After releasing the lovably weird High on Life, Squanch Games are back with something equally weird. The aptly named High on Knife provides exactly what a DLC should. A smaller dish of what made the main course delicious but with a light peppering of new ideas to keep it fresh and flavorsome. Some ideas work, some don’t. But when the fundamentals are good enough, it can make the worst ingredients palatable.
Given the controversy that’s been going around, none of which I care to talk about, I’m impressed that Squanch Games went ahead with this release. They’re essentially saying they’re not Justin Roiland’s personal game developers, they’re just game developers. And they’re great game developers. I hope their talent will still be recognized through the haze of drama.
High On Knife is available on Steam, Xbox, and Epic Games Store for $14.99.
Story – Bloody Fun Time
Having saved the human race from being used as drugs in High on Life, the silent protagonist takes a step out of the light to give the role of main character to his knife. Voiced by Michael Cusack, who I know most for his Ciggy Butt Brain short from god knows how long ago, Knifey helps hit the quota of abrasive, vulgar speech that I’ve grown to love from a lifetime on this side of the world. The sheer volume of C-words might be too much for the sensitive baby ears of anyone not born in New Zealand and Australia.
Anyway, the story follows Knifey in retrieving a package sent to him by his family whom he hasn’t seen in forever. You have to go to the hell offices of a horrid delivery company to get the package, allegory for Amazon type deal. But the plot isn’t what we play these games for. We play these games for the bits!
At some point in High on Knife, I found myself going to clean parasites off of a giant’s butt and stumbled into a parody of Cheers called Cheeks, and I found a thought pop into my brain: “Yep, I’m having fun.” I was worried that without Justin Roiland, they would lose some of the charm of this particular brand of weird humor. But, as it would seem, there’s no shortage of writers willing to step into the realm of complete and utter nonsense. The first town you get to is full of snails who have been propagandized into thinking salt is really good for them and they’re all really sick because of it. It’s such a dumb idea that I can’t help but love it. The game is full of stuff like that, so if you’re into dumb humor, this game’s for you.
Gameplay- Solid Foundation
All of the FPS shooty goodness from the main game is back with some minor changes like a new gun. Traversal is still just as fun. You have your Slide Bash for covering ground quickly and a jetpack to fly around with. And there’s heaps of cool platforming to utilize them. You get to keep all of the upgrades and stuff you’ve collected from the main game, so if you’re at 100% of High on life, you’ll be quite overpowered. I had it on the hardest difficulty and I didn’t come across a single battle encounter that felt challenging at all. It’s made even worse with the new gun: BALL.
The gimmick behind BALL is that you only have one bullet but you bounce it back and forth between your muzzle and your enemies. So it becomes all about timing your trigger to a certain rhythm for maximum damage. And after a certain amount of bounces, your bullet explodes for massive area-of-effect damage and you reload a new ball. The BALL gun is really fun to use but at the same time makes the game too easy. it almost felt like I was cheating using it. When you rebound your bullet, it tracks to enemies. So you can mow down hordes of enemies without even having to aim at them, just as long as you get the rhythm right.
I like the idea of timing your shots to make the shooting more interesting, but it’s just too easy with the bullet tracking. I think that if they had made it too hard to use, though, a lot of players would have just not used it. So I get that there’s a bit of a trade-off there.
Trying to Be Horror?
From the trailer, they really made it seem like they’re embracing a kind of horror aspect. Once you get to the delivery service building and collect Knifey’s package, it certainly feels like a horror setting. Everything is dark and gritty, and there’s an omnipotent evil boss. But if they were going for a genuine feeling of horror, they missed. It’s too funny and non-serious for it to hit a proper horror vibe, and you’re too overpowered to ever feel uneasy. Especially if you’re using BALL. But I doubt they were seriously trying to make a horror game.
If anything, they’re just doing horror ironically. It really only seems like they’re using horror tropes to emphasize how horrifying it is to have a job where management could care less about your well-being. The point is made very clear, but it clashes with the flippant nature of the writing. Almost as if it’s trivializing the plight of those working for big corporations. But at the same time, it’s shining a light on how horrible those places are, so those two factors possibly cancel out. Comparing working for a freight company to a horror game is pretty funny, I guess.
Graphics & Sound – Very Slimy
High on Knife is gorgeous. You start off on a big open planet with lots of places to explore for collectibles. Similar to Rick and Morty, it’s all very cartoony with colorful goofy aliens. But when it comes to the gross side, games can do what 2D animation cannot. With glistening grimy surfaces and creatures that hold nothing back. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking that someone in an office sat there with their 3D modeling software for hours actually making these disgusting things. I mentioned before about cleaning parasites off of a giant’s butt cheeks. It’s somehow more gross than it sounds.
There are two very different sides to High on Knife. The big open colorful and luminous planet, then the dark and dingy claustrophobic delivery service building. And it’s a stark change between the two. Which had to be intentional to emphasize how horrible the evil corporation is. It certainly feels like you’re stepping into a completely different game once you hit that halfway mark.
One other thing is the insane amount of lag I got once my graphics card had to render all the shadows. I’m not sure if it was just my hardware or an issue on their part (which could be fixed by release). But the game went from consistent 60FPS to struggling to maintain 20FPS. I was able to turn the shadows down to medium in the settings and it ran fine afterward. So if anyone else has that issue, there’s a possible fix.
Sound-wise, nothing really stuck out to me. The sound effects all work quite well. Everything sounds the way it should, with the right amount of gloopiness. On the music side, it’s all mostly vague sci-fi-sounding stuff. No tracks are really worth mentioning. I’m not saying anything is bad. It all just works.