The High On Life game is at its heart a first-person shooter, and it plays fairly well. But beyond that, the title does pretty much everything it can to distinguish itself from just about everything else out there to the point where the world itself actually outshines the core shooter elements. It’s perfectly acceptable for players to enjoy High On Life in order to experience more of its bizarre world, with the shooter elements just kind of acting as almost an impediment to that progress. Not that the shooting aspects are bad, but it’s the game world and the various characters within it (including the sentient guns that you use) that are the breakout stars.
With most shooter games like the recently released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, our GiN review would be focused on things like realism, how responsive the guns are and how well the title presents its multiplayer battle arenas. Basically, we would evaluate how well a title plays as a shooter, since that is what most shooters rightly focus on. But for High On Life, the focus instead is on the game world itself, the many bizarre characters who inhabit it and the irreverent humor that permeates every aspect of this title.
With that said, High On Life is not a bad shooter. The controls seem pretty responsive, and the enemies are challenging, even if they mostly use massing tactics to try and swarm you much of the time. It’s hard to evaluate the guns that players use because they are totally sci-fi in nature and are sentient besides. While you fight, they comment on everything, just like they do when you are just walking around in the world.
In terms of actual combat, each gun in High on Life has two functions. They have their primary shooting function, which is as you might expect, and then a special shot which they launch from their “trick hole” as your first gun, Kenny, explains. You can think of the trick function like a grenade or special attack in most games, which is a time-limited attack that can be used in certain situations to devastating effects, although you will be using the primary attack (shooting) most of the time. Some guns have other special abilities too, like Sweezy with a time bubble which is useful for slowing down fans so that you can pass through them, or Creature who can shoot his children at bad guys to give you a form of mind control over them. Even the knife in the game, named Knifey, likes to talk and encourage players as they go on long stabbing sprees. So as you can tell, it’s good family entertainment – see, even I am picking up on some of the game’s snark.
In terms of the voice acting, it’s amazing. Almost all of the characters in High On Life are voiced by well-known actors and comedians. The all-star cast includes J.B. Smoove, Michael Cusack, Betsy Sodaro, Tim Robinson, Laura Silverman, Dave Herman, Kevin McDonald and game creator Justin Roiland. Everyone puts on a stellar performance. I am not afraid to admit that there were times when I almost died in combat because I was laughing too hard at something my gun or knife said. Special props also have to go to J.B. Smoove and Betsy Sodaro for exceptionally humorous performances, although everyone in High On Life does an amazing job, giving the title some of the best voice acting within a game that I have ever experienced.
Graphically, High On Life is good, but not quite as polished as the sound. The world is colorful and gives a great sense of depth as you look around it. However, the character models, especially humans like your character’s sister or some of the more human-like aliens, are a little bit behind the rest of the quality. They look a bit like the humans from the Postal series of games where they are good, but hardly cutting edge. Some of the finer details of the world also get somewhat pixelated and blocky when you get too close. It’s not horrible, but just a bit below a fully modernized title.
The overall plot is ridiculous and also perfectly suited for the game’s world. Earth is suddenly taken over by evil aliens who want to turn humans into illegal drugs, but players find the first sentient gun who explains how dire the situation is and encourages them to fight back. Specifically, the character you play as is a freshly graduated high school loser with no ambition that soon becomes the only hope the planet has. But before that, your childhood home is turned into a spaceship using a microwave oven as the power source, and you warp away to an alien world just in time to avoid destruction. You then begin the resistance movement to try and save Earth, while also becoming a famous space bounty hunter. It’s totally silly, and yet makes perfect sense within the context of High On Life.
The level design for High On Life is really well done for a shooter. Levels use all three dimensions to great effect, allowing the player to grapple hook their way to higher areas and use their gun’s special abilities to access places that at first look inaccessible. This allows you to sometimes take an advantage over enemies in combat, but also adds a rewarding sense of exploration to the game that prevents it from ever seeming like an on-rails type of shooter. It can be a joy to peek into the nooks and crannies of the game, and more than once I discovered a humorous bit of additional combat that would have been overlooked had I not done some extra exploring.
For example, I kept hearing about a mad killer on the news who was putting poison in the water of the alien world I was visiting. The mayor kept talking about how they were close to catching him, although they never actually did. I actually found that crazy alien peeping in my character’s back window while exploring one day, and had a long conversation with him that was both hilarious and disturbing at the same time as he tried to justify his actions and even attempted to recruit me to help out. It had nothing to do with the overall plot but was just a fun little extra for players to find and experience.
High On Life is a title that most people will have a lot of fun playing, especially if they enjoy irreverent and sarcastic humor paired with absurd situations. It’s not a realistic shooter by any means, but makes for a wonderful adventure game with heavy shooting elements. Gamers looking for something completely different should jump headfirst into High On Life to start enjoying this bizarre, fever-dream of a world laid out in all its colorful and snarky, star-studded grandeur.