Review – Sludge Life

I’ve said it time and time again that Devolver Digital has managed to earn my attention whenever they announce a brand new game. For the most part, they have almost always managed to deliver. Their latest release, Sludge Life, was one of their most impressive stunts in recent times. As of the writing of this review, the game will be available for free for an entire year on the Epic Games Store. The question is, even though this won’t be a title you’ll need to spend money on, is it worth spending time on?

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You can pet the vandal dog.

Sludge Life is a game that isn’t very easy to summarise. It’s a first-person, open world, “parkour and tagging” title. Your main goal is to explore a sludgy mess of a map, a place comprised of derelict projects, pools of sludge, and shipping containers. There’s a hundred places for you to spray your tags in order to increase your reputation among other graffiti artists. The more tags you spray, the higher your chances will be of befriending and establishing partnerships with these characters that are initially very indifferent towards you.

In order to reach for those difficult tagging spots, you’ll do some really basic first-person platforming. The game says it’s heavily influenced by parkour, but this is far from the standards set by other games that have used the same description. The overall platforming isn’t that good. It’s either too sensitive, with your character falling through small gaps in between platforms and forcing you to restart a run, or not sensitive enough like when you try to jump onto a ledge only for your character to shove their head against the wall. You can also unlock a glider, allowing for you to reach otherwise impossible tagging spots.

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Look for a spray can icon and press a button. VoilĂ , your Mona Lisa is complete.

The act of tagging isn’t very exciting. You look for a place with a big spray can icon in front of it, you click with the mouse’s left button, and voilĂ , your masterpiece is done. Sometimes, when your tags are bigger and more complex, you are required to click on two spray can icons located one next to the other. I wasn’t expecting for the game to feature an overly complex drawing system, but I expected some extra interactivity on its tagging mechanics, just like, for instance, Jet Set Radio, another open world graffiti-influenced game with an emphasis on platforming, released more than twenty years prior to Sludge Life.

It’s hard to play Sludge Life without thinking on Jet Set Radio at all times, even though that game was faster-paced and less focused on exploration. The pseudo-dystopian setting, hip hop influences, and graphical style are obviously inspired by the 1999 classic. Sludge Life does put its own twist in its graphics and sense of humor. Sadly, not all of them worked.

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A ton of reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally likable characters…

The game features a unique art style comprised of cartoonish characters and minimalistic environments, all blended together with a heavily grainy, VHS-esque filter. You can notice Sludge Life is a modern game made on a modern engine when you play it, but it also looks like a retro title from 1997 at the same time. With that being said, it’s nowhere near as colorful as its main source of inspiration was. Its color palette is washed out, in order to represent the game’s overall sludgy vibe. Speaking of vibe…

This is one morose game. That’s probably my main gripe with it. Everything is grimy and sludgy. Even the soundtrack is grimy and sludgy, albeit quite good. The character roster is comprised of a legion of sarcastic and unfunny people reveling on getting high or telling you about a big pile of poop on a nearby toilet all day long. They just keep talking about the least interesting things, telling the least interesting jokes or puns, not adding anything to the overall world building. When the only really memorable character ended up being a one-eyed policeman, the one person you should avoid talking to, you know something ain’t right.

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Aren’t you the life of the freaking party…

 

Sludge Life isn’t a game that will be pleasing for everyone. This is the kind of game that revels in ineffective sarcasm and a sense of dourness. It’s the video game equivalent of a sad mumble rap song, a title that attempts to exude a sense of rebelliousness with a coating of indifference. Whereas Jet Set Radio was happy, upbeat and motivating, Sludge Life is the complete opposite. It’s a free game, so it might provide you with some costless entertainment, but don’t expect that much from it.

 

Graphics: 7.0

A unique art style comprised of minimalistic and cartoonish imagery, all drenched in a VHS-esque image filter.

Gameplay: 6.5

It’s simple and somewhat undercooked. The platform is either too responsive or not responsive at all. The parkour is very simplistic. The tagging mechanics aren’t much more than just looking for a predetermined spot and pressing a button.

Sound: 7.5

The sludgy hip hop soundtrack might not be interesting to everyone, but it gets the job done, considering the game’s overall surly tone.

Fun Factor: 5.0

Exploring the intentionally messy open world in order to look for tagging spots can be fun at times, but everything else is hindered by an underwhelming performance, a sense of humor that doesn’t land, and really unlikable characters.

Final Verdict: 6.0

Sludge Life is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.