Sludge Life 2 is a game I never really thought we would get. Part of the appeal of the first game is how utterly unique the experience is. While revisiting it is worthwhile, doing so takes away a little bit of the charm the series holds.
Game Name: Sludge Life 2 Platforms(s): PC Publisher(s): Devolver Digital Developer(s): Terri Vellmann, Doseone Release Date: June 27, 2023
Set in the Ciggy City Suites, Sludge Life 2 has you take the role of Ghost, who must find Big Mud, an up-and-coming rapper, after a bender (drinking spree). With the room torn apart and fans crowding outside your room, you have to explore the world, looking to get your friend in time for a big music video.
Though it is all set in that interim period before finding Big Mud, the world of Sludge Life 2 is incredibly laid back. You aren’t rushed into beating the main objective, and if you know what you are doing, you can actually finish it in just a few minutes. Fortunately, Sludge Life 2 isn’t a game focused on the story. Your number one goal is to explore the horrid little area you have found yourself in.
This involves opening doors, jumping through windows, scaling apartments, and pretty much whatever you can think of to get around it. There are parts that make it feel a bit more open than it actually is, and I can’t help but want more of that. In one grouping of apartments, there’s a front door with a lock pad. You can figure out how to get inside through the back door and around the side – or you could just smash the window open by throwing something at it. This almost immersive sim-style approach to the environment is something I found myself wishing for more of as I played.
As far as the eye can NPC
Like the previous game, one of Sludge Life 2’s biggest assets and worst moments are its NPCs. Littered with people with tiny stories and small adventures, you regularly walk in on funny situations and ludicrous encounters around Ciggy Suites. At their best, NPCs are charming and interesting, spouting one-liners or fun exposition. At their worst, they are cringe and repulsive. This is part of the charm.
Sludge Life 2 is a very ugly game – intentionally so. The atmosphere is drowned in Smog, and a general fuzziness leaves seeing anything from a distance a tricky task. As well as this, a near fish eye style camera leaves things in front of you to scale and everything else looking off. This comes together to make an experience that is almost trippy. Given Sludge Life 2 borrows heavily from drug culture, this aesthetic choice is very intentional.
A dog eating hotdogs forever, a child smoking because the cigarette mascot told him to, and a mosquito tagging spots in graffiti from up high – Sludge Life 2 is brilliantly creative and yet rancid. It is somehow both quite fun to play and offputting. Though you may not enjoy the experience, you likely won’t forget it.
One of the ways it shakes up the formula is by giving you access to an arsenal of items to use throughout your travels. A pair of shoes enables a double jump, and a warper lets you teleport to a handful of key locations around the map. As you get further in, you are granted a glider and even a very special mushroom. These add greatly to the world and allow the verticality of Ciggy Suits to come through well.
You are heavily encouraged to explore the world at your own pace, and the game incentivizes this by never really telling you what to do. Playing Sludge Life 2 is like doing a jigsaw puzzle of someone’s imagination. You can fit pieces together and say you’ve finished, but you will never really know if you got it right. This forces you to accept you will never really see everything, and that’s part of the joy. Sludge Life is a lot of fun to chat with friends about because everyone feels equally confused by it.
As a result of this, it is a very short game. With just a handful of areas, you can talk to the majority of NPCs in just a few hours. To ease that feeling you don’t know where you are going, heading into the start menu gives you access to a list of side objectives. These can be something simple like giving away enough cigarettes or something as convoluted as “doing a kickflip.
This atmosphere is only further heightened with the sounds of Sludge Life 2. When there isn’t dedicated music, there is almost always a drone or eerie sound. Sludge Life 2 is about artists in a grimy city, and it shows this off with art absolutely everywhere. There is constant music in your ears and sights in front of you. As a result of this, the soundtrack is great.
One of the most impressive things about Sludge Life 2 is how cohesive the world is. Things often feel quite random and sardonic, but in a way that is clear and to the point. There is a lot of crude humour here, but it feels like that’s kind of the point. You are supposed to be put off, and this is oddly charming.
Unfortunately, this can make exploration a little tedious as you get on. The majority of NPCs are simply one line they say over and over again, so you are left clicking on everyone, waiting for someone to give you a piece of information to access the next little objective. The esoteric nature of puzzles is an interesting experiment that I felt almost done with by the time the first game’s credits rolled.
A little more
Sludge Life 2 tries to explore many topics, such as addiction, capitalism, police brutality, and more but is far too ironic in approach to get to anything deeper. Leaving much of its sincerity at the door leaves many of those topics underdeveloped and unsatisfying. With every one of these treated as a sardonic joke – the atmosphere and tone start to wear thin.
This is a shame as there’s room in the elements it touches on to satirise and make fun of, but it never quite commits enough to get anything more than a passing glance at one of the many issues facing us every day. Sludge Life 2 should never be required to touch on topics, but when it does it with a pretty heavy hand – it’s easy to see that glance as a rather shallow one.
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With a sickly world, interesting NPCs, and some truly gruesome humour, Sludge Life 2 succeeds at many of the things it tries. In my short time with the game, I was regularly grossed out and intrigued by everything in front of me. Though it will only take you a short time and not all of its risks pay off, it follows up the first game with a rewarding sequel – even if it starts to feel a bit shallow.
Genuinely quite creative
Lots of tiny little side quests
Can get boring quite quickly
Some characters and areas are too samey
Has a lot to say but never fully commits to any one thought