by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
Cleaning up your act
The humble cleaner is woefully underappreciated. No, not the kind that does your dishes and dusts your surfaces. The kind that disposes of dead bodies and cleans up blood from a crime scene. Usually in games, you’re the one leaving a trail of destruction in your wake, but did you spare a thought for the people who have to clean up the crime scene you left behind so the cops can’t get on your trail? In Serial Cleaner, you’re the one who has to go in and leave no trace. Who would’ve thought it’s so simple?
Serial Cleaner is a top down stealth game with its tongue firmly in its cheek. In each level, you have to pick up objects which could be used as evidence, take corpses to designated drop off points or your car, and clean up as much blood as you can. After all this is done, you make a dash for your car and make your escape. These crime scenes are crawling with cops and other people though, and you’re not exactly the muscle which caused all this chaos in the first place. If they catch you, you’re done, and you don’t have a way to fight back. You’re slow too, so if you get spotted you’re not going to be outrunning anyone. So, you have to sneak around, cause distractions, and utilise hiding spots to get around the law.
Hiding in plain sight
The lack of stealth tools at your disposal makes it seem like the game should be hard. And it absolutely would be, if it weren’t for the extreme ineptitude of the guards in each level. If a corpse or piece of evidence goes missing, they stare at where it used to be for a few seconds, and then had back to their patrol route. If they see you, clearly sneaking around this crime scene illegally, they’ll chase after you. But if you enter any form of hiding space which are scattered around the level, they’ll give up, even if you entered it in plain sight. It’s bizarre, but it at least keeps the game moving. You’ll probably fail a level a few times before getting through it, but most only take you around five minutes to complete.
There are strange similarities to Hotline Miami here. So much so I like to think they take place in the same universe, with Serial Cleaner’s main character following Hotline Miami’s protagonist around a few hours later. Levels begin with you in your house, and a vague phone call will direct you to your cleaning location. After moving around a blood splattered level and completing your objectives you’ll retreat to your car and escape. Serial Cleaner even has a great soundtrack, although it’s more groove and heavy than the 80s sound of Hotline Miami.
The similarities end there though, as Serial Cleaner’s controls are nowhere near as precise. Cleaning up an area of blood is harder than it sounds, as you’ll flail around trying to get that last crimson patch that’s evading your vacuum due to the lack of accuracy. You’ll get stuck on walls and bits of scenery as you’re frantically trying to evade a guard, sending your last few minutes of perfect stealth down the drain. Sometimes guards will be completely oblivious to your footsteps when you’re nearby, while other times they’ll come rushing and take you down.
Enjoyment is fleeting
My time with Serial Cleaner was strange, as I enjoyed sneaking around levels while I was playing them, but if I was caught, I felt no desire to try it again. Objects, blood, and corpse locations are partially randomised when the level resets, sometimes creating a harder or easier challenge. Guard patrols will remain the same though, other than one type of enemy which has an unpredictable movement pattern. Some guards will simply whistle for help if they spot you, while others will remain on high alert if they see something suspicious. Figuring out how best to get around the guards using your Cleaner Sense, a vision mode which zooms out the camera, showing you your objectives and hiding spaces, is enjoyable. Although oftentimes you don’t complete a level because of your tactical mastery, it’s because you had enough patience to wait for the gaps in patrol patterns.
There’s a lack of variety in the way you play Serial Cleaner which makes things disappointing. You move around, hide in cupboards, clean up the blood, and carry the bodies back to your car. The only real option you have beyond that is setting up a noise distraction which will cause nearby guards to come running. Cleaning is a dangerous, yet apparently mundane job, but someone has to do it.
Good style and soundtrack. Unique premise.
Imprecise controls. Lack of variety.