A fun little adventure that fuses crass humor with some DOOM-style combat.
Text saying "High on Life" over the key art for the game showing an alien bounty hunter in a space suit holding an alien weapon

High on Life opens strong and just gets better the further into the game you go. It was a game that I remember being on the fence about for the longest time. In fact, I did not even remember submitting for a review copy, but I apparently did! So, it was with a fair bit of hesitation that I accepted the code, downloaded the game, and started the journey. Any worry I might have had was quickly laid to rest within the first 15 or so minutes of the game. A talking alien gun that whispered praise to my face as I blasted away other, evil aliens was just the start of one weird and wild trip.

Developer Squanch Games has been around since at least 2016, but their focus has mainly been on creating virtual reality games. The studio, led by Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, served up VR titles such as Accounting and Trover Saves the Universe in the past. High on Life feels, at least in this reviewer's opinion, like their best and most fully realized outing yet.

Story and Gameplay

High on Life opens with a scene showing Earth being invaded by an alien cartel called the G3. These aliens are on the search for that next big "high" and it just so happens that humans can give them a high like none other. It also just so happens that this whole invasion kicked off right across the street from your house where your sister and you come into possession of Kenny. Kenny is a Gatlian, an alien race that are essentially talking weapons. In short order, you and Kenny team up to become a bounty hunter, blasting your way across a few different alien worlds as you track down and kill some of the leaders of this evil alien cartel. Of course, you may have had to let the previous bounty hunter, a loud-mouthed three-eyed alien named Gene live at your house, but that's a small price to pay to save humanity, right?

The first stop on this intergalactic adventure is Blim, a small hub world with a futuristic sci-fi aesthetic. Even though it's just a hub world, Blim is still crammed with places to explore, more of which will be accessible to you as the game progresses and you unlock new traversal abilities. Blim is also where you will pick up most of your new abilities, so long as you can afford the asking prices at the local pawn shop. There is a food vendor you may also want to check out as they sell totally legitimate and not at all illegal non-food items that may be of interest to you. Perhaps you just want to take a break from all the exploration and murder and watch any of the four different full-length films (Tammy and the T-Rex, Blood Harvest, Vampire Hookers, and Demon Wind). These are actual films that were actually released sometimes decades before High on Life was even conceptualized, and they are all notorious for being rather terrible films. Hell, there's even an optional bit where you can watch one of these films while the crew from Red Letter Media make quips for the entire duration of it. If full movies aren't your style, then maybe you will want to watch some of the sketch comedy shorts playing on the various monitors dotted around the main hub of Blim. I know that people like Joel Haver and Hal Lublin are in a fair number of these sketches along with lending their voice talents to other NPCs.

Image showing a futuristic sci-fi alien city

In fact, a lot of the actors in High on Life have rather recognizable voices. As mentioned, once you've heard Joel Haver, you will realize you hear him a lot throughout the game. Justin Roiland is also the voice of Kenny and some other NPCs. Actor and comedian J. B. Smoove is also very recognizable, and you will also hear a lot from him as he lends his voice to the second weapon you acquire in the game. A lot of the dialogue in the game itself is of that classic sketch-comedy and Justin Roiland flavor. A lot of it feels like it's just ad-libbed, and they went with the first takes, but I liked it? Like, it really worked out well here for High on Life. You have characters that are cracking up at the own absurd things that they're saying at times, and you just cannot help but smile or even laugh at the absurdity of it all. Somehow, it just feels totally right to have these characters telling you these wild stories or arguing with other characters and having them be a little self-aware at just how crazy a lot of what they're saying sounds.

There's a whole bounty hunter focused message board you can access at any time during the game from the pause menu. It is here where you can see various weapon, combat, and exploration challenges that, if completed, will net you some bonus spending money. These fictional in-universe forums are perhaps a little too accurate to the real thing. You see all sorts of posts from all sorts of users talking about this and that. I simply cannot stress enough just how close to real-life message boards these things were. You had everything from on topic replies, to the users that boasted superiority at every chance they could, to arguments and bickering over the dumbest stuff, to people complaining about ban evasions, to moderators closing threads. They were very, very well done and a supremely clever way to display challenges to the player.
Fictional in-game message boards for High on Life bounty huntersFictional in-game message boards for High on Life bounty hunters

Your sister, Lizzie, is also a major component to the overall storyline in High on Life. You will interact with her through player-chosen character responses on several occasions. You will witness her grow as a character over time. Seeing character growth like that with Lizzie and even a couple other main characters really wasn't something I expected from a game like High on Life but it's there and it's, quite honestly, really well done. For some reason I have seen a few complaints from players that didn't much care for the times where you talked to your sister and Gene, but I rather enjoyed all of them. They offered a nice little reprieve from the combat and other main story beats.

