Sludge Life (2020)
Developer: Terri Vellman & doseone
It's been tough to switch to playing anything besides Skyward Sword right now, but I've been excited to play this weird little game ever since it was given out through the Epic Store. What I thought would be a two-hour short playthrough actually turned out to be quite a bit longer. Sludge Life is an open-world "vandalism" simulator where you play as a new a graffiti tagger trying to make a name for themselves. Sludge Life is stylish, freeing game with a distinctive humor and personality, although the platforming and movement doesn't always feel as ideal.
You start the game without much direction and with the freedom to go anywhere you like in this world right away. Sludge Life takes place in a factory island that's literally knee-deep in sludge. It's so deeply polluted that it's a wonder that life still exists on it. Everything including the chemical factory is owned by a company named GLUG, and you can see the corporate branding everywhere. Your goal? Tag this whole place up, or really, do whatever you want. You find graffiti spots all over and spray them with your art, building your reputation as a tagger. The workers of Chemico are on strike, so they really don't care to do anything about your vandalism. Every interaction with characters on this island is so fascinating and interesting, though. Some people will insult you for being a tagger, some respect your style, some share surprising wisdom, and others are just tripping hard on "ZOOMS" and saying a lot of nonsense. It's absolutely worthwhile to interact with everyone and see every part of the island. Sludge Life even reminds me a little of the Off-Peak games with how bizarre the things and people you find can be, and how casual everyone seems about it.
Sludge Life also happens to be a 3D platformer due to the way you explore the city. There's obstacles and high places to tag, which I didn't understand how to reach at first. It's kinda hard to properly control your jumping on to higher surfaces, at least on gamepad. Sometimes you jump high enough and you automatically climb, but then because you're moving forward you immediately fall off again. It happens a little too fast and sporadically and I think it would've made more sense to either be able to jump higher or have a "climb" button. It's a little frustrating to fall a lot, but you can also move through the world really fast once you have get used to it. I did enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to get to graffiti spots such as ones the side of a very tall building or under a satellite. The game has a total of 100 tag spots, and during my playthough I was able to come upon 98 of them without really having to do a deep search or look up a guide. I looked up the last two and found it was pretty worth it to get all 100 completed. The open world in Sludge Life is actually so much bigger than I expected, and full of little secrets. I really enjoy how freeform is it is - you could beat this game really quickly but you could also explore for hours and hours like I did.
I rarely ever use the word "edgy" in a positive way, but that's what I'm going to use to describe Sludge Life's vibe. At times its humor is as simple as peeing off the edge of a building or finding a cat with two buttholes, but in a strange way, it kinda works. I think perhaps it's because it evokes a nostalgic feeling of 90s/early 2000s not only with the filter and interface, but also in its rebellious attitude. Yeah, this game has attitude. It takes me back to playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and listening to Blink-182, with the difference being that Sludge Life also feels more hip-hop inspired than punk rock. Smoking cigarettes not only fits into the 90s idea of "cool" here but it also sort of makes sense that no one cares about their health in place where CIGGY brand cigarettes are heavily marketed and people live in the sludge. If it wasn't for the charm and humor of this game, I could say it seems pretty grim world. The police literally beat you for getting too close to them, everyone hates their job, and the city's a literal dump. It's a world where capitalism has gone rampant to the point where it's exploited everything there is to exploit and there's nothing left. This is pretty well represented by the way you find the CEO of GLUG relaxing in his high-rise hot tub while protestors downstairs are being kept out of the building by police. There's a sense of humanity, though, in the way characters respond to your creativity and rebellion.
The music in Sludge Life so, so good and stands alone even if you happened to not play the game. I would call it mostly hip-hop with some rap, but it also has a trippy, ambient electronic feel. My only problem with the music is that there's not enough of it as you're playing the game. There's times where the game is silent and has no background music, depending on where you are. I found this to be a weird choice, seeing as how much the music adds to the experience. I definitely recommend checking out the full, pretty lengthy soundtrack on Bandcamp as I was able to enjoy it more thoroughly once I finished the game. Sludge Life manages to make the entire game feel like it's being played on an old CRT TV, especially with the way the "computer" interface works. The art style doesn't feel limited in any way - it's clear that the vision they had for this works perfectly with this sort of faded, cartoony 3D style.
Sludge Life is a genuinely cool and fairly limitless platformer where you can do all the vandalism you probably wouldn't do in real life. I didn't mention earlier that it's also one of the most diverse games I've seen in terms of its characters. I mean yes, a lot of characters are like bugs or trolls, but a lot of them are humans who look like real people of different ethnicity. It's worth getting lost in this world and exploring every bit of it, and you're definitely rewarded for doing so. I recommend this game to anyone who likes open-world games and exploration, but also anyone who appreciates this sort of rebellious attitude you can take on as GHOST. It's not particularly challenging to complete but will involve some platforming and maneuvering to find everything there is to find.
Sludge Life is available on PC and Switch
Played on: PC
Playtime: 6 hrs