Wacky shooter High On Life, only a week after its initial release on PC and Xbox Game Pass, is currently the most popular game on the service, beating out big-name Xbox titles and long-running games like Minecraft. It’s a sign the shooter has a lot of fans, but also an indication of just how sparse Xbox’s big, first-party offerings have been in 2022.
Released on December 13 on Game Pass, High On Life received mixed reviews from critics and initially was a mess at launch. Shortly after release, a patch fixing some of the worst performance issues hit and the game is more playable now (if you don’t mind Rick and Morty-like humor.) And it seems a lot of people have decided to give High On Life a go, according to the limited data we have via Xbox.com and the Game Pass app.
On the official Xbox website, you can see a general list of the “Most Popular” Game Pass games, and according to that site—as of 5:20 p.m. EST on Dec. 19—High On Life is the most popular title out of the entire Game Pass collection. A glance at the Game Pass app on Android and iOS reveals a similar story, though the list on the app is slightly different, with Lego Star Wars not in second but sixth. (My guess for the slight discrepancy: the app and website are pulling from the same data but at different times.) Meanwhile, on the PC Game Pass app, High On Life is also at the top, ahead of Darktide and Microsoft Solitaire.
So on the one hand, this is a great thing for High On Life developer Squanch Games and Justin Roiland. A lot of people are playing the new shooter across Xbox and PC. That’s great for all the folks (and AI algorithms) who worked hard on the game, and it’s nice to see a new IP doing well in an era of gaming where it seems everything is a remake, sequel, or reboot. But on the other hand, this also seems like a small indictment of Game Pass’ current state and its lack of strong, recent first-party releases. While Sony and Nintendo are putting out big exclusives like God of War and Pokémon, Microsoft in 2022 has been unable to ship its own similar big-name titles.
This year, Microsoft has only released one new game for Xbox and PC that was developed by one of its own internal studios: the historical narrative game Pentiment by Obsidian. Regardless of what you think about that game, that’s not a great output when compared to Sony or Nintendo.
In comparison, in 2021 Xbox Game Studios released Halo Infinite, Forza Horizon 5, Psychonauts 2, and Age of Empires IV. Would High On Life have done nearly as well and been as popular on Game Pass in 2021 going up against those titles? I don’t know. I can’t look into alternate dimensions. But I do think a lack of big games from Xbox (and in general this year) has helped smaller and medium-sized titles, like Evil West and High On Life, do better than usual. Which, in the long run, is a good thing. But how much longer will a large chunk of Game Pass subscribers keep paying for the service if the biggest games that arrive on it arrive elsewhere and Xbox’s big hitters, like Gears and Halo, are nowhere to be seen?