Sludge Life 2 is a game obsessed with aesthetics. Many may ask themselves, “What do I even do here?” and that kind of feels like the point. Your goal is just to wander, explore the city, and figure out what makes everyone tick. It’s an often sickly ironic experience that is fascinating in a very gross way. Thanks to Devolver Digital, we go hands-on with Sludge Life 2, to see just how zany this game compares to the first title.
You play as the character known as “Ghost,” a tagger who is part of Big Mud’s entourage. Being a renowned rapper just steps away from the big time, Big Mud has a big opportunity ahead of him and it is your job to find him the night after a big night out.
Fundamentally, Sludge Life 2 is an open-world game where you just kind of find things. Though there is a central goal, it thrives when you are simply exploring the world, talking to characters and finding out their story. You can interact with almost any character throughout the world and they offer you some piece of unique dialogue or story. Most of the time, these don’t mean much, but those lines are often funny or just strange enough to be intriguing.
In pursuit of this, the world of Sludge Life is enchanting in a filthy, sludgy way. There’s a mascot called ciggy, who is used to sell cigarettes to children, psychedelic slugs that are attached to the sides of walls, and a whole host of very strange people. You are set loose in one room and can explore the entire city at will. Just pick a direction and move.
To try and incentivise this exploration, you unlock items throughout the game that can be used with a simple right-click. A small built-in game, a camera, a pair of eyes in a jar – they are all weird items that perfectly fit the aesthetic.
This all being said, the most important thing you can grab is your spray paint. Each new area is littered with tagging spots where you can leave graffiti, getting you renown which gives you access to other taggers. In a sense, Sludge Life 2 feels like an old-school point-and-click game thrown through a drug trip. Most of the little actions you take do very little, but this is part of the joy. You are constantly running around, pressing buttons until something happens.
In this sense, you never quite know where your next action will take you, but this is what makes exploration work so well. In one room, you may find a doll that runs at you when you look away. Another may have a cat swinging from a fan. It constantly throws almost anything at the wall and hopes it lands.
Tonally, Sludge Life 2 is quite dark in a very light way. The world is horrible, but exploring it is fun. You listen to the woes of a community embroiled in pollution and decay, yet the words they use to describe it are oddly humorous. All of the little systems are used to make you explore a world that feels just inches away from breaking apart.
This being said, I only got access to the game for one hour. During this time, I saw a pair of boots that gave you much better traversal skills and hints at a much darker plot underneath it all but I’m not too sure what tricks it will use to grab my attention long-term. As exploration starts to feel more granular, it’s easy to see it losing steam.
Finding your own way
One of the things that worked best in my short playtime with the game was how it incentivises figuring out your own path to your objective. In one complex, you could jump on the roof, sneak through the side and open a side door to get in. I threw my camera at the door, breaking it and setting off an alarm. The subtle ways it allows you to be a bit of a menace made exploring other routes so much better.
The aesthetic and sounds of the game only help this. The world is driven by underground music. Everything has a certain danceability to it, with hard-hitting snares and light synths. Big Mud is a featured artist on many tracks, delivering bassy rap on his tracks. The art style is ugly in a great way. Every character, animal, and item looks disheveled and just off. It is an exercise in finding the uncanny valley and thrives in just how weird it can make things.
My short hour with Sludge Life 2 represents a great many conflicting things. I want to get lost in the world and characters, but some of the gameplay systems leave me wondering if they can really hold my attention for the entire game. I am cautiously optimistic and, altogether, thoroughly grossed out.
While the Sludge Life 2 release date hasn’t been revealed, it is scheduled to launch in 2023.