High on Life hands-on: An absolute riot thats impossible to turn away from

High on Life is a fucking riot. I’m not going to apologize for swearing so emphatically right out of the gate. Doing so would feel disingenuous when discussing a game that features a hyperactive knife accusing a talking gun of racism. It’s an admittedly absurd conversation, unfurling at 110mph as you attempt to outmaneuver a roving gang of giant ants in a technicolor alien world. 

Squanch Games made a mistake with the gameplay trailer it put forward for Opening Night Live. In just three minutes, High on Life seemed to reveal itself as having narrow combat and obnoxious, unyielding commentary – a combination that subsequently divided social media into warring camps. Some love the brashness, others loathe the loudness, and neither side seems willing to accept that games are allowed to be divisive. The style of comedy underpinning this adventure certainly is, particularly when viewed through the prism of any of the other entertainment mediums that studio co-founder Justin Roiland has lent his creative voice to in the past. 

High on Life is my most anticipated FPS of 2022, and all it took was one very silly playable demo. There’s a couple of contributing factors behind this: the fact that it made me laugh out loud (multiple times, in a room crowded with strangers), the attention-arresting audio and visual design (Blade Runner made for The Muppets is an easy sell), and that the combat pacing reminds me of some of the best FPS games from the Xbox 360-era (if ever there were a time for Bulletstorm stans to assemble, it would be now). But more so than any of that, I respect the commitment to the bit –  I appreciate the singular creative vision it has taken to bring this extremely ridiculous thing to life, and with such quality.

Say what you will about High on Life, but you can’t accuse it of lacking imagination. It’s bright, it’s bold, and it has a sharp sense of humor running through its spine. The talking guns are, naturally, siphoning oxygen out of the conversation surrounding this game, which is a shame – there’s so much more to focus on. Like the Metroid Prime-inspired approach to world design and narrative structure, the wealth of truly funny interactions with NPCs that are entirely missable, and the traversal systems that have a faint echo of Sunset Overdrive about them. And only a fool would forget about the unrelenting forward momentum generated by combat. 

It’s all fun and games

High on Life screenshot

(Image credit: Squanch Games)

High on Life delay

High on Life screenshot

(Image credit: Squanch Games)

Squanch Games wants to build conversation around High On Life at release, which is why it was delayed away from Modern Warfare 2 and God of War Ragnarok

Matty Studivan thinks of combat as being “a little strategic, a little bullet hell-y – we’re trying to mix all these different elements to make something new” and I’m inclined to agree with High on Life’s executive producer. While I played what was effectively a tutorial level, it set the stage for what’s to come – ahead of embarking on a journey to save all of humanity from being packed into hyperbongs by a drug-peddling alien cartel. Movement and control is tightly calibrated, a must given the waves of projecties you need to strafe between to survive. And the weapons feel fantastic too, walking a thin line between pray-and-spray and requiring some degree of precision aiming to come out on top.  

There are still three other guns to try too – with a shotgun, uzi, and launcher available as rewards for taking down certain cartel bosses – and I’m keen to see how they impact the combat rhythm. With High on Life set to launch on December 13, we won’t have long to wait to see whether Squanch Games is able to pull off this audacious creative experiment, but I’m excited to see the studio try. Regardless of whether it all comes together in the end, High on Life is clearly an expressive shooter with an original perspective on genre conventions, and I for one am happy to see an FPS dare to be different in this environment.

High on Life is one of the most anticipated upcoming Xbox Series X games of 2022, and it’s also set to launch on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Game Pass. 

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