Review: Make your mark everywhere in Sludge Life 2

Sludge Life 2

Above a sea of slime and below a thick haze, towers of shipping containers teeter precariously. In the apartment block below, a woman cradles two of her 24 cats. In their clopshop, one-eyed policemen practise with batons and guzzle donuts. And inside the spherical “bluniverse” there is a cyan void, ready to shoot the new music video for rapper Big Mud – if only someone can find him. This is Ciggy City, the setting for Sludge Life 2.

Like the original game from 2020, this sequel is the product of Brazil-based developer Terri Vellman and American rapper Doseone. The two were originally brought together by publishers Devolver Digital to collaborate on Heavy Bullets in 2016, and have had a productive partnership ever since. Sludge Life 2 sticks very closely to the formula of the original – in terms of visuals, gameplay, and sound it is very much more of the same. Despite this closeness to the first game, old hands and newcomers alike will find a lot to enjoy.

Once again, the player character is Ghost – esteemed graffiti tagger and now Big Mud’s manager. Following an epic bender the night before, the star rapper has gone missing and Ghost must track him down. As Ghost, the player explores Ciggy City in first-person. This miniature, ramshackle world is essentially a static tableau – the player is the only one who can move around. Finding Big Mud is the only solid objective in Sludge Life 2, and with a bit of luck he can be stumbled upon in under an hour.

What the game is really about, though, is exploring the world and absorbing its uniquely odd atmosphere. From the first moment Ghost wakes up in a bath, Ciggy City is almost entirely open. Only a few locations are genuinely locked off until certain side activities are finished – otherwise, Ghost can freely walk, climb, and jump around. Upon finding hidden items, players will also be able to double-jump, sprint, and glide. There are also unlockable “warpers” which enable fast-travel between ten specific points of interest.

Snitch cat works with the clops in Sludge Life 2
Unscrupulous “snitch cat” is one subject for the photo-taking side activity

Sludge Life 2 is much more dense than the original – for example, Vellman and Doseone have stated that there are three times as many NPCs to speak to this time around. The world is bursting with bizarre characters, puns, visual gags, secret rooms, hidden passages, and all manner of trippy madness. There is no challenge, as such – no combat or puzzles – but Ciggy City is fascinating to explore and often very funny. Sludge Life 2 is the kind of game which asks that players make their own fun, but that is very easy to do.

It is hard to overstate how clever and specific the Sludge Life aesthetic is. It is an urban fever dream, a hallucinogenic trip through hip hop cool and underground comix, and everything is glitched, chopped, and screwed. Just existing in this world, drinking in its oddness, is a large part of the appeal; the specific sights and sounds are better discovered than described.

The side activities include finding 100 tag spots, undertaking oddball photojournalism for a local bird-based media organisation, hunting down the eight unique items, and finding Big Mud’s missing master tapes. There is also a surprisingly absorbing minigame, in which Ghost helps a feline mage to defeat monsters using spells based on nervy, time-bound pattern-matching. Keeping track of these activities means using Ghost’s laptop, which has a brilliantly scuzzy and distorted operating system which matches the warped visual style of the first-person experience.

There are some drawbacks to Sludge Life 2. Most notably, the mantling and climbing systems are often frustratingly crude and unreliable. It can be a real pain to get Ghost to specific locations, especially before finding the “JJ” shoes which unlock the double-jump. It is also easy to wish for an in-game map, because some locations within Ciggy City can look confusingly similar. In general, this is a game which will appeal the most to inquisitive players who will want to explore every nook and cranny of the environment, to tease out every collectible and surreal joke. By contrast, those who prefer a more structured experience may be left underwhelmed.

Sludge Life 2 does relatively little that is completely new, compared with the 2020 original. It retains the same freeform, open design and distinct aesthetic which certainly won’t appeal to everyone. There is a lot to be said, though, for a game which so completely leans into the maintenance of a vibe this dense and specific. It is loosely structured and modestly scaled, but Sludge Life 2 is a big mood.

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