High on Life, the upcoming comedy first-person shooter from Justin Roiland’s Squanch Games, doesn’t take place within the Rick and Morty universe. But it sure seems like it could. It’s got zany and foul-mouthed aliens, fantastical settings, and a sense of humor that’s 100% Roiland – from the interdimensional cable-style animated shorts that act as TV commercials in the High on Live universe to your default talking gun, a pistol named Kenny that sounds exactly like Morty.
I played a few hours of it, with the developers being careful not to spoil the opening minutes but otherwise letting me have free reign to choose any bounty I wanted in any order I wanted during my hands-on time. In short, there’s more to High on Life than I expected, in the best of ways. I expected a funny FPS with some gorgeous game worlds. It’s got that, for sure, but gameplay-wise it also layers in upgradeable weapons and skills, side quests, and literal hours of comedy in the form of commercials, movies, and NPC dialogue that you can simply hang out and be entertained by, should you so choose. Add it up and it’s a refreshing change of pace for a genre that normally takes itself far too seriously.
High on Life: Meet the Talking Guns
Let’s start with what will certainly be High on Life’s calling card: its sense of humor. I’ve always vibed with Roiland’s comedy – from Rick and Morty to Solar Opposites to his utterly shocking short made for Seth Rogan’s Hilarity for Charity event in 2018 – and I was laughing repeatedly while playing this.
Combat is more layered than it first appeared. Sure, you’ve got four unique guns, but it’s the abilities you can buy from in-game shops – like a dash, a forward slide, and health and weapon upgrades – that allow you to feel more powerful in firefights the further into the game you get. Use Sweezy’s time-slowing secondary attack to create a pocket of molasses-slow enemies, then light them up with her primary fire that embeds explosive crystals in your targets, then powerslide in and melee the stuck bad guy to cause the crystals to explode, taking out all nearby foes. Or maybe you’d rather attack those time-bubbled bad guys by lobbing Kenny’s alternate-fire blob grenade into the bubble to send your targets flying, then move in with Gus’s shotgun-like primary attack to finish them off. Unless of course they still don’t die, in which case you can use a melee finisher. There’s a surprising amount of combat depth here.
It’s also organically replayable. Roiland emphasized this to me during my extended hands-on gameplay session. It’s not purpose-built to keep you playing it over and over again, grinding away for some better item. No, this is a single-player story-based game, but a natural side effect of having four primary weapons – each of whom has a distinct personality and deep well of bespoke dialogue – is that you can play sections again and enjoy NPC conversations all over again, as they’ll go quite differently depending on which gun your mute protagonist has equipped at the time.
I’d like to take a minute to talk about the art style next. Quite simply, High on Life’s Unreal Engine-powered alien worlds are vibrant and delightful to look at. It’s a far cry from the grays and browns we’re used to seeing in many first-person shooters. The Zephyr Paradise biome in particular – where a village of adorable bear-like aliens called Moplets reside – was filled with a gorgeous array of pinks, blues, and greens. And perhaps that’s a subtle way that High on Life amps up its humor: by contrasting the pretty scenery with its unabashedly crude language. Visually, this game is somewhat reminiscent of Oddworld, an influence that Roiland readily admitted to.
Let me come back to the comedy before I go. While yes, humor is subjective, to my ears High on Life is funny. It’s also relentless. You can (and should) stand around waiting for NPCs to say more funny stuff, because they absolutely will. Roiland told me that he and the Squanch team wrote a ton of material for this game, and that’s evident after playing a few hours of it. The comedy comes at you from all directions: from your guns, from your enemies. Heck, you can find entire feature-length B-movies hidden in here, licensed and riffed on, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. The big question is whether or not High on Life has the gameplay to back up its sky-high pile of jokes, and so far it’s looking very promising.