For those that like finding collectibles, there are a fair number of them for you to find in the game. They come in the form of collectible cards that seem to be based off of the old Garbage Pail Kids line of sticker trading cards. These cards were kind of a big deal for a time in the mid 80s and apparently made a bit of a comeback in more recent years. The in-game cards are called "Trash Bag Babies" and range from being general parodies of Garbage Pail Kids to just outright making various pop culture references. In fact, the pop culture references expand far and beyond these collectible cards. You will encounter various other pop culture references within the game environment, most of which I will avoid spoiling here because they're always a treat when you come across them. Though I will say that coming across a couple of NPCs that parodied Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon was kind of wild. I couldn't help but wonder just how many people playing High on Life would even get the reference.

Picture of a collectible trading card with a pop culture reference to Frasier Crane on a card that spoofs the Garbage Pail Kids

Justin Roiland's Humor

That said, if you do not like Justin Roiland's style of humor, you will hate High on Life. There is no sugar coating this, it is a fact. If you do not like anything that Justin Roiland has ever worked on, you will not like this game. While you can lower the frequency that you hear your weapons or other characters idly chatter or make quips, you will end up losing a lot of the game's charm and humor. I am admittedly not a super huge fan of Roiland. I watched a few episodes of Rick and Morty and thought they were good. I never felt compelled to watch full seasons or anything though. However, if you absolutely hate his humor or even just barely tolerate it, just avoid High on Life. It's not even a matter of "oh, maybe this will be the content from Roiland that changes my mind." No. Just no. It won't. It's his style of humor through and through. There is plenty of sex and body humor. There's a whole bit about a character that loves to eat their friend's excrement. There are swears in spades including some I don't think I've heard before this game. High on Life is an adult game for those with younger mindsets. That is perhaps the best way that I can describe the writing and humor going on here. I liked it. You might not. It's not going to be for everyone.

The story itself is almost as absurd as the dialogue is. As you progress through the game, you will encounter all sorts of other alien species that you can interact with in some fashion. You will visit different planets, each with their own unique visual style that ranges from lush, dark forested areas to a Dune-esque wasteland dotted with broken ships and buildings and surrounded by giant sand worms. A generous mix of indoor and outdoor environments coupled with hidden chests and upgrades lend itself nicely to a fair bit of exploration. Visually, the game looks pretty darn good. I liked the visual style of the game though it felt like at times I was playing through sections that had art generated by an AI. I suppose this isn't too far off the mark given how a number of posters in the game, namely those in your room, were actually generated by AI. Specifically, Roiland says that some of the artwork was created using Midjourney AI while stating that most of the art was hand-drawn.

High on DOOM

At first, combat and traversal in High on Life isn't really much to write home about. As you earn more weapons, buy new upgrades, and proceed through the story, you will gain access to all matter of new mobility and combat abilities. Each weapon in the game has a primary attack. These primary attacks can be modified with the secondary fire. Each weapon also includes a special attack that operates on a cooldown period. Then on top of all of this, each weapon will get several different modifiers, of which you can choose one per weapon to best fit your play style. For example, the second gun you pick up is named Gus (voiced by J.B. Smoove). The primary fire for Gus is basically a shotgun blast. Holding down the secondary fire brings up iron-sights for Gus but also lets Gus suck enemies towards you. The special attack can shoot out a saw blade that bounces between enemies and then returns to you, allowing you to then melee the airborne blade back at enemies for even more damage. You can then modify the Gus so that the secondary suction ability strips enemies of armor and adds it to your own armor, or you can change it so that the primary shot shoots out explosive shrapnel. This is just one weapon here. Meaning that you often end up in some late-game fights rapidly swapping weapons around to combo weapon abilities together. This sort of controlled mayhem that combines weapon abilities together is capable of inflicting tons of damage on enemies. It reminded me of DOOM in a lot of ways, including the fact that once enemies are weakened enough you can go in for a melee kill (with a talking, blood thirsty knife of course) to finish them off.

