park: The Stick Of Truth and South Park: The Fractured But Whole were like episodes of that show in video game form, it might as well be.
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