Bertie: Sludge Life is such a mood. I can’t think of another way to describe it. I mean, I could robotically say it’s an open-city game about spray-painting walls but that doesn’t seem to get even half-way to really describing what it is. What makes Sludge Life different is the mood it pulls you into.
Sludge Life emits this feeling of lazy rebellion, or maybe stoned anarchy (given some of the bizarre characters in the game, this might be a better description). The people who are on strike, against whatever authority runs the city, don’t seem to be so much angry as ground down. It’s like this was always the way and so a kind of malaise has settled in. A perpetual disgruntlement. And what has sprouted in that is a kind of ragtag resistance: a gradual picking at the authority’s seams, one spray-painted mural at a time.
It’s a game steeped in a kind of graffiti culture, a fingers up to the powers that be. It’s there when you pee all over the bathroom floor of whatever building you broke into, and it’s there when you press F to fart, or when you smoke, or when you drink a can, scrunch it, then chuck it. You don’t care. No one does. And the more you tag, the wider your Ghost name spreads, and the more you meet people like you, spray cans nearby. And it’s when this happens, you begin to appreciate there’s something deeper and richer to Sludge Life, and that crude first impression begins to fade away.
Donlan: I am properly in love with this game. It feels like a bit of a classic. There’s the setting, of course, that perfectly nihilist archipelago of pollution, shipping crates, poor working conditions and exploitation. But there’s also something perversely joyous about the game. The colours, the pleasure of movement as you race through a world that is constantly warping in that fish-eye way. This is parkour as I love it – the environment becomes a puzzle that you heave yourself around, probably quite indelicately. I love the weight of your movement and the domestic muddle of everything you come across.
It makes me think – and don’t get angry – of immersive sims. Immersive sims are a genre of games I have always felt I should love more than I do. You have objectives, but there’s leeway to how you achieve those objectives. Generally this means a game in which you crawl through ductwork and read peoples’ emails. I should love this genre, really, a lot more than I do.
But then I see Sludge Life and I’m like, this is the immersive sim for me! Everything is an objective, and there is leeway to how you approach anything. I explored for an hour or two, and then I solved something which really felt like a puzzle. I collected bits and pieces that allowed me to do special things and which opened up my possibilities, and then I triggered the ending – the good ending – which was almost like sitting down on a cat really, such was the suddenness, the unexpected flurry of busy stuff. Then I went back and played it again, and there was such a richness of storytelling and theme that I had missed. So much cleverness just hidden away for you to find out on your third, fifth, twentieth playthrough.
I suspect, I know it’s only June, that this is my game of the year. I love everything about it, and I love the respect with which it treats the player, and the nuance and detail with which it builds its world. I feel bad spending all this time talking about genre, because genre is such a dumb way to approach anything, and there is so much in this game that is worth talking about. But Sludge Life is so astonishingly clever it’s made me feel more than normally stupid, so genre it is for now. And it makes me think: I have an eternity of playing this game again and again and understanding what I truly want to say about it.