Sludge Life (2020)

Gaming is so vast now, that there is basically a genre or type of game for pretty much anything and everything now. Sludge Life is a game that can be described as “Grimmy” and that fits the actual style extremely well. Taking pieces of those hazy smoggy summer days in LA, and coupling them with the aliased visuals of early playstation 2 games and color bleeding effects of Chromatic-Aberration which mimics VHS tapes, you get the grimmy filter of Sludge Life’s visual presentation, the blends into a well done, lazy graffiti game.

Graffiti in games is nothing new, but it’s very rarely anything other than a small game mechanic. Only two games come to mind when thinking of Graffiti as a large part of a game, Jet Grind Radio (and it’s sequel, Future) and Getting Up (featuring Marc Echo). Other than those two, games like Infamous Second Son and others, make Graffiti a singular game mechanic that is more to show off a gimmick of motion controllers than anything else. Sludge Life inserts itself in as the third game to be pushed into your mind when thinking about Graffiti in games.

The game is fairly basic, you start as a character named Ghost, who lives in a shipping container in a little oil derrick town on platforms. The entire ocean area the town sits on is on oil. The town is currently on strike and you are a graffiti artist. There are other artists that know you, and the whole goal of the game is to explore and tag. That’s pretty much it.

Character interactions are as simple as walking up and speaking to them, most characters offer a single line or two that give some additional information about the town and flesh out the story a single bit at a time. Some characters want nothing to do with you and just care to be left alone, some give some helpful advice or need you to perform a small task. Then there are others that are more hostile, like the guards that are trying to keep the peace of the town, but will give you a smack if you get in their face and talk to them.

You can technically die in the game, but just like Bioshock’s vita-chambers, you just respawn (this time in a hospital bed) thanks to the Life Loop system. There is a currency in the game, but in the hour and a half of playing the game, I only saw it in the lifeloop area of the pause menu, never in the actual game.

Sludge Life goes for the more Art Style and presentation over actual gameplay, which some love, and some hate. I fall right in the middle. As the game was/is free, and can be completed with a large chuck of the objectives done in a single playthrough, it really isn’t anything to scoff at. But with focusing on the visual presentation of the game so much, the larger parts of the game tend to have a little less care put into them.

The controls are extremely loose, and with the game requiring a lot of platforming to get to certain areas to tag, I found myself falling off very small platforms, or rails that wouldn’t have happened as much if the controls didn’t feel like they were coated in WD-40. When moving the game also applies a bit of tunnel warping, something you’ll see in a game like Minecraft when sprinting, and frequent movements and stops will make the game feel a bit wobbly.

Scattered around the town are slugs, drinks, cigarettes and other collectables. Certain items can be consumed and even some that will put you into a psychedelic trip. These trips will put you into a trance that warps the level around you and let you fly and explore those hard to reach areas. It’s interesting, but ultimately is just another mechanic that doesn’t really do much in the way of really helping you, since it only lasts a small amount of time, around 45 seconds or so.

Sludge Life enjoys and takes pleasure in the dirty grimy lifestyle of being lazy, tagging with spray paint and just being a hooligan of society. Not really contributing to anything going on in any way, shape or form. It’s color palette and visual style wants you to feel like you are on drugs, and just be overall “gross”. I don’t particularly enjoy that, and this game feels like it was made by a few burnout potheads and mushroom users. It’s not really something I want to play, but it was an interesting experience. It is free as well, that allows me to not take it too seriously, and not critique it too harshly. If you like burnout humor and experience lethargic types of gameplay, Sludge Life is a game you might like, as the title really brings a mind’s eye image of what the game is, which is a dirty, grimmy game that just makes you feel disgusting and lazy.