There's a lot that can be said about Squanch Games. One of the most true statements is that the studio is full of unique ideas. It's not often someone will come up with the premise of a first-person shooter filled with talking weapons. Shacknews recently got to take a fresh look at Squanch's next title and it's one where the central concept looks to go a long way.
We last tried out High on Life back at PAX West 2022, where we got to check out some of the game's early moments. This introduced the main plot where hostile aliens led by the evil Garmantuous have invaded earth, sending the main character down the lucrative path of bounty hunting. Joining him were some talking weapons, an alien race known as Gatliens. The Gatliens act as standard weapons, but ones who will talk everyone's ears off, breaking any awkward silences.
This latest preview takes us a few hours farther into the campaign, where a target sits beyond the heart of Old Town. A brutal, but mysteriously helmeted, leader named Douglas is the objective. After getting through Old Town, Douglas sits somewhere in Dreg Town, but he's flanked by dozens of nameless goons. The goons are all poorly-trained recruits, albeit ones that can quickly become overwhelming just by their sheer numbers.
On its face, High on Life is a standard shooter. The Old Town setting gave off a distinctly Borderlands vibe, minus all of the loot. After all, who needs loot when there are friends? Our last preview allowed us to become familiar with Kenny, the main character's trusted sidearm who's voiced by creator Justin Roiland. This latest session introduced Gus, voiced by J.B. Smoove, who acts as more of a close-range shotgun. While Kenny's alt-fire unleashes a bouncing grenade, Gus fires off a ricocheting buzzsaw. He can also vacuum his targets to bring them more in range of his blast.
What especially stands out about High on Life is the banter. Anyone familiar with Roiland's animated shows, Rick & Morty and Solar Opposites, should be prepared for eccentric, fast-talking characters. High on Life is full of them, whether it's the jerk monitoring the train station gate, the shady goofball down one of the Dreg Town alleys who's a little too willing to cover you in goop, or even Douglas himself. There's a particularly wacky character near the end of the hunt named Dr. Joopy, whose sections involve switch-based puzzles, who will never stop lamenting about his family while you work.
As one might imagine, High on Life's appeal is in the way the Gatliens interact with all of these characters. The Roiland-voiced Kenny will express more exasperation, while the Smoove-voiced Gus will strike a friendlier tone. Even if the moment-to-moment gunplay feels like treading familiar ground, the ongoing dialogue adds a sense of freshness. The game is also at its best when it leans into more humorous situations. There was one instance during the demo where I was locked in a room and tasked with watching a one-hour training video. While my instinct was to escape and Kenny groaned that I should do just that, one of the Squanch representatives noted that it is possible to just sit and watch the entire one-hour video and advance like normal.
The banter extends all the way to the eventual boss battle with Douglas, which plays similarly to the one previously shown off by Squanch. The idea is to balance use of your weapons with Knifey's grappling ability, as Douglas will sometimes electrify the floor. Gus' alt-fire is especially useful in getting Douglas down from his hanging perches and in position to eat lead... or whatever it is the Gatliens shoot out.
Thus far, there's nothing remarkable about the High on Life gameplay loop, but the talking alien weapons are a novel idea. Even if Roiland's Kenny did grate on me towards the end, I was able to switch to Smoove's Gus for a different kind of banter. With other weapons set to be voiced by talent like Tim Robinson, Laura Silverman, and Dave Herman, just to name a few, it's clear that Squanch Games is betting on its voice talent to make this game a memorable experience. We'll find out if it works when High on Life releases on PC and Xbox Series X|S on December 13.