If the weapon combos weren't enough to satiate your appetite for mayhem, how's about we throw in several traversal methods into the mix? It doesn't take long before you have gained the ability to grapple to specific grapple points in the environment, swinging from flying bugs to zipline style rails all around encounter areas. Then there is a jetpack that offers more manual air movement. There are gravity boots that let you attach to specific surfaces. Oh, and who could forget the slide that offers both rapid mobility during non-combat times as well as the ability to damage and knock enemies back during encounters. Again, there's a lot of that DOOM flavor here and it works out super well for High on Life. You will need to come to terms with both the movement upgrades and weapon abilities if you want to survive some of the late-game enemy encounters, boss fights, and platforming sections.

Screenshot showing the main character filing paperwork with a mini-game

These traversal moves will certainly come in handy when you return to earlier sections you thought you already completed prior. You will discover that with this increased mobility, you can now access areas that were previously unreachable prior. Exploration often leads to new encounters and several secrets. You will want to at least do some exploring, as you will often find chests full of Pesos, the currency used in High on Life. Pesos are used to purchase even more upgrades. Thankfully, each area of High on Life shows just how many secret chests are remaining in each area. Your little radar, while showing the general direction of enemies during encounters, also doubles as a way of showing you the direction of nearby chests.

There are some non-shooting and non-exploration gameplay segments that happen from time to time. For example, maybe there's a segment where you are filing paperwork in an office. Even some of the boss fights utilized some really unique gameplay elements that I never saw before in more traditional first-person shooters. Integrating these unique gameplay segments really helps to keep things feeling fresh and I never once thought that they overstayed their welcome when engaging with them.

Screenshot with an NPC talking about having loud sex with his wife as the player looks out over an Old West style town and plenty of sand.

Bugs and Issues

I love High on Life, but there are still some lingering technical issues with the game. I was fortunate enough to start and finish the game after it was already patched a couple of times, mainly to eliminate some progression blockers and to eliminate the shader compilation stutter that Unreal Engine titles are known for these days. Instead, I encountered several areas where the framerate just decided to dip into the 40 frames per second range if I looked in certain directions in certain areas. This is even after I adjusted all sorts of graphical options. Speaking of graphical options, I did have to use a third-party tool (Flawless Widescreen) to adjust the atrocious and very narrow default FOV setting used in the game. There is no in-game FOV slider to speak of. The narrow default FOV was also coupled with a fair bit of chromatic aberration and motion blur, which also cannot be disabled from any in-game setting. I had to manually edit some config files to remove both of those things as well. If I had left those settings as they were by default, I don't think I could have played the game to completion. An FOV slider, the ability to disable chromatic aberration, and the ability to disable motion blur are all things that Squanch Games need to add to the game. There's no reason I should have to use third-party remedies for these.

I also encountered several bugs while playing, though they weren't anything too major. I saw chairs and other objects fall through the floor on a few occasions. There was a time where a moving platform I was on very obviously clipped through another part of the world geometry as it moved to the side. There were also a few instances where an NPC would have a prompt on them to talk to them, but they said nothing, and the prompt went away. I also had one instance where I was interacting with NPCs and they were just completely stationary despite it being super obvious that there should have been some movement going on based on what the dialogue indicated. As for a more generalized complaints: I wish there was just a bit more enemy variety. The game also ends rather abruptly. I had to throw those minor issues here because they weren't worthy of a dedicated paragraph.

Final Thoughts

Things like the missing graphical options and some of the bugs make the game feel a lot less polished than I would like it to be. Still, I had a grand time with High on Life. Is it worth the starting $59.99 (USD) asking price? That is honestly tricky to answer. That is, until you also take into account that High on Life is available through Game Pass. If you are subscribed to Game Pass already, this is a very easy recommendation. The entire game will probably take you about 10 to 13 hours to finish. It personally took me about 11 hours to beat the story and do some mild exploration. I'd say it will take most people about 10 hours for story and light exploration and closer to 13 hours if you go for 100% completion. If you think a 10+ hour game full of Justin Roiland style comedy and fun late-game combat is worth $60, then yes go for it. If you have any sort of doubt about the game, then I'd wait for the game to drop to about $40 or less, depending on your budget.

A review score showing 4 out of 5 stars

Additional Information
  • High on Life
    • Developed by: Squanch Games
    • Published by: Squanch Games
  • Price: Starting at $39.99 (USD)
  • Platform reviewed on: PC via Steam (also available on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One)
    • Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 9 5900X, 32GB DDR4 3600 RAM, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti
    • Also available on: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Game Pass (Xbox, PC, Cloud)
  • Release Date: December 12, 2022
  • ESRB: M for Mature 17+ (Blood, crude humor, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs, violence)
  • This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes from Squanch Games.

Additional Screenshots
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