When I sat down with Terri Vellman and Doseone at PAX East, I knew I was in for a treat. The three of us were just a few feet away from a massive screen piping their latest game, Sludge Life, directly into my eyeballs. Decked out in an unforgettable patch-littered jean jacket, Doseone was excited as hell to show off a game that was only just announced a few days prior. With no idea what was in store for me, I took hold of the controller as he filled me in on what exactly I would be doing in Sludge Life – nothing.
Of course, “nothing” in this context translates to the sort of unguided, aimless and atmospheric wandering that I’m a huge fan of. After navigating a low-fi laptop menu, I press pause to quit it and toss my laptop onto the ground, emerging into the polluted capitalist grimescape of Sludge Life. This tiny island is owned and fueled by mega-corporation GLUG, who pump the water full of sludge and your lungs full of Ciggy Cig cigarettes.
This disheveled little slice of lethargic society is on edge aftero the recent death of the Ciggy Cig mascot, CIGGY, and you can investigate the how and why of CIGGY’s death, if you so choose. Or, you can do what I did for most of the demo, which was smoke cigarattes, tag empty graffiti spots, and take pictures of cats with double buttholes.
Sludge Life doesn’t have missions or quest lines to follow. You can wander around aimlessly, experiencing the emulated thrill of vandalism and graffiti culture that tinged Doseone’s actual youth. He wanted to incorporate stories and characters from his memory into the world of Sludge Life, and as someone with a vague connection to the 90’s era of New York City graffiti culture, it hits the mark perfectly. You’ve got characters like Big Mud, who produces slick rap hits and boasts about all of this awesome tagging he totally did when he was younger (and which isn’t completely lying about for false cred). Or, you can encounter a chill graffiti artist with the head of a horse-fly who just wants to smoke and collab on dope tags.
Let your curiosity guide you far enough and you’ll begin to unravel countless mysteries and truths surrounding the island. It starts small, like ziplining to the top of GLUG tower and realizing that all of the art in the room of the CEO is commissioned from your rival graffiti gang. As you continue to explore every pocket of the island, though, you’ll encounter puzzles and collectibles that can lead you down one of three different story endings. Perhaps you decide to dig into the dark truth of GLUG and bring hope to the island. Alternatively, perhaps you end up tagging every spot in town and prioritise becoming the next big graffiti king.
Whatever route your vandalism and explorative nature takes you down, you’re guaranteed to be in for a treat. Sludge Life is full of nasty charm and grungy humour, and I couldn’t get enough of it. For people who connect with the low-pressure sense of teenage rebellion that the game emulates, you’ll be in for a stylish trip down memory lane. For others who might not connect with that sort of setting, the off-kilter aesthetic and style of Sludge Life is still sure to be a welcome breath of fresh (or maybe not so fresh) air.