Tag the World in Sludge Life 2

Sludge Life 2 Preview

Take wicked, off-kilter social satire, old-school FPS-looking graphics, and goofy physics and you have something like Sludge Life. Developer duo Adam Drucker, artist Terri Vellmann and publisher Devolver released Sludge Life in 2020 and they’ve just announced Sludge Life 2.  In the words of Devolver, it’s “ the grimiest first-person vandalism sim since the first Sludge Life.” I had the chance to sample a limited-time preview, and I concur.

Tag In

The first Sludge Life features a player character named Ghost. Ghost is a tagger, wanting nothing more than to be the best of the best. The purpose of the game is to explore an industrial shipyard and oil rig, looking for prime spots to leave a tag with a spray can. There are lots of collectibles and gear to find to help Ghost reach inaccessible spots. At its heart, Sludge Life is a playground with lots of physics puzzles, humor, and attitude.

The sequel is more of the same, but bigger and more complex. This time around, Ghost explores Ciggy City, trying to find an amphibian rap artist named Big Mud. After a night of heavy partying, Big Mud goes missing and his fans are frantic. You wake up with a hangover and a goal. There’s a breadcrumb trail of witnesses with clues to follow. Ciggy City is a pretty big place, and there are a lot of people to talk to. Spray cans — indicating spots to tag — are hidden everywhere, often high up. Solving the puzzle of how to reach the cans and get points for tagging is the goal. The game gives Ghost lots of tools, from parkour moves to discoverable toys.

However, tagging is only part of the goal. Sludge Life 2, like the first game, is a sandbox to play in. Physics are purposefully wonky but fun to exploit. There are a ton of hidden areas and secrets, and a large cast of characters to talk to. Nearly every one of them has a joke or satiric barb to share. Consumer culture and the cult of celebrity are the main targets. As always, humor in games is pretty subjective. Some of the jokes in Sludge Life 2 land, others, not so much. But it plays the odds. Throw enough humor at the wall, and some will stick.

Glorious Graffiti

More than story or characters, or even mechanics, the tone and look of Sludge Life 2 make it unique. The game’s art direction is focused on super-saturated color and a graphics style from the dawn of first-person shooters. Everything is blocky, low res, and pixelated. Figure models are primitive. Under that apparent lack of sophistication, however, there’s a keen sense of consistency and careful, studied style. In other words, Sludge Life 2 looks pretty intentionally weird.  A game about a graffiti artist and a frog rapper has to have a killer soundtrack. Sludge Life 2 delivers, with a constant underscore of trip-hop and rap.

Any game with as much style as Sludge Life 2 stands way out from the crowd. There’s a risk, however. Not everyone is going to vibe with the game’s visual style, sense of humor, or narrative. In the preview demo, there were still lots of bugs and a wild camera to tame. Or not. Sometimes with Sludge Life 2, bugs and features are a bit hard to separate.

Fans of the original Sludge Life will find a lot more of the same in its sequel, which is great news. Anyone into hip-hop or graffiti culture — or just weird indie games with a unique approach — should check it out, too. Sludge Life 2 releases later this year.

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