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I came to Sludge Life for cool graffiti but I'm staying for its brilliant, oddball characters

Sludge Life
(Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)

Everyone is tired in Sludge Life. People doze on couches in dingy apartments, slouch groggily in front of TVs, and sit on rooftops smoking cigs and staring blankly into the sky. The island they live on is surrounded by an ocean of sludge, run-off from the mega corporation factory that looms over the city. Nobody likes their jobs, and there's a strike on so most people can't even do the jobs they hate. 

The vibe feels pretty damn relatable, in other words: a populace frustrated with everything from the pollution to the police but weighed down by a blanket of exhaustion. Things obviously need to change—everything needs to change—but who the hell has the energy?

You play the lo-fi first-person open world Sludge Life as one of the few citizens who still has some spring in their step, an ambitious graffiti artist named Ghost. As you explore the depressed yet comical city, you can jump, climb, and clamber around to spray your Ghost tag in dozens of spots: on walls and billboards, over advertisements and inside apartments, and corporate monuments. Once you've built up your reputation, you can even combine your tags with the works of other local graffiti artists, creating some amazing works of public art.

Sludge Life contains a small open world, but one that still manages to feel sprawling as it's packed with bizarre sights and details I only noticed after repeatedly passing through the same areas multiple times. As you attempt to reach more difficult spots to tag you'll have to infiltrate labs and factories, scale stacks of cargo containers and industrial buildings, and make your way inside a secure corporate penthouse. 

And on nearly every ledge, building, and billboard you scale, you'll find some oddball character to talk to. Some are depressed, some are angry, some insult you (and some then apologize for it), almost all of them are funny, and most are just plain weird—but weird in a way that makes perfect sense for the world they inhabit. Even after I've sprayed all my tags and completed every activity, I won't consider myself done with Sludge Life until I'm sure I've talked to every character in the game.

A man being swallowed by an enormous snake is just happy to have some company for a change. A guy found eggs in his bed, assumed he laid them, and now is raising a flock of birds as his children. An undercover cop does a poor job of entrapping you. ("I'm down for all that illegal stuff, YOLO style. LMK if you wanna do illegal stuff together later.") One disturbed guy screams about "pigeonmen" controlling the media, and another gets drunk in the shower while issuing a warning about vampires. Turns out, neither of them are as paranoid as they first seem.

Gain cred and you'll be able to combine your tags with other artists (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)

There are plenty of running jokes, too, made more enjoyable in how they're discovered a bit at a time. I came across a newspaper with a story about a cat with two buttholes, then later discovered how the cat got two buttholes (science was involved), ran into someone who told me the cat was now an internet sensation (as it would be), and eventually even found the fabled cat itself. It did, indeed, have two buttholes. It was like meeting a celebrity by that point.

The two-butthole cat is just a touch of the low-brow humor that lurks around the fringes of Sludge Life (you can pee messily in every bathroom and press the F key to fart at will). But there's plenty more than just poop and potty jokes, there's a wide range of darkly amusing characters and sights that propels me to find and talk to every single character, no matter how much climbing and jumping it takes to reach them.

(Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)

As you explore, talk to people, and spread your art, you'll also collect gear to help you tag the more precarious spots in the city. A glider lets you sail through the air to land on hard-to-reach ledges. A personal teleporter lets you mark a spot to blink back to, useful if you've parkoured your way to an elevated area you don't want to manually climb it again. Plus you can smoke cigs, chug cola, eat slugs and bird eggs, steal diamonds, collect and play some sweet lo-fi music tracks, and use a pair of legendary vandal eyeballs in a jar to help you track down new tagging spots.

Best of all you have a camera in Sludge Life, and while it's useful for spying tagging opportunities, it's also just compelling to just take pictures of all the unusual sights and characters you'll come across.

Here's a gallery of just a handful of the 75+ photos I've taken in Sludge Life:

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Sludge Life

Earn cred and you can combine your tag with other artists' work. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

The sludge is home to giant birds, gators, and at least one scuba diver (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

He woke up with pigeon eggs in his bed and is trying to be a good mom. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Lockdown lyfe (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Cyclops cops. Call them Clops. They're assholes. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Minor workplace accident. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Win the respect of fellow taggers. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

This guy lost his snake. He doesn't want it back, he's just warning people. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Big same. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

This cat only has one butthole, but he's still cute. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Oops. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Where your news comes from. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
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Sludge Life

Another awesome combo tag. (Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)

There are three different endings to Sludge Life—a good one, a bad one, and a weird one. I've only got the good one so far, and I'm still trying to complete every tag in the city (I'm at 98 of 100). My in-game laptop has a handy to-do list for tracking my goals and collectibles, plus other apps I've collected and installed, including a couple of in-game games to play when I don't have the energy to go out and jump around.

And amazingly, Sludge Life is free on the Epic Store. For an entire year! You have until May of 2021 to grab the game at no cost, but honestly, you shouldn't wait that long. Play it, it's great, and it's full of people you really need to meet.

(Image credit: Terri Vellmann & Doseone)
Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.