The first Sludge Life was an unexpected delight. It presented a woozy, vaporwave-style world for you to explore and tag with your graffiti, and although it was a little light on plot and direction, it was fun just to exist in Sludge Life's world. That game's anarchic sense of punk detachment must have resonated with a fair few people because now, Terri Vellmann and Doseone are working on a follow-up. We got the chance to sit down with Sludge Life 2 for an hour to check out its "bigger, weirder, gnarlier" open world and see what's different this time around.
Sludge Life 2 Sets Its Sights On Corporate Culture
Given Sludge Life's distinctly anti-authority vibe, it probably won't come as a surprise that Sludge Life 2 has trained its sights on corporate culture and advertising. Not unlike Disco Elysium, the game begins after a legendary night out on the town, and your charge, rapper Big Mud, has vanished. Nobody seems to know where he's gone, but as his manager, it's your responsibility to find him and make sure he doesn't come to any harm (assuming he hasn't already).
Although this represents a clearer narrative direction, Sludge Life 2 still isn't particularly interested in linear storytelling. Just like the first game, this follow-up lets you loose in an open-world environment crammed to the gills with secrets, quirky characters to meet, and spots to tag with your unique graffiti style. Along the way, you'll pick up oblique clues regarding Big Mud's location and what you can do to find him, but the story is more of an excuse for exploration than a driving motivation in and of itself.
The world itself feels more focused and less aimless than in the first Sludge Life. The presence of massive corporation GLUG and its pervasive Ciggy Cig product reminds me of Abe's Oddysee in its deliberately over-the-top evocation of the insidious nature of advertising. Many around Ciggy City and its environs are calling Big Mud a sellout because he's created a track (and a very listenable one at that) extolling the virtues of Ciggy Cigs. Protestors picket police headquarters, and it's clear that most of this world's inhabitants aren't doing so great thanks to environmental neglect and uncaring corporate overlords.
There's Something Familiar About Sludge Life 2
It would be easy for a world this bleak to feel like a slog to explore, but happily, Sludge Life 2 retains its predecessor's anarchic charm. Every corner of the world is packed with joyfully strange details, and some of the first game's more puerile humor has been dialed back (although not all of it). Wade through waist-high sludge to circumvent a rock, and you might find an octopus clutching a soda can in its tentacle. Climb a tower of trash and shipping containers, and you'll discover an aspiring rapper creating mixtapes inside.
If this is all starting to sound somewhat familiar, then there's a good reason for that. Sludge Life 2 is not the "bold reinvention" type of sequel. Rather, it's a refinement on what made the first Sludge Life so compelling. Vellmann and Doseone have peppered Sludge Life 2's open-world environment with more secrets and platforming challenges, but in gameplay and visual terms, it strongly resembles the first Sludge Life, making it feel more like a substantial expansion pack than a sequel.
With that said, then, if you enjoyed Sludge Life, there's a very good chance you'll like this one too (unless you were hoping for something more radical). If you played Sludge Life and felt it was over too quickly, as I did, then Sludge Life 2 will be a delightful surprise for you. The stronger narrative direction also makes the adventure feel less aimless, although Sludge Life 2 is very much still a "vibe" game, lacking even Disco Elysium's sense of purpose and propulsion.
Despite The Gloom, Sludge Life 2 Is A Joy
Happily, though, the vibe is one Sludge Life 2 pulls off with aplomb. Its world calls to mind a cross between the vibrant post-punk of Jet Set Radio and the moody, oppressive atmosphere of Umurangi Generation, with a dash of Duke Nukem 3D's countless objects with which to interact and have fun. The mystery of what happened to Big Mud and why he decided to vanish is compelling enough to shoulder a new Sludge Life experience, but it's not like a world this packed with detail needs an excuse to exist.
Leaping around Ciggy Cig Suites and its surrounding areas feels just as joyful as exploring Sludge Life's island, and you'll find many traversal abilities to help you do so. These include a double jump, a glider, and even a launcher to propel you skywards so that you can get around easier. As with the original game, there are plenty of spots around the city to tag, letting you leave your mark on GLUG's territory and perhaps work towards undoing some of the corporate damage the company has wrought.
Just like in the first Sludge Life, presentation is what makes the whole experience feel as compelling as it does. The menus are wrapped up in a 90s visual style that resembles an old-school desktop environment, and each time you close the options menu, you throw a new laptop away, which is a fun touch. Characters and animals have a larger-than-life touch to them thanks to their exaggerated features, and, of course, there's lots of new music to find courtesy of master tapes and radio stations strewn around the city. All in all, you should find plenty of reasons to hang around Ciggy Cig Suites, even if you're not looking for Big Mud.
When I reviewed the first Sludge Life, there was a part of me that hoped it wouldn't get any kind of sequel. I was pretty sure that the unique aesthetic and off-putting style would make a sequel feel like diminishing returns, but I'm pleased to report that this isn't the case at all. My time with Sludge Life 2 has me excited to check out the full game and discover the truth behind Big Mud's disappearance, but more than that, it has me looking forward to just spending more time in its skewed, messed-up world.
TechRaptor previewed Sludge Life 2 on PC via Steam using a code provided by the publisher.