High on Life was Squanch Games’ strongest and most ambitious game, yet it was still held back by studio co-founder Justin Roiland’s tired sense of humor. Stammering out non sequiturs has more than worn out its welcome. With his exodus, the studio has a chance to break free from his dated schtick, and High on Life‘s High on Knife DLC marks the first chapter of its new era. Not every joke lands in this horror-tinged expansion, but it’s a promising sign for Squanch and contains some of the best parts of High on Life.
The “horror-tinged” sections are unexpected for a shooter that almost exclusively takes place on well-lit planets that are saturated with bright colors. This Alien-eque spaceship has players skulking around its goopy, dimly lit halls looking for a lost package. And while it’s not trying to be like Dead Space — it never truly abandons its comedic roots — there are some brief yet effective scares that utilize its antagonist and Cronenbergian new enemy type. It ditches the scary vibes early on and is way too dark most of the time, but it’s an interesting take that stands out when compared to the rest of the experience.
It moves away from horror in favor of turning into a well-constructed smear on Amazon. This spaceship is run by a gruesome shipping company with brutal, dehumanizing working conditions that’s being run by a literal monster that doesn’t care about its employees; the parallels are painfully clear. High on Knife uses this premise for some great jokes that are made so much better by veteran comedian Ken Marino and actor Gabourey Sidibe, the latter of whom flourishes in this more humorous role. The expansion’s star, the cockney knife Knifey, is also significantly less annoying here mainly because he’s given more to do than scream about stabbing.
The ship is only about half of the DLC, though, as the parts leading up to it are more in line with High on Life’s base levels. It takes place on a salty (if too big and tedious to traverse) desert planet with massive slime reservoirs everywhere, making for a pleasant white and pink palette. The ironic salt-loving slugs here give this arid rock some life and provide some fodder for jokes.
A decent portion of the gags are still too random to be funny and many of them fall flat, but High on Knife has some of the game’s more well-constructed bits. There’s an extended Cheers riff that is particularly hilarious, and the aforementioned lines from Marino and Sidibe are both written and delivered well. Marino’s natural ability to convincingly play a suck-up anal parasite puts him in a different league, but High on Knife’s array of talking guns are able to shine more brightly in Roiland’s absence. Their interjections are not filled with the same stale stuttering and desperate overly vulgar jokes, which makes the interstitial bits more tolerable. They’re not always funny, but they’re at least not consistently irritating.
These chatty guns also shoot and are the centerpiece of High on Knife’s gunplay. Since it takes place years after the main campaign, players are given many of the endgame-level tools and freedom to float and slide around at high speeds. The mobility and varied arsenal still make it a solid shooter that’s even better with its newest gun called B.A.L.L.
This rhythmic firearm operated by three tiny aliens fires a pinball that bounces back and forth between its targets and the player. Timing each shot does more damage and explodes after enough perfect ricochets, which is a fantastic skill-based addition that wouldn’t feel too out of place in a Ratchet & Clank game. It’s a shame it can’t be used in the base campaign, but it does make this DLC stand out.
High on Life: High on Knife DLC Review: Final Verdict
High on Knife generally stands out in the context of High on Life because it has some of the game’s best overall moments. It hasn’t completely shaken all of the eye-rolling humor that powered the original, but its conciseness and ability to spotlight more deserving characters makes it significantly less grating. Its unique gunplay similarly benefits from a shorter runtime and has also only gotten better with its new pinball-operated weapon. While High on Life showed how Squanch Games has grown over the years, High on Knife demonstrates that there’s still value in brevity.
Disclaimer: This High on Life: High on Knife DLC review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Played on version 1.080.000.