We’ve already seen quite a lot of High on Life, the expectedly bizarre, exceptionally gross new single-player shooter. The big pitch is that Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and his team at Squanch Games have built a first-person shooter that sees you bounty hunting for aliens, and taking them down with talking guns. But it was the little details that impressed when I got to try out the game for myself.
Opening Night Live included a boss fight from High on Life’s early sections, but my 25 minute hands-on (which you can watch below) included the full mission that leads up to that battle. The demo begins in your player-character’s house (populated by their exceptionally confused big sister and their new alien bounty hunter handler, Gene), then has you heading out into the technicolor alien city of Blim, and finally down into its sewer slums for a series of battles. In terms of regular gameplay, it’s a relatively short section – but I managed to fill that 25 minutes simply because of how much incidental detail there was to see.
That attention to detail begins right away – your character’s house is a literal home base, equipped with a Bounty 5,000 computer, which will assign missions and (when it’s repaired by Gene) allow you to take portals to different locations. But more immediately fixating was the house’s TV, which airs animated shorts (some made by Roiland himself) and even four licensed feature length movies. It’s an early sign not just of the game’s relentless approach to telling jokes, but the amount of effort that’s gone into adding fun detail for those who stop to look around.
Blim itself is something like Blade Runner’s Los Angeles if it had been designed by the cast of Sesame Street, a vomit of primary color, indecipherable signs for bizarre businesses, and scattered aliens going about their daily lives.
When you get to talk to those citizens, you’re given RPG-esque dialogue choices, but you’ll quickly realize that the emphasis is very much on hitting punchlines rather than making tough decisions. Two, well, tubes with faces guard the gates to the slums, and will only let you through if you answer a question: which one of them is hotter? I repeatedly said the blue guy was sexier than his red friend. The benefit was that the blue guy’s gate opened and let me continue, the cost was that I made the red guy very sad and self-conscious.
That focus on taking familiar gaming tropes and milking them for jokes is all over the game. Later, I was faced with a very irritating little guy who repeatedly mocked the unnamed player-character. Naturally, the response was to try to shoot him… which resulted in my talking gun rebuking me for even trying. So I tried again. Another telling off. Once more? Oh, it suddenly let me do it after all. “Normally, killing children in games isn’t allowed but he’s dead. We killed this kid,” whined my gun. “There goes our E for Everybody rating!”
Yes, High on Life is very aware that it’s a game, and revels in that fact. What surprised me more was that the game itself is seemingly looking beyond its single player shooter peers for ideas. When I did get into some fights (against a series of giant ants, who increasingly lose confidence as I wipe out their ranks), I was surprised to realize that combat has as much to do with platformers or even bullet hells as it does FPS games.
Enemy projectiles are many, but travel slowly, meaning you’ll spend just as much time dodging and positioning yourself in a fight as you do trying to squeeze off headshots. Cover isn’t a huge consideration, leading you to move constantly to avoid the scatterings of blaster shots around you. Later, we picked up the frankly disgusting Knifey, who adds a melee attack and a grappling hook – it seems pretty clear that Squanch wants you to be moving vertically as well as laterally in these fights as the game goes on.
While I only got to use the one gun – a goop-firing pistol called Kenny – its alternate fire revealed another wrinkle to combat. The Glob Shot fires an arcing, explosive… glob, which offers slowdown as you aim it, and knocks enemies into the air. What I didn’t expect was for it to then offer the ability to juggle enemies, Devil May Cry-style, once they were up there. While I didn’t get to experiment further, it feels as though the game is pushing you to finish your fights stylishly rather than efficiently, and I’d expect other guns to offer combos with these alternate abilities.
That feeling, that I expect the game to offer more ideas as time goes on, is what’s exciting me most about High on Life after playing it. If these 25 minutes included enough jokes, neat touches, references, and combat ideas for me to write this much about, how will it feel once I’m hours into the game? If it keeps up that pace, High on Life will be far from a shooter with a jokey veneer – it could be something truly new.