High On Life looks different. Enough so that it immediately caught my attention. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised; this is a new FPS from Rick and Morty creator Justin Roiland, after all. That distinctive, prepubescent whine that Roiland is so capable of exacting through his vocal cords can be all encompassing – you have no choice but to be drawn to it. But it isn’t the voices that have kept High On Life lurking at the forefront of my mind. It’s everything else. The style, its color, that weirdness. There’s an ambition lurking behind that weirdness that’s difficult to ignore. It sets High On Life apart from the twitchy military and demonic-leaning shooters that dominate the genre in the modern era.
And don’t get me wrong, I love what the industry leaders have done with the first-person shooter throughout the last decade. The proliferation of parkour and grappling hooks is fine by me, as are the more cinematically driven single-player campaigns, the descents into truly hellish worlds, and the advancements across everything from artificial intelligence to more robust bullet ballistics. But a shooter with a bit of a pulpy science-fiction style and a zero-shits-given attitude to it? I can hardly believe it, but I can definitely get behind it.
What is High On Life?
Alright, so what’s the deal with High On Life? Save the Earth from an alien cartel who wants to get high off humanity. Listen, I’ve been doing this job a long time, and I’ve heard a lot of elevator pitches, but none quite as successful as that. When High On Life launches in late 2022, we’ll be charged with transforming from an Earth-bound loser into an intergalactic bounty hunter, roving around the cosmos to take down Garmantuous and his gang of exotic goons.
High On Life isn’t an open world FPS, born in the mold of Borderlands or Far Cry, but perhaps shares more residual DNA with something like The Outer Worlds – there’s a variety of explorable biomes to explore, from a lush jungle paradise to a city built inside of an asteroid, and we’ll be able to return to each at will to complete quests, hunt down collectibles, make some weird friends, and ultimately gear up to take on the alien cartel and its six leaders.
It’s in the gearing up where High On Life will ultimately live or die. As the Hunter, you’ll team up with a roster of charismatic talking guns. Yep. Uh huh; I triple checked the press release and everything. Developer Squanch Games promises that each of the weapons will come with its own voice and personality, not to mention their own unique skills and proficiencies in combat. So, there’s two sides to this featureset. Firstly, from a narrative perspective, the guns will share their hyperactive word-garble at pivotal story moments – kind of like how the companions lend their perspective in BioWare’s Mass Effect, only instead of getting considered thought from grounded characters like Garrus and Tali, you’ll be consulting with Knifey, the knife obsessed with stabbing, or a projectile launcher gleefully slingshotting its own offspring into the fray. Apparently, this can lead to different outcomes in the story and, you know what, I’m game for the chaos of it all.
And then there’s the combat itself. Here’s what I’m keen to see more of, because it looks a hell of a lot like Squanch Games has been studying at the Insomniac Games school of design. Insomniac has always had this absurd proficiency in making weapons handle distinctly – strategically swapping between weapons isn’t just fun, it’s necessary to manage encounters in Sunset Overdrive, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and the Resistance trilogy. If High On Life can channel some of this same energy into its weapon design, particularly once we start earning in-game resources to buy upgrades and alien technology, then Squanch could have a special FPS on its hands.
An old-school shooter
High On Life looks like the sort of first-person shooter that we might have gotten in the early ’00s. There’s less focus on speedy twitch shooting and a larger emphasis on presence and feel. I could quite easily sit here and say that High On Life looks like it has the same style of comedic, chaotic energy and ingenuity as Bulletstorm, or that it’s a spiritual successor to the criminally underrated Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath – the 2005 FPS which had a similar blend of bounty hunting and uniquely alive weaponry.
Then again, I can’t say that I’ve necessarily seen anything quite like High On Life before either. Justin Roiland has a talent for bringing weird ideas to life, and that’s reflected here in what Squanch Games is building. The devil is, of course, in the details. The studio’s first effort, 2019’s Trover Saves the Universe, was a fun enough (and suitably weird) adventure, but it remains to be seen whether Squanch can pull off something more consistently action-oriented.
Thankfully, we’ll find out one way or the other soon enough. High On Life is set to launch on Xbox Series X, Xbox One, and PC before the end of 2022.
For more games launching this year, check out this breakdown of all the new games for 2022.