Next week's big Xbox Box Game Pass game will be detested
Are you ready for a ‘marmite game’? It’s been a long time, but it looks like Xbox Game Pass’ upcoming title will be quite divisive.
The best thing about Xbox Game Pass, for my money, is the way it lets you experiment with things in a relatively consequence-free manner. For example, I always thought I’d love Loot River – it’s exactly my kind of jam; roguelite elements, dark pixel art, unforgiving combat. Thanks to the tite’s arrival on Game Pass, though, I didn’t need to drop the full price on the game only to discover it wasn’t really for me after a few hours. I might have wasted some time, but I didn’t waste any money. Decide for yourselves whether that’s better or worse.
Next week, I think a lot of people are going to get to see this specific perk of Game Pass rise to the surface. Why? Because Rick and Morty co-creator Justin Roiland and Squanch Games are launching High On Life to the service on Day One. The studio's take on first-person shooters is obnoxious, loud, crude, and irritating – and some of you are going to absolutely detest it. And I can’t wait to see the fallout of it.
If it was a game that was demanding $70+ for the pleasure of your experimentation, things would be different; I think it’d be a flop. The obnoxious trailers, the same two voices (read: Rick, or Morty) layered onto everything in the world, the mid-looking gameplay… lots of consumers would be put off. It’s one risky ask too far. But, in 2022, that isn’t our reality – for no extra cost, you can take a gamble on the game via Game Pass… and I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised by it.
And you don’t just have to take my word for it; Alex wrote about this earlier this year, and he came away from the demo with the same outlook as me: High on Life is actually funny, and is funniest when it leans into its very niche gaming humor. The game is self-aware and meta (I can sense that’s already turned more people off), and provides a commentary on quite a lot of gaming tropes in a knowing, smarmy way.
That’s not to say it’s bad, per se: it’s just a lot. Roiland is trying to do what he does best in High on Life, but substituting the fourth-wall-breaking mad scientist of his TV show for the player-referential guns in games. It’s in-your-face adult humor, but delivered by colorful characters that look like they’re intended for kids. But – for the love of God – don’t let your kids play this.
High On Life looks set to continue a rich gaming tradition of being a comedy game that actually has too much comedy in it – it didn’t work for Duke Nuke Em, it didn’t work for Deadpool, and it might not work for this. But hey, maybe it will – Rick and Morty has attracted millions of fans around the world for a reason, and maybe High on Life won’t work without Roiland’s partner in crime (and Community overlord) Dan Harmon, but maybe it will. Maybe this game will be more Double Fine than Gearbox, more Discworld than Saints Row. We’ll have to wait and see. Good job we can play the whole damn thing via Game Pass, ey?
From what I’ve played so far, I think High on Life balances on the comedy tightrope quite well. The unending stream of foul language gets a bit rote – even in an hour-long demo! – but some of the situations the game puts you in or the lines it delivers work well. Alex, in his piece, mentions this guy that has idle dialogue that he cycles through before you actually talk to him, and if you stop and listen, you hear him musing on his life as a video game NPC, destined to wait and hang out, performing a mundane task until finally the player comes to speak to him. It’s a glib, knowing take on gaming conventions that lands well.
In that way, High on Life is reminiscent of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, more than anything else: it’s puerile, it’d be hilarious for a 12-year-old, but it also lands its mark on a more adult audience, too.
And that reinforces my point quite elegantly, actually: imagine if Conker’s Bad Fur Day had been on Game Pass, back in the day – it’d have been a hit, this odd little curio that many more people would have discovered, and found joy in.
So give High on Life a go when it drops next week: I can think of worse ways to spend a few hours, and if you’re a Game Pass subscriber… you have literally nothing to lose.