High on Life is 2022's most intriguing shooter

Jokes and doom!

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High on Life demo
Squanch Games

After playing the High on Life demo for about an hour, I thought I was ready to face whatever the game could throw at me. I soon learned how wrong I was. This intergalactic beast, voiced by a celebrity I’m not allowed to name, had no problem attacking from high up, using his vantage point to send hordes of enemies my way.

Even on easy mode — and with a few extra buffs from the devs to limit my humiliation — I lost four times in quick succession. The alien gleefully bounced from pillar to pillar as the electrified floor zapped away a chunk of my health whenever I touched the wrong tile. Each time I perished, he mocked my incompetence. This trickster took me another three tries to take down.

High on Life is much more than just a comedy bit in a shooter's skin. Developed by Squanch Games, the game studio created by Rick and Morty auteur Justin Roiland, players step into the boots of an interstellar bounty hunter and must collect an arsenal of talking firearms, known as Gattliens, to take down the malicious — and gooey — G3 Cartel.

Gus, your loyal talking shotgun.

Squanch Games

I went into the demo with mixed expectations. Squanch’s previous game, Trover Saves the Universe, was one of my favorite titles of 2019, blending a mix of challenging puzzles with Roiland’s uniquely sadistic humor. But the game was very short and the wacky characters voiced by famous celebrities, wore thin real quick. (There are only so many times you can hear Doug Benson or Rob Schrab say gross nonsense.)

I expected High on Life to be annoying at times. But I wasn’t prepared for such an immersive experience that left me wanting more.

Stepping through a portal and traveling to an alien desert wasteland, I faced off against a group of burrowing pests, who wasted no time launching their attacks. The green Gattlien Gus made short work of them, using a suction ability to pull them out of the ground and a shotgun blast to finish them off. Gus, voiced by JB Smoove, yaps quite a bit, sharing random thoughts while in the thick of a firefight. At first, I was definitely more annoyed than excited about the proposition of hearing Gus go on and on, but eventually, I got used to it.

It helps that the action feels so fluid and smooth. While fighting a group of aliens in a techno-dystopian area ripped straight out of Cyberpunk 2077, I zipped around the map using a dash and a knife/grappling hook. The combat feels tight and balanced, with clear Doom Eternal vibes that only enhanced the shootouts. The hordes of enemies, dashes, grappling hooks, and enemy takedowns are all clearly inspired by Bethesda’s shooter masterpiece.

The G3 Cartel doesn’t mess around.

Squanch Games

Once I got used to the yapping weaponry, they became less of a distraction and more of a feature. I soon myself wanting to know what Gus and my other sidearm, a blue-wise cracking pistol that could lob goo to solve puzzles, had to say. Their quips added to the immersion, rather than ripping me out of High on Life’s universe.

High on Life also gives players freedom to choose how to approach any given scenario. In one section, I was transported to Cutie Town, a perfect utopia full of the smallest of cheerful denizens. Cutie Hubie is generous enough to welcome you in, a decision he quickly regrets after you start stomping around and destroying everything. He pleads for you to stop as buildings, and their nuclear power plant, turn to dust under your human-sized boots. As I was leaving, I decided to be a merciful giant and let Hubie live.

Just some of the lush environment in High on Life.

Squanch Games

The developer giving the demo said I was one of the few players to spare Hubie’s life. (I’m not sure if that was a mercy, condemning him to live the rest of his days among the ruins of his former civilization.)

This first taste of High on Life left me excited to see more and demonstrated that the experience goes beyond random gimmicks and fart jokes, though I’m sure there will be plenty of both. Unlocking various Gattlians while working to stop the G3 Cartel from enslaving the galaxy adds a whole new layer of depth rarely seen in comedy titles.

There’s a full world full of storytelling potential that Squanch can tap into here, if they’re as willing to commit to satisfying gameplay as they are to a gag.

High on Life comes to Xbox and PC on December 13.

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