‘High On Life’ preview: slapstick (s)laughter

'High On Life' is a tongue-in-cheek joy that doesn't sacrifice thrills for laughs

There’s a moment in High On Life where you’re goaded into killing an alien child. If you try to shoot, your gun – voiced by Rick And Morty created Justin Roiland – won’t let you. If you fire again, the gun outright says it won’t shoot a kid. And yet, a third squeeze of the trigger will crumple the kid with a blast of green energy. Oops. “I didn’t think we’d be allowed to kill him,” exclaims your gun. “Killing children in games isn’t always allowed, but he’s dead! There goes our E for Everybody rating!”

Welcome to High On Life. A chaotic first-person shooter from Roiland’s Squanch Games, there is little this sci-fi romp is willing to take seriously – not even itself. During the hands-on – which followed the hunt for a vicious alien criminal to claim a bounty – you’ll kill low-level gang members who claim to be the strongest enemy in the game, and be challenged to an “any per cent knife-only run” by a foul-mouthed knife. Not everyone clicked with High On Life‘s punchline-laden trailer, but the comedy feels right at home when you’re knee-deep in green alien blood and dodging fiery purple plasma shots.

High On Life. Credit: Squanch Games.
High On Life. Credit: Squanch Games.

Another thing the trailer fails to capture is just how exciting High On Life is to jump into. Blasting through the colourful Slums feels like a setpiece plucked from the silliest action film, and with a constant stream of enemies, it’s kill or be killed. Landing a headshot will cause heads to pop off with cartoonish flare, and several mechanics encourage you to style on your opponents. An alternate shot from your gun, which sends enemies flying upward, will plunge everything into slow-motion as you line up your shot for maximum carnage. Once you’ve got someone in the air, shooting them will bounce them even higher, allowing you to juggle them for style points. High On Life‘s facetious tone allows it to pull off anything that would be considered over-the-top in other big-budget shooters, and the result is a brilliant fun-first thrill.

The Slums were also adorned with handy floating hooks which can be used with your knife/grappling hook to swing across the level’s rickety platforms and toxic green rivers, turning you into a bullet-spewing Spider-Man. High On Life keeps you in perpetual motion, and by the time you approach your bounty, even Roiland’s meek gun is starting to power trip on the bloodshed.

High On Life. Credit: Squanch Games.
High On Life. Credit: Squanch Games.

However, some parts of High On Life stumble. Indulging Knifey in a melee kill frequently locks you into the same repetitive execution cutscene, and similarly repetitive was the demo’s finale boss fight. The angry alien bounty you’re after is a tedious bullet sponge, with multiple stages that last for a little too long. The result is that it feels like an MMO raid boss, at odds with the rest of High On Life‘s fast-paced thrills.

Though High On Life took a knock in the last five minutes of the hands-on, an underwhelming boss fight is by no means a death sentence for what is otherwise a zany joy ride. From the outset, High On Life looks like a conveyor belt for endless punchlines – but when you’re hands-on and blasting shot after shot of plasma, the game’s true value shines.

High On Life launches on December 13 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. 

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