Most characters in High on Life rarely shut the fuck up. Silence is at a premium. There are settings to tone down the overall chatty nature, but that doesn’t address how truly unfunny it can all be otherwise. Most of it is the same improvised toilet humor that Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland has been doing for over a decade where almost every punchline revolves around pooping or masturbating; the eye-rolling go-to for someone struggling to think of something actually clever. But that doesn’t mean High on Life is a bad shooter, and it only points out how few unconventional shooters there are.
High on Life is completely alien when compared to its peers. Whereas games like Call of Duty have a ton of different types of the same assault rifle, High on Life has a fleshy gun voiced by I Think You Should Leave star Tim Robinson that shoots little critters that maul foes. Instead of a typical shotgun, High on Life has a bug-eyed frog alien voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm regular J.B. Smoove that fires flaming discs as well as a traditional shotgun blast. There are only four guns, but they all have a few disparate uses that make them multifaceted tools during shootouts.
Zipping around the battlefield using rocket boots or a jetpack and blasting these one-of-a-kind firearms is unique experience. Even the enemies don’t follow traditional patterns since most are protected by varying levels of goop instead of armor, which is visually striking as it is different. The bright alien worlds are also significantly more colorful than the stages in many of its genre peers and contribute to its peculiar setup. It has that strange aiming bug that some console ports of PC-centric shooters have and the gunplay doesn’t elevate much past just being fine to decent, but it’s the otherworldly presentation that makes it all stand out. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is another unorthodox first-person shooter that took the genre in a different direction and is still a classic two decades later because of that swerve.
It’s a genre that deserves to do more than let players shoot Russian nationalists, bloodthirsty demons, or overly serious genocidal aliens. Thanks to the indie scene, there are some different kinds of shooters like Fashion Police Squad or Neon White (if that even counts), but that type of variety just isn’t present in the higher budget tiers. Call of Duty has casted a long shadow, and High on Life is one of the few that refuses to get swallowed up by it.
And while High on Life’s general atmosphere veers from the standard, its humor veers straight into a ravine of the most unfunny dialogue in recent memory. As was previously mentioned, most of this seems to stem from Roiland’s stammering improvisation that is neither sharp nor funny 10 years after Rick and Morty’s debut.
Impromptu rambling just isn’t entertaining and is often downright annoying when it’s the crux of most jokes. Roiland’s character Kenny, the commercials playing around town, the sentient tutorial operating system, and many NPCs all just babble endlessly to the point where it is suffocating. There are a handful of solid bits here and there, but they are outnumbered by the relentless waves of bad aimless ones that either don’t have any substance or predictably circle back to the same vulgar tropes. There’s a character whose sole purpose is to sell the player alien cum — that’s the entire gag — and that sums up the game’s humor rather well.
Given Roiland’s exodus following his alleged abusive actions, it’s possible that Squanch Games’ future titles won’t reek of the stagnant stench that has been following the Rick and Morty co-creator for years. It already seems like he won’t be part of High on Life’s upcoming expansion, so that’s a start. However, High on Life still marinated in that stank and suffers because of it. But there’s enough of a different world here that shows that non-budget first-person shooters can and should be more than what Activision serves up on an annual basis.
Disclaimer: This High on Life feature is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on version 1.030.